Facebook's new Dubai office to serve 45 million Middle East users
It's official - facebook likes Dubai.
The global social media giant yesterday officially announced the opening of its first Middle East office in the emirate, and revealed the popular website now has 45 million users across the region.
And senior facebook executives in Dubai yesterday for the announcement of the regional HQ - which is to be based in Dubai Internet City - said that nearly half of those check their facebook page every day.
Joanna Shields, facebook vice president and managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, speaking to the assembled media in Dubai’s Armani Hotel, said: “It is the right time for us to join all of you here and begin our operations in the region.”
It’s clear that while facebook will be looking to make more friends in the Middle East, the firm’s main goal in opening the new office will be to make money, by luring firms in Dubai and beyond to use the site as an advertising vehicle.
“The user growth is already there and what we are trying to do is make sure that we match that and work with local partners and help them to realise the potential and monetisation that facebook can offer from an advertising perspective,” Shields explained.
Jonathan Labin, who will head up the new Dubai office, held up the site’s work with major regional brands like Emirates Airline and Al Jazeera as proof of how it can add to a business.
“Today Emirates have more than 450,000 engaged fans who are telling the story of Emirates to the globe,” he said. Shields added: “When people say they are interested in what you have to say, they make a little handshake with you, they say I ‘like’ your brand, they become a fan. Then it is about engaging those fans, so it is about publishing to your page every day something of value to them, and the brands that are doing this successfully are seeing extraordinary results.”
The facebook supremo was more tight-lipped, however, on rumours that the firm is set to take on Apple with its own smartphone, saying curtly that she had “nothing to announce”.
While facebook may be confident of adding millions of new Middle East users in the coming months, Shields revealed its Dubai operation will have a small staff.
“We are starting with three people and we will go from there,” she said. “Humble beginnings.”
Search is on for undiscovered Arab developers
Facebook will use its new Dubai office to hunt for bedroom developers sitting on billion dollar ideas, its executives have said. Last month it splashed out a reported $1 billion to buy start-up success story Instagram, which allows users to share and edit pictures.
“The purpose of having a commercial team in the region is to unlock that potential, to find the greatest developers that are going to build the next Instagram,” said Christian Hernandez Gallardo, director of platform partnerships.
He said game developers are already hard at work on Arabic facebook games.
“As we open the office, we also want to signal to the developer community and media partners that we care about the region and these 45 million users have relevant local content.”
Facebook vice president Joanna Shields welcomed the idea of new website Salamworld, reportedly gearing up to launch this year, which has been billed as a Muslim facebook that will exclude content deemed contrary to Islamic ideals. She said: “I think it sounds like a wonderful venture.”
Her own firm is confident it can grow its share of the Middle East market.
“We look forward to working with all of the businesses, the people, the institutions, the celebrities, the sports figures - all of the people that matter to folks in the Middle East and Africa, and to build a facebook experience for all of them which is worthy of the region and what they do here,” said Shields.