Mark Zuckerberg: The new mobile king

Written by Reuters | Barcelona | Updated: Feb 24 2014, 21:27pm hrs
Mark-ZuckerbergFacebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has come a long way in the mobile world in a short time.
Billionaire 29-year-old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stars in the mobile industry's biggest fair today, fresh from his USD 19 billion takeover of smartphone messenger WhatsApp.

The keynote speaker on the opening day of the February 24-27 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Zuckerberg has come a long way in the mobile world in a short time.

When Facebook sold its shares to the public in an initial public offering in May 2012, "it literally had no mobile advertising revenues," said Eden Zoller, analyst at the research house Ovum.

"It did actually have a pretty strong mobile user base at IPO but what it had failed to do at that time was actually monetise those mobile users," she said.

At the time of the float, worries over the lack of money coming in from the mobile business sent Facebook's shares sliding.

But the social network - boasting more than 1.2 billion members - quickly repaired its strategy.

By the end of 2013, mobile devices accounted for 53 per cent of Facebook's advertising revenue, bringing in USD 1.2 billion in the last quarter and more than USD 3 billion over the whole year.

However mobile advertising can be "highly intrusive", Zoller cautioned, especially if it interrupts a user's engagement with an application.

"You have to be very careful."

Nevertheless, the social network needs to keep up the momentum, the analyst said.

"It can't be complacent. On the mobile front it is particularly important. Consumers have an increasing number of social media and social messaging alternatives to Facebook."

The company still has a weak point, however, she added: its failure to carve out a strong position in mobile payment systems, which are expected to show strong growth in the next few years.

Nonetheless, Facebook is clearly building a base for further revenue growth.

On Wednesday, the social network announced its takeover of WhatsApp, which followed last year's smaller purchase of online photograph-sharing site Instagram.

"Facebook is paying for one of the fastest growing audiences in history - WhatsApp is now nearing half a billion users globally - and the monetisation potential that that brings," said Guillermo Escofet of research house Informa.