Imagining a world without the internet is impossible for most of us. What would your work day look like? How would you connect with your friends? Would you have to keep a handwritten book of 140-character-long thoughts?
At the end of 2015, not quite half of the world had internet access—meaning that life without internet is still a reality for much of the globe. But this won’t be true for much longer. It’s estimated that by the end of 2018, an additional 3 billion people will get connected. These are people who will be eager to post, share, and plug into the social web.
With numerous projects and initiatives in place to bring the next 3 billion online, you’re probably wondering what your company can do to get the most out of this new audience. What does this mean for you, as a social media or marketing pro? Buzzfeed’s senior technology reporter Alex Kantrowitz and Hootsuite’s senior manager of owned media David Godsall took to South by Southwest to answer these questions and discuss the massive changes that will take place when the next 3 billion internet users get online. Hint: It’s big.
What is happening?
It took over 25 years for the first 3 billion people to get online, but the next 3 billion are living in an accelerated world. Although many of us feel that connectivity is a right, access to the internet is far from universal or equitable, even if there is coverage in a geographical area. If you don’t have the financial means and are within areas that have general internet access, you’re going to be limited by hardware, location, metering, and data caps.
While these constraints have made the process slightly more difficult, there are many reasons, big and small, that the next 3 billion people will be able to get online quickly. And not a moment too soon. With one job being created for every 10 people who get access to the web, not to mention the immeasurable mass of new consumers coming online, it’s easy to see why bringing the internet to the world is a priority. Here are a few of the ways that’s going to happen:
The rapid introduction and accessibility of mobile devices
- 7 billion mobile cellular subscriptions globally
- Mobile broadband penetration growing at 20 percent annually
- 3G coverage is up 45 percent from 2011
- The Facebook-led project offers free basic mobile internet to over 9 million people from Colombia to Zambia.
- “Free Basics by Facebook provides people with access to basic websites for free—like news, job postings, health and education information, and communication tools like Facebook.”
- Has brought over 19 million people online who would most likely not have been otherwise, who are “doing better in school, building new businesses, and learning how to stay healthy.”
- Google-led “network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.”
- Numerous smaller projects created to fill in coverage gaps that remain, such as the Village Base Station from Endaga which started in Indonesia.
Social media pros need to asks themselves how an influx of 3 billion people will affect their growth and engagement strategies. And what is content going to look like in the future?
Why the next 3 billion matter to marketers
While statistics and background information are crucial to understanding this global shift, social media and content marketing professionals need to know the significance of this growing internet community. In the discussion that took place at SXSW, a number of trends emerged as dominant areas of focus that marketers should be paying attention to.
The single biggest force driving the next 3 billion online is the widespread adoption of mobile phones. In February 2016, Indian company Ringing Bells unveiled a $4 smartphone called the Freedom 251. As the company explains, Freedom 251 will “empower citizens, even in the remotest rural and semi-urban centres of India, with the latest in digital technology at incredibly affordable prices and cascade knowledge, news and current issues so that all experience the confidence of inclusive growth and equal opportunity.”
Yes, the next 3 billion people online will be experiencing a mobile-first web. The internet will be accessed primarily, if not solely, through a mobile device and, because of this, marketers need to be prepared to make sure that their websites and content is optimized for a mobile-first experience. To help you and your brand prepare for the next 3 billion, Hootsuite wrote a guide: “9 tips to creating a mobile-friendly website.”
With billions more using mobile devices, advertisers and marketers are noticing the potential here and directing more resources towards mobile initiatives. As the International Data Corporation explains, “Almost all of the growth in advertising spending across all of its forms is attributable to the growth in mobile advertising and online video. Advertisers are able to direct ads to users based on their preferences as indicated by online behavior, which allows them to better understand how their content is being absorbed than ads on television and radio.”
While the possibilities for online marketing and advertising are growing with mobile phone acquisition, an important piece of the puzzle is missing without affordable access to the internet.
When asked during a recent HootChat (Hootsuite’sTwitter chat) about who the next 3 billion people to come online will be, Godsall answered: “Everyone who lives in a mostly urban area and can afford a cheap smartphone, but not [at] today’s data rates.”
While the idea of everyone having some sort of mobile device is great, it’s still a far away goal for much of the world. Over 85 percent of the world population live in areas with internet coverage. And the cost of access is so high that actually using it remains a pipe dream for many. For example, in India 90 percent of mobile subscribers are on expensive pay-as-you-go plans, where they need to work an average of three hours at minimum wage to pay for a single hour of internet connectivity. To help overcome this roadblock, a number of projects are underway worldwide that could have a lasting impact on the state of the internet and social media around the world.
Recognizing the need for more accessible data, engineer Nathan Eagle co-founded Jana—the company behind mCent, a mobile advertising platform that allows users to earn free mobile data for trying out sponsored apps. With a goal of bringing the internet to 1 billion people in emerging markets by 2020, the Jana team is making a significant contribution to the next 3 billion. Eagle was frustrated by the stats showing that expensive mobile data is not easily accessible by most in emerging areas, so he developed this solution.
When asked why he thinks sponsored data is the best way to provide internet access, Eagle explained, “What’s great about sponsored data is that essentially it provides a subsidy to be able to enable a user’s unlimited internet access. That additional megabyte that that person earned can be used to download another app, watch a short video, or go to any website. It’s literally unrestricted. That’s really important from a user’s perspective, because it allows them to truly get access to whatever content they’d like.”
In 2016 much of that content will be social.
Getting a social media account will be the top priority for many internet newcomers in the next two years. As Godsall explained in his SXSW panel, “For the next three billion, getting online means joining social media. Social is now the communication medium of choice for businesses and consumers.” With businesses twice as likely to have a Facebook page than a website, it makes sense that new consumers are heading in a social media-first direction. So it also makes sense for your company to concentrate on building a social—specifically Facebook—presence over a website. This is the place where consumers and your audience are able to quickly find information, community members, and connect with your brand.
Recognizing the demographics of where the 3 billion are coming from—more than one-third will be from India—Facebook has worked diligently to build a product optimized for the 2G networks that are most widespread there. Facebook Lite (started in June 2015) and an A-sync feed are ways that Facebook is making sure that those with poorer connections are able to get more stories from their feed without having to go on an expensive network.
Recognizing the droves of people that are joining Facebook, and where they are geographically located, it makes sense that marketers targeting this brand new and rapidly growing audience, adapt their social media strategy to these markets. It’s recommended that you research the state of your industry in each of the emerging markets to see where you should concentrate your resources, and then optimize your content to match what each specific audience demographic finds valuable.
Here are a few numbers that illustrate the changing geography of Facebook:
- Of the 10 countries with the most Facebook users, six are emerging markets.
- Five of these countries—India, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, and the Philippines—represent 217 million Facebook users.
Again, one of the main trends emerging alongside the next 3 billion is the importance of the mobile-focused web. Four of the top mobile apps worldwide are owned by Facebook. Two of those are messaging apps—another catalyst defining the web for the next 3 billion.
With more accessible data and mobile phones, people around the world are able to quickly and more effectively communicate and connect with others. Facebook’s WhatsApp instant messaging app reached 1 billion monthly users in February 2016, twice as many users as they had in 2014. It’s obvious that messaging apps is something marketers need to focus on. According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the company is currently figuring out a way “for WhatsApp users to communicate with businesses and other groups they’re interested in—like Facebook’s system of pages for companies and public figures.”
When asked what the next 3 billion will mean for entrepreneurs and businesses, Godsall answered “I think #thenext3b are more likely to create a million neighborhood businesses than one global business.”
WhatsApp and other messaging apps could play a huge part in this, so marketers need to target their audiences even more precisely. This means that your brand has the opportunity to reach a much more relevant demographic—people who are engaged and more likely to be interested in your product or service.
When explaining the significance of the future for messaging apps, Wired says “A great messaging app could be to the Web browser what the browser was to the internet before it. It’s the organizing principle, the window through which we access everything we use and do.”
The internet is a multi-layered and ever-growing entity, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the next few years will bring. But judging by emerging trends and statistics, it seems likely that our online future will change dramatically with a dramatic increase in users. To the tune of 3 billion.
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