As opening gambits at a mobile payments conference go, “we don’t really have any clear answers or positions in this market” is one of the more unorthodox. Especially when it comes from Facebook, with developers and brands alike eager to hear about the social network’s plans for advertising and/or Facebook Credits payments within its hugely popular mobile apps.
That’s how EMEA head of mobile partnerships Fergal Walker began his speech at Wednesday night’s Monetising Mobile conference in London, though, after which he poured cold water on some of those expectations.
Mobile ads in the Facebook app? “We are not focused on advertising on mobile at all.” Virtual currency and payments? “We’re not really focused on world domination or something regarding currency. It’s not in our minds. Our minds are very focused on the social web, building basic social experiences on the web with partners.”
His words were clearly well chosen – Facebook may not be focused on these things now, but that doesn’t mean they will not become important and lucrative revenue streams for the company in the future.
The thrust of Walker’s speech, though, was explaining that Facebook’s current focus on basic social features in its mobile site and apps – along with initiatives like Facebook Pages, Places and Deals – will lay the groundwork upon which brands and businesses will be able to sell products, content and services.
“We’re very very focused on getting people onto the first step of using the mobile internet,” said Walker, pointing out that 70% of Facebook’s UK users are accessing the social network from their phones as well as online, and that Facebook accounts for 50% of all mobile internet minutes in the UK.
However, much of this activity is clustered around the basic features: status updates, photo uploads and browsing the news feed. Walker’s argument was that Facebook is still treading carefully by making all this as accessible and comfortable as possible, rather than rushing to add too many complex features or advertising.
Brands can’t buy ads in the Facebook mobile apps or site, but their existing Facebook Pages can be found by people, though. “You can have interaction with mobile users on Facebook today. It’s limited, it’s primarily one-way, but equally at the same time I can Like, I can comment – all the usual stuff that you would expect,” he said.
“If this starts helping to develop loyalty on the go, and interaction with your brand via mobile will hopefully lead to another behaviour: if you offer that consumer the opportunity and ease of purchasing on mobile, maybe that will happen too.”
Some companies are already trying this. Walker showed an example of a campaign run by fashion retailer Asos on Facebook, which included a link which when clicked takes users through to a shopping site to buy the product. The same company – Usablenet – runs Asos’ web and mobile web stores, meaning that Facebook mobile users tapping on the link could also buy the clothing that was being promoted.
Walker also talked about the potential for NFC technology in the realm of mobile social networking, and said that Nokia (NYSE: NOK) has pitched Facebook a campaign that would involve people with NFC-enabled handsets being able to Like brands or products from a physical location.
“The idea was why not have a small NFC merchandising in the store, and you swipe your Nokia NFC handset over it and Like the particular brand or store. It’s so small you could put it in a beer-mat,” he explained. “The opportunity in linking the virtual world and virtual services to the real world is going to be quite interesting.”
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.