Facebook is on the defensive globally as its share price has fallen by almost 25 per cent since the company's listing last month on the Nasdaq in New York. Just prior to the initial public offering, General Motors said it would withdraw its US$10 million (Dh36.7m) budget for advertising on Facebook, casting doubt on the website's business model. Despite its stock market listing having turned sour, Facebook's new boss in Dubai - Jonathan Labin - says he aims to win advertising clients in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).
Facebook's listing has been called the worst-performing IPO of the decade. How do you win the PR battle in this region, and convince advertisers it is a viable platform?
My focus is really on the Mena region, and working with partners here, with key clients, and creating value for them. And by working with clients like Emirates [Airline] and Pepsi, that have [seen] great success on Facebook, that's the way that we show people that Facebook works.
How many advertisers have you got on board in the Middle East?
I don't know the exact number because there are many ways to advertise on Facebook today. We focus on the big ones, but there are many that use Facebook products through their credit cards. So there are hundreds of advertisers in the region that are already using Facebook successfully. They're coming back every day to use it more and more.
How relevant is Facebook to the Arabic-speaking people in this region?
I think the numbers are a good manifestation of that. There are 45 million people using Facebook in this region. That's a huge number. There are 20 million people using Facebook on their mobile phones.
That 45 million people represents about 5 per cent of Facebook's total user base. Are advertising revenues in line with that?
I can't break down any advertising revenues. But what I see with many advertisers is that they're getting more and more excited to work with us. We're starting to talk with many clients about what we are going to do during Ramadan, which is a very, very special time of the year. You see a lot of media-meshing happening during Ramadan, meaning that a lot of people watch TV, but at the same time they use Facebook to comment on the TV shows and to vote. And the question is, how can you use Facebook in a way that actually enhances the advertising that you do on TV?
How have you found your move to open an office in Dubai?
I love coming here. It's a great region, and I love being received here by people. Everyone was extremely welcoming, and said "great, you're finally here ů finally we can do more business together."
* Ben Flanagan
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