However, the new Lite app is hardly limited to third-world conditions. As a low-memory, quick-loading alternative for slow connections, Facebook Lite’s growth has been exponential across markets that already have access to the traditional Facebook app, like India and Brazil.
Much of Lite’s appeal comes from its reduced ad content. Wasting valuable load time on ads is always frustrating, especially during moments of low connectivity like subway rides, festivals, rural road trips, and jammed urban settings. But does Lite foretell for the future of Facebook marketing and, broadly, social media advertising? Will other social networks follow suit with smaller versions of their applications for memory-crunched phones, slow connectivity, and for those who are trying to wean themselves off crippling tech addictions? And, if so, how will these apps influence advertising on full-featured social media? Further specialization of ads or greater integration of ads into even Lite(r) versions of popular platforms?
Facebook Lite is now the social network’s fastest growing app after breaking 100 million users last month. Those numbers are a dream-come-true for most aspiring app makers and social media marketers—but there’s one problem. A big part of the way Facebook trimmed the fat is by reducing advertising content substantially, especially the same rich ad content that it’s invested significant resources creating (like Facebook Canvas). This is admirable on the part of Facebook—it’s said that it’s serious about getting people online even when they don’t have access to fast connections, and by trimming advertising content, people can access the beneficial connectivity of Facebook without loading any of the superfluous extras.
With the tremendous value ascribed to advertorial real estate in news feeds of major social channels, this is the equivalent of putting your money where your mouth is. However, in Q4 of 2015, Facebook made $5.6 billion in ad revenue, 80 percent of which came from mobile Facebook marketing. Emerging internet markets are also emerging consumer markets, but Facebook clearly has the cash flow right now to be able to provide both an ad-light app and a revenue-driving mothership.
Since we can’t yet get Facebook Lite in the US, it’s reasonable to assume that the low-calorie version of Facebook is a stopgap option to get more people online and hooked on the News Feed before connection speeds improve and advertisements can be supported. This gives US advertisers a chance to catch up and prevents valuable eyeballs that marketers would like to be showing ads from circumventing Facebook marketing campaigns by reading “Lite” as “ad-free.”
Still, it’s only a matter of time until other platforms unveil their own diet apps, and inevitably at least one of them will call Facebook’s bluff by making its version available stateside. There’s a lot of intrigue here, because ads do increase loading time, but they also fund social networks’ existence. As of yet, though, Facebook Lite does not support Facebook’s new in-house ad creator, Canvas, which the company claims loads 10 times faster than ads on the standard mobile web. We’ll see how long that lasts.
At some point, Lite apps will cease to be the noble, altruistic things they were (allegedly) created for, as Silicon Valley co-opts these pared-down versions of now-ad-bloated apps. And then, just like so many suddenly-hip neighborhoods in cities, the previously simple and affordable stuff will suddenly experience a bit of a gold rush. Whether Facebook Lite ever appears in the US or not, enterprises cannot ignore the rapidly-growing user base that’s now over 100 million people and shows no signs of slowing down. In several countries that have cosmopolitan cities and large regions with inferior infrastructure, both versions of Facebook are available. How do marketers ensure they’re getting their money’s worth? At what point will they begin demanding their share of real estate in even the pared-down version?
For now, marketers shouldn’t begin preparing minimalist campaigns designed to do more with less on Lite versions of apps. Instead, the latest and fastest-growing project from the most influential social media site in the world is worth paying very close attention to. Facebook has obviously determined that there’s a real demand for faster loading times and fewer ads, and while that need is exacerbated by unreliable connections, we’ve seen a subtler version of that same response here; the native content wars are raging in part because Facebook and Twitter both want to keep users from clicking out of their apps while reducing the load times associated with content accessed externally.
Whether Facebook Lite is a harbinger of things to come or simply a step in the brand’s quest for absolute world domination, this is a trend worth watching. Facebook marketing is still a nascent art and can only be mastered through much practice and even more studying. There’s clearly a demand for access to the app, but things that can be identified as increasing load times—namely, unwanted advertorial content—face intense scrutiny when they can’t slip in innocuously through 4G LTE and Google Fiber.