Facebook can't be accused of adding to the hype surrounding mobile advertising and marketing. Speaking at a mobile conference in London Wednesday, Fergal Walker, the company's EMEA head of mobile partnerships told the audience, "We are not focused on advertising on mobile at all," according to a paidContent report.
He also expressed little sense of urgency about virtual currency and payments in mobile. "Our minds are very focused on the social Web, building basic social experiences on the Web with partners," he said. And this is one of Facebook's mobile guys.
What Walker said this week is actually consistent with what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters back in November when the company unveiled its revamped messaging system: We're not rushing into mobile advertising.
"I think we just need to see what makes sense for mobile advertising. But in the short term there's no pressing need for us to monetize that immediately," he said at the time. Based on Walker's statements the other day, not much has changed in the company's thinking since. The go-slow approach to monetizing mobile also reflects Facebook's gradual rollout of advertising online so as not to alienate users and impede the site's growth.
That mindset goes back to the company's beginning -- remember Zuckerberg as portrayed in "The Social Network" constantly ignoring co-founder Eduardo Saverin's pleas to accelerate development of advertising on Facebook? In hindsight, Zuckerberg's choice to instead grow the user base and fine-tune the site before making a bigger push into advertising looks like the right course.
Facebook is now taking the same approach to mobile -- tailoring its platform to the medium, whether it's the mobile Web, iPhone, Android and other applications, SMS, or a stripped-down version of the social network geared to users in emerging markets. And while it hasn't launched a branded phone of its own yet, London-based INQ Mobile has released Facebook-centric phones including the Android-based INQ Cloud Touch.
Across its mobile properties, Facebook has amassed an estimated 250 million active users, enough to make mobile marketers drool in anticipation. The company's restraint in monetizing that audience stands in contrast to rivals such as Google, which today unveiled a mobile payments plan that could eventually give it a leg up in location-based advertising on mobile devices.
Google has made little secret of its mobile ambitions, announcing last fall that its mobile revenue had reached $1 billion on an annualized basis. Most of that may be in search advertising, but Google is clearly looking beyond that in mobile, with Android as a fulcrum for operations. Still, Google hasn't made inroads on Facebook's dominance of social networking, and there's little evidence so far it will do so in mobile.
And despite Google's aggressive steps, it's still early days for mobile advertising, with media budgets still very small compared to overall digital spending. That said, just because Facebook says publicly it's not concerned with mobile advertising at present, doesn't mean there isn't a team hard at work devising a mobile ad solution somewhere within in its Palo Alto headquarters. Maybe the team behind Rel8tion, the startup focused on hyper-local mobile advertising it acquired in January, for instance. For now, marketers will have to be satisfied with a mobile version of their Facebook brand page.