Here’s something that’s hard to believe for those of us living in a culture that’s inundated by digital media: two-thirds of the world’s population does not have access to the web.
Earlier this week, Facebook Founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a bold new initiative to bring the Internet to parts of the world that do not yet have access to it. He calls it the ‘Internet.org’ project – a roadmap for extending Internet access to all corners of the world over the course of the next several years.
“We believe everyone deserves the right to be connected,” writes Zuckerberg. “With an organized effort, we think it is reasonable to expect the overall efficiency of delivering data to increase by 100 times in the next 5 to 10 years.”
While there are very real challenges preventing Internet access from spreading to underdeveloped regions (technical, economical and sociological), one thing we’ve learned over the past nine years is that Facebook has fundamentally changed the way we consume media, interact with other people, and ultimately, how we carry out our daily consumer experiences.
Given this truth, let’s explore the Internet.org mission a bit further – especially in light of how it could impact the marketing efforts of global brands. The U.S. is clearly on the short list of developed nations in which consumers can and do pay for unlimited data, but take for example the following scenarios in which the effort is of particular relevance:
- You represent a global brand constantly developing new interactive experiences, such as apps
- You represent a brand that is quickly becoming global, or has aspirations of going global
- You represent a local brand in an underdeveloped country
There are roughly 2.7 billion people already on the Internet, which means that the vast majority of potential consumers will eventually become part of the global digital market in the future. Although infrastructure takes time to build, humankind’s thirst for data and curiosity for more digital experiences will accelerate the spread of information.
Zuckerberg’s plan includes key partnerships with mobile operators, phone manufacturers and internet providers, but other brands, too, have a large stake in the success of the initiative. Universal desktop and (especially) mobile Internet availability will only open up the possibility of reaching more potential consumers in the years ahead.
With the Internet.org announcement, Facebook is demonstrating that it wants and plans to be at the forefront of this virtual and geographical shift. As one of the most visited sites in the world, Facebook is in a unique position to help people connect to the Internet, and therefore connect to each other, in the near future.
How can brands join Facebook in this quest? The possibilities seem endless, but are worth exploring.
For one, the second lever in Facebook’s plan calls for improving the efficiency of apps and experiences. By making changes in the way apps are developed, brands have the opportunity to make their digital experiences more easily and economically consumable – and therefore more far-reaching from a global standpoint.
Moreover, Facebook is testing out what it calls “zero-rating data,” which supports the theory that free data to Facebook increases both phone sales and data plan profits. It seems possible that other brands could explore similar models for offering free data, perhaps partnering with Facebook to do so.
Although some detractors have criticized the Internet.org initiative as a business play ‘masked as charity,’ the global spread of digital media will continue to be a reality for brands – with the key variable being pace. Brands operating within global markets – or with plans to expand to those markets – will want to follow this movement closely and, when possible and relevant, do their part to help make the mission come to life.
Cover photo via Wired.co.uk