The online social networking platform, Facebook, has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Its popularity in Ethiopia continues to grow - almost all of the nation's Internet users have a Facebook an account. Although its primary purpose was for socialising, it has become an increasingly useful tool for business marketing. The popularity is helping to prop up Internet cafes, which are concerned about the growing presence of Smartphones and other new technologies, reports HIWOT SEYOUM, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
On February 4, 2014, the social networking service Facebook marked its 10th anniversary. Initially created for Harvard students, the website has since become one of the most powerful forces on the Internet, with over one billion users. Facebook.com launched February 4, 2004as something of a digital interactive yearbook for Harvard students after being developed by Mark Zuckerberg, one of the students there. On September 26, 2006, the social network opened up membership to anyone over the age of 13 with a valid e-mail address. By August 26, 2008, Facebook had reached 100 million subscribers.
On June 18, 2013, Facebook announced that it had one million active advertisers, companies or organisations that have advertised on the social network at least once in the last 28 days. In April 2013, it indicated that there were two billion connections between local businesses and people in the site’s social graph and,and that in an average week, local business pages get more than 645 million views and 13 million comments.
According to the sole telecom provider, the ethio telecom, internet subscribers reached 4.6 million by the end of 2013/14.which is 123pc targeted by the government in the Growth & Transformation Plan (the GDP). The number of licenses issued by the ethio telecom for internet cafes since the year 2010 has now reached 2,363.
There are 1.27 million users of facebook in Ethiopia with active accounts, 28 pc of these are women, according to the ethio telecom.
Abenet Getachew, 22, has been using Facebook for two years.
“It is a platform that never lets me feel alone,” he says.
With 450 friends on the social media network, Abenet gets friend requests, messages and notifications on a regular basis.
At noon on Tuesday, February 18, 2014, Abenet was chatting with friends on his Facebookfrom the Adi Broadbank – an Internet café around the Lancia area on Serra Leone Street. He paid 10 Br for 40 minutes. Abenet uses Facebook three times a week on average.
Other users, like Tewodros Debele, 34, who was surfing the website to exchange information about current affairs, say they enjoy Facebook because of the availability of user anecdotes.
“I enjoy it because there are notes, as well as birthday reminders and marriage invitations via events,” Tewodros told Fortune. “It is an all-in-one-place tool and a boredom-killing, social connector.”
But the social media network has also been frequented by businesses, as they have realised its potential in promoting services and products.
Premium Print Plc, founded in 2012, sells printer toners. The company, located at the Bahta Complex on Haile Gebresellassie Street(in the area commonly known as Haya Hulet Mazoria, has been promoting products and services through Facebook. A success story, according to Binyam Hirut, the general manager, came two years ago, when the Company needed to hire a professional for a vacancy.
“First we put out the vacancy in newspapers,” he recalls. “But when the turnout was unsatisfactory, we switched to Facebook and received no less than 1,000 applicants for the vacancy.”
The Company regularly makes announcements through Facebook. On each of their three billboards in Addis Abeba- around Amist Kilo (on King George Street), Ghion Hotel (on Ras Desta Damtew Street) and Piassa (General Wingate Street)-the Company invites its customers to like products on its Facebook page.
A similar technique has attracted a sizable number of customers to Yonas Gulelat, 24, who makes and designs traditional dresses to sell at his shop in the Shiro Meda area in Gulele District, on Algeria Street. Yonas, who started the business a year and a half ago, now has 20 employees. Facebook, he says, has provided him with a more viable and cheaper alternative to advertising, than electronic or print media.
“Facebook promotes business more swiftly and has helped me to sell anywhere between 15 and 25 traditional dresses every week,” Yonas told Fortune.
For others, like Kibrom Desta, 30, engaged in the construction industry, Facebook means more business opportunities, as business links are created with childhood friends, business persons and investors. Kibrom, who opened his Facebook account five years ago, visits it four times a week on average. Nearly all 4,000 of his friends on Facebook are related to his business.
With Facebook becoming a source of addiction – particularly among the youth, as it helps them connect with thousands of other people through comments on posts – internet cafes visited by Fortune on Tuesday and Wednesday around the Piassa (Arada District), Arat Kilo (Arada District), Lancia (Kirkos District) and Megenagna (Yeka District) areas have seen their businesses boosted by theincreased turnout. Most of these have even been obliged to purchase additional computers to cope with the surge in demand. One of these, Wubshet Zewdu, 24, owns an Internet café in the Arat Kilo area. Although Wubshet targeted the provision of services like Yahoo, Google and e-mail when he opened five years ago with a capital of 80,000 Br, he was soon faced with the Facebook boom.
“I was thus obliged to add four computers in the café,” he says. “Facebook has been a source of more and more customers in my business.”
About 80pc of customers in the Blue Computer & Internet Centre located in the Piassa area are Facebook users, according to the owner, Zerihun Abu. During most of the day, beginning from 10:00am in the morning up 9:00pm in the evening when the centre closes, customers glued to their Facebook accounts occupy 10 or more of the 16 computers. With customers paying 20 cents for one minute, but spending an hour on average, the business fetches Zerihun anywhere between 600 Br to 800 Br on a daily basis.
A graduate of Computer Science from the Micro Link University College, Elsabet Nuredin had neither knowledge nor an interest in the Internet business when she opened a trading centre offering secretarial service around the St. George Church in the Piassa area on General Wingate Street. Sensing a good business opportunity, however, she soon delved into the Internet business to find that a significant portion of Internet users are those who prefer spending more time on Facebook.
But, all of the internet café owners approached by Fortune harbour fears that the surge in customer turnout, which they have been witnessing in recent years because of Facebook, might slump because of the expansion of other technologies, such as Smartphones.
Eden Zerabrook, 36, is one of these. She owns the Adi Broadband Internet café around the Lancia area, where Abenet was chatting with friends on Tuesday. With only one-year experience in providing an Internet service, Eden invested about 120,000 Br to open the café. Until recently, the surge in demand prompted by customers seeking to use Facebook and Skype had fed her business. The surge even meant that she had to buy more computers to satisfy her customers. She added four more computers to the eight she had after just two months.
In recent months, however, the upsurge seems to be dying down and giving way to a slump in her customer base. Apart from the availability of options, like the smartphone, Eden and other cafe owners attribute the decrease in demand to poor Internet connections and constant power cuts.
Facebook continues to attract younger people, as the experience of Elsabet – the Computer Science graduate, who owns an Internet and secretarial service business centre – demonstrates. She says most of the older people are not fans of Facebook.
One of these, Mekuria Hrdofa, 57, opened a Facebook account back in 2010. Although he enjoyed meeting friends and chatting with new people, he closed his account in December 2013, since he found it increasingly difficult to entertain Facebook engagements with various other work and social responsibilities.
Whilst leaving the cafe in the Lancia area, Abenet said he will continue being a fan of Facebook, as he likes reading and responding to comments and posts,
“I can feel the emotions of people and their care for my post,” he said. “Facebook allows me to choose my own target audience.”
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