Alejandro Zuzenberg, Facebook Argentina CEOSunday, March 2, 2014
‘Argentine Internet users are very advanced’
for the Herald
Education: McDonough School of Business of Georgetown University
Previous positions: Commercial Director of Google
Alejandro Zuzenberg, who has a strikingly similar name to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, welcomes the Herald at Tucumán 1, the tower to which the social network recently decided to relocate its Argentine operations. Typical to the casual style embodied by Zuckerberg himself, Zuzenberg appears relaxed while wearing a T-shirt (bearing the company’s logo). The guarded executive, who refuses to give any information that could be considered political, including what newspapers he reads, dismisses outside forecasts questioning the company's financial health. He emphasizes the site’s news feed as the most relevant place to visit on the Internet, and the relevance of mobile messaging service WhastApp to the company’s business model. In fact, Zuzenberg emphasized the role mobile access plays in both the present and future of the firm, especially in untapped markets.
When did you open the Argentina office, and how was the decision to set up shop here taken?
Almost two years ago, when the first person was hired. Our mission is to connect the world and make it more open, and give people the power to share information. The same applies to our commercial activity: giving companies, consumers and people the power to be connected. This doesn’t just go for Menlo Park and our central headquarters that conduct product development and engineering, but also in all the countries with a large number of Facebook users. Argentina fits in that context, with 24 million active users on Facebook every month and 14 million every day.
Is it correct to say that Argentina has a comparatively high number of active Facebook users?
When you look at the number of people connected to the Internet and the number active on Facebook, you get about 90 percent, which is high. The amount of time spent on Facebook is also high, and the country is experiencing migration toward accessing the network, and the Internet in general, via mobile devices, as in most parts of the world. This means more access throughout the day, and higher rates of interaction.
Argentina does not seem to be a market with much room for innovation in the Internet industry. Products such as Netflix and Spotify appear to arrive later. Do you see past this and seek to innovate here?
Products don’t arrive later here, not later than the rest of the world. Our advertising products particularly see clients in Argentina that are very advanced, while in electronic commerce some companies are world leaders in their categories. We reach agreements with these companies to test products, especially advertising ones, with us.
Argentines seem to have a marked division in their use of social media—Instagram is for pictures, Twitter to share statuses and Facebook to chat. Do you seek to promote certain behaviours in users?
We don’t promote a certain way to use Facebook. People and entities form and adopt the identity of a page. A newspaper, a radio, a person shares the contents that make them who they are. In different countries and societies, the number of pages keeps increasing, fostering a feeling of integration. There are 25 million small-to-medium-sized companies on Facebook, more than double than of two years ago. The chief experience for users is the News Feed, where people nourish themselves with news. As you click Like on more pages and befriend more people, more videos, photos and information becomes available.
Is the news feed the main selling point for Facebook?
Facebook is a news feed, especially on the mobile application. Our strategy has been to make it the most relevant place on the Internet. It already is the most visited place on the Internet, in terms of the pixels that people see on their screens every day.
Foreign outlets perhaps mobilize social media more than here.
There is a lot here, though, and it’s growing. A few outlets already have more than two million fans.
Many have been quick to call the US$19 billion purchase of WhatsApp misguided…
I can’t say anything more than what has been said in the news releases. Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that we want an open, more connected world and this is a mission that has been strengthened with the WhatsApp purchase.
Some financial analysts see dark clouds ahead for Facebook. Will I be able to see pictures I’m posting now in 30 years, or do you recommend I back them up on an external hard drive?
We’ve built a company for the long-term. Our mission, the way we execute it and the decisions we make are all made with a long-term mind-set. The technology world is constantly changing. We don’t know what the future holds, but our strategy is certainly designed for the long run.
What are your main challenges?
The main one to keep up this trajectory of growth is that there are many people in the world that still lack Internet access. Facebook has more than 1.2 billion active users, and we have connected a large base of those on the Internet, but the world has about seven billion. For us, the quality of people’s lives improves with Facebook and societies are made freer. We know these people will begin to connect on mobile, and we’re working under that premise. We support and were one of the founders of an organization called Internet.org, whose mission is to facilitate people’s access to the Web. We are carrying out pilot tests in countries like Paraguay, where are working with Tigo, the telecom firm, to provide free access to all Facebook tools on any mobile phone with a Tigo sim card.
The president frequents Facebook. Do you have regular contact with the government, and have you faced any obstacles in terms of regulations and norms?
We have a relationship with both public and private entities not only in Argentina but in all the countries in the region. Not only the national, but also provincial and district governments are our clients. They work with us and we help them with their strategies. These processes are often confidential as with any other client.
When a newspaper states in its headline: “Cristina Fernández de Kirchner responds to a consumer on Facebook,” do you regard this as positive publicity?
We are happy when people use the platform to share any information in any way, always according to our contents policy. Whether they are regular citizens, politicians or sports stars, their sharing enriches the Facebook experience.
You recently expanded your gender identity options, how was this change implemented?
We give tools for people to build and connect with their real identities. This is something we constantly keep improving, adapting and adjusting, and after much analysis, feedback, petitions and hearing different stances, we determined that allowing people to choose how they present themselves in terms of gender is completely in line with our mission. It was a very positive step.
There was recently controversy over a shuffle of privacy settings that reportedly broadened the visibility of the profiles of users under 18.
We allow people to control what is visible on their profile, for instance, if it is searchable on search engines, or if only direct friends can see it. When new privacy parameters are added, there is often a stir about the default setting, but there is no intention to make information more public without the user’s consent.
You have a similar last name to Mark Zuckerberg, are you told that often?
(Laughs) Fortunately my first name isn’t Marcos, because then it would definitely be an issue. It’s pure coincidence. I actually get it more in Argentina and Spanish-speaking countries. In English, the difference in phonetics of the surnames is more pronounced.