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McClatchy-Tribune  07/03/2014 3:52 AM ET
Facebook looks to tap India's online ad market: Sheryl Sandberg [Mint, New Delhi :: ]

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July 03--NEW DELHI -- Facebook, the world's largest social networking site, plans to tap India's online advertising market by signing more partnerships and making heavy investments in the country, as part of a global strategy to focus on emerging Internet markets such as India to offset user saturation in mature markets such as the US.

In her first visit to India as a Facebook executive, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg also said that the Menlo Park, California-based company is in the process of monetizing its business in India, having brought at least 900,000 small and medium businesses online.

"Globally one of the best ways we take people and get them to be paying customers is (that) they start using pages and then up-sell into advertising. We're already seeing that happen in India," Sandberg said in a discussion with reporters.

Even as Facebook attempts to convince more companies such as Hindustan Unilever, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to spend more advertising dollars, the social network is also making "serious investments" in drones and satellites that will deliver Internet services to third-world countries.

"This stuff is in its really early, nascent stages, but we're making serious investments because people who don't have connectivity..., we want them to have connectivity," said Sandberg, who has previously served as chief of staff to then Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers in the Clinton administration.

Facebook, which currently has a partnership with India's largest telecom firm Bharti Airtel Ltd, is also testing a new kind of advertising service in India by tapping an uniquely Indian concept, missed calls, allowing cellphone users to click a button calling an advertiser, hanging up and then getting a return call.

For this service, Facebook has partnered with Indian start-up ZipDial Mobile Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

Sandberg, who is widely seen as one of the most influential figures in Silicon Valley and has also worked as vice- president at Google Inc., said that the missed call service would be rolled out across other parts of the world.

Facebook, which has tried to go beyond its social networking roots by acquiring companies such as WhatsApp and Oculus, is betting heavily on the Indian online advertising market to drive growth.

"We really want to invest here because the returns are so great both for our local and global business," said Sandberg. "As people are spending more time on digital, marketers will go there....The users we have in the US represent a large portion of the US population. The 100 million that we have in India do not represent a large portion of the Indian population, which means there's such huge opportunity for growth here."

Facebook will look to drive growth in the country through partnerships with the government, companies and non-profit organizations, she said.

Sandberg, who is expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi during her visit to India, also said Facebook currently has no hardware aspirations, unlike rival technology giant Google Inc.

"I don't think we need to make hardware or phones," said Sandberg. "We're doing very well with software-based products and that's what we do."

Facebook may consider having a research and development (R&D) base in India, Sandberg said.

"Our R&D base has expanded slowly -- as of three years ago, we only had Palo Alto, California. We are just in the process of opening remote engineering locations and I think we will continue to consider possibilities and obviously continue to consider India as well," Sandberg said.

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