Interview: Ciaran Quilty, Facebook

22 Dec 2017 | 10.58 am

Interview: Ciaran Quilty, Facebook

Create a compelling brand story and Facebook can help you to sell it globally

22 Dec 2017 | 10.58 am

It all begins with a page, but effective Facebook requires an ongoing brand story that keeps browsers engaged. That’s the advice of Ciaran Quilty, vice president of Facebook’s Small & Medium Business division across EMEA, who is tasked with driving advertising sales from the millions of businesses who use Facebook to connect with consumers.

“When people start to use Facebook, for some the entrepreneurial mindset kicks in straight away. They don’t just see the photo of a friend or piece of media to enjoy. They also see a potential marketing platform for their business,” says Quilty (pictured). “A Facebook page gives your business accessibility on mobile and the ability to communicate with customers for free.”

What separates the entrepreneurial wheat from the chaff, according to Quilty, is what businesses do next. “You are competing in a highly personalised, highly relevant space. To do that you need to grab people’s attention and grab it quickly. The best way to do that is to think long and hard about the message you want to send to people. You need to create what we call a ‘thumb-stopping moment’ – grabbing someone’s attention and doing it in a mobile-first environment.”

Consumer Insights

Savvy businesses, Quilty maintains, see the ubiquity of mobile phone use and know that this is where they will reach potential customers. In Ireland, virtually all of the two-million-plus Facebook users view the platform on their mobile phones. “The average person picks up a smartphone about 200 times a day and in Facebook we see the average person check their pages around 14 times a day,” says Quilty.

Quilty’s role involves convincing businesses that Facebook is a worthwhile advertising medium. “That’s when you dive into the real conversation around Facebook. How do you use the targeting, the advertising and the creative solutions to drive the most sales? You firstly need to understand your consumer. That has nothing to do with Facebook as such, but Facebook has built a lot of tools that can help you do the analysis.”

Quilty cites services such as Facebook audience insights, its IQ series of research studies and its Lookalike resource, which finds clusters of potential customers in other countries that match similar demographic characteristics of an advertiser’s customer base at home.

A three-point strategy that Quilty recommends to the SMEs he works with comprises understanding, targeting and creativity. “Once you understand your consumers, it allows you to start targeting the right people,” he says. “As a highly personalised space, you are competing on Facebook with a story from my brother or friend, or an update from a team I follow. The trick is to think less about what you want to say and more about what the consumer really wants to hear. The right story can engage customers and sell more product.”

Mobile First

Whatever the story, it should be designed with a mobile-first frame of mind, which means putting images and video to good use. “It takes milliseconds for a human brain to process an image and we put this insight to use when we work with businesses on their Facebook marketing,” says Quilty.

Facebook users watch more than 100 million hours of video every day on the platform, and 40% of the video watch time comes from shares, illustrating the power of recommendations from friends. “In this mobile-first environment, your first three seconds are critical, whether that involves an image or video,” says Quilty. “It is about presenting an up-front piece to grab people’s attention and showcase your story. Otherwise, they’ll just scroll straight by you.

“Facebook content is being created all the time, with the result that when someone goes into their Facebook newsfeed their expectation is that the content will be absolutely relevant, up to date and engaging. There’s a huge appetite for creating and consuming video on mobile phones. Remember the old adage that a picture paints a thousand words? That’s true, and a video paints 10,000.”

Quilty adds that while targeted video content can grab attention, big brand Facebook clients create their brand story with a combination of video, imagery and Facebook ad targeting tools. “For example, one of the things you can do is retarget consumers based on how long they’ve watched the video. The view time is often a signal of intent.

“There are three areas that we find are top of mind for business clients: results, time and risk. We continue to invest in products that drive specific objectives, such as improving traffic into your shop, local reach around your physical presence, brand awareness and sales etc. We’ve also invested in making our ads easier to use. Ad setup, controls around pages and so on can now all be handled through apps. Regarding risk, people want complete control over how much they invest, and when and how to optimise this investment.”

International Reach

Another aspect of Facebook marketing that Quilty highlights for SMEs is the platform’s international reach. According to Facebook analysis, 46 million people around the world are connected to a business in Ireland on Facebook. The UK, US, Australia, Germany and India are the countries providing the majority of these connections.

“One-quarter of Facebook’s ad revenue comes from cross-border advertising. Fashion retailer Magee is a good example of an Irish business using Facebook to expand internationally. Important retail occasions like Black Friday and Cyber Monday are no longer just US events. Entrepreneurs from all over the world are capitalising on those moments through mobile and growing their presence overseas.”

Earlier this year, Facebook set up an SME Council, comprising more than a dozen firms from various sectors. The idea is to furnish Facebook with insights into what firms want from the social media giant, as well as providing entrepreneurs with guidance on how to build an export arm.

“SMEs are incredibly important to Facebook,” says Quilty. “People love to hear about a new hotel, a new aftershave or a new pair of jeans. SMEs like to learn from each other too, so the council is partly about getting some of those businesses together, sharing advice and giving us feedback. We want to get the word out that consumers are spending more time on mobiles, are increasingly global and want to do business with companies from Ireland.”



Galway-man Ciaran Quilty joined Facebook in 2010 after spending a decade with Accenture and he heads up Facebook’s SME division for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Facebook opened its Dublin operation in 2009 and now employs around 2,000 people in Ireland, and founder Mark Zuckerberg recently told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (pictured below) that hundreds of new jobs are in the pipeline for 2018. The company recently opened a second office in Dublin’s East Wall area, where it’s speculated that some 800 new staff could eventually be accommodated. Facebook also has a presence in Cork after acquiring virtual reality company Oculus in 2014.

Facebook’s daily active users globally averaged 1.37bn in September 2017, an increase of 16% year-on-year, while monthly active users were 2.07 billion. Ad revenue for Q3 2017 was $10.1bn, an annual increase of 49%. In Europe, Facebook garnered $2.4bn in ad revenue in the quarter, up 56% on a year earlier, and 88% of ad revenue now comes from mobiles.

Facebook is maintaining its growth momentum by hiring more people. Headcount has increased by 47% in the past year to 23,165 people, and with balance sheet cash and cash equivalents of $38.3bn, the company can afford to keep investing.

Quilty says that the Dublin team covers 80 different markets. Functions span advertising sales, tech engineering, data centre management, legal and policy enforcement. “In our Dublin office the ceiling has been ripped out – it’s the same for Facebook offices around the world,” says Quilty. “You can see all the pipes and infrastructure of the building because we believe Facebook is only 1% done.”





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