Facebook, which has been working to build its user base in Africa through programs like Internet.org and lightweight versions of its app, is opening a new business office in Johannesburg, South Africa, the company’s first permanent office on the continent.
The office will serve as a sales hub, helping Facebook learn about and attract small businesses from the region that may want to advertise to Facebook’s audience, which is growing in the region. Facebook has hired Nunu Ntshingila, chairman of Ogilvy South Africa, to run the new office as the company’s Head of Africa, a new position.
International revenue has always been important for Facebook. More than half of the company’s ad revenue comes from outside the United States and Canada, and has for a number of years.
That percentage is slowly eroding, though, from 56 percent in Q1 2013 to 52 percent last quarter. Facebook is relying more and more on high-priced ads in North America versus other parts of the world. A new office like the one in Africa could help expand on that international business.
Facebook is also hoping to learn more about what kinds of advertising actually work in Africa as a way to lure big brands like Coca-Cola and Virgin Mobile that may want to reach the site’s African user base. The company launched a Creative Accelerator program earlier this year to do just that.
Product head Chris Cox also talked at the Cannes Lions advertising festival last week about Facebook’s plans to build ads that work on feature phones for users who don’t have strong wireless connections.
All of this adds up to a pretty healthy interest in Africa, and Facebook hasn’t been shy about its aspirations. Africa is still very much an emerging market; most of the continent is still without Internet access and those who are online are getting there on mobile devices. For Facebook, a service that’s already amassed 1.4 billion users, Africa provides a region where there’s still plenty of room for growth.
Facebook is experiencing some of that growth now. There are now 120 million Africans who visit Facebook each month, up from 100 million back in September. That’s 20 percent growth in nine months, almost three times the growth rate of Facebook’s total user base.
Facebook has made significant efforts in trying to reach this group of Internet newbies. Internet.org is probably the most well known — and most criticized — example. The initiative offers a free slate of Internet services, including Facebook, to some parts of the world where Internet is not widely available.
Of the 14 countries with Internet.org access, six of them are in Africa.
The new office will not include Internet.org employees, though, at least not right now. Facebook plans to hire 25 employees in its South Africa office, all of them on the business and advertising side of the fence. That number will increase throughout the year.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.