Creggan man, Colm Long, has just been promoted to a leading global role at Internet giant, Facebook. The Rinmore Drive man takes up the role of Global Head of User Services in December, having been promoted from his role as Head of User Services for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMMA) at the social networking phenomenon.
All this and the father of three is only 36.
A delighted Colm told the Journal: “It has all happened very quickly. I joined Facebook three years ago and now I am being placed in San Francisco headquarters in a global role, in fact one of the most challenging roles in the world.”
It is a role for which Colm was hand picked by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
When he started at Facebook in 2009, Martin became the company’s first European employee and admits: “It was me and four basement walls. I had just left Google, a world leading company. It was an amazing company to work for and I left a big team and a great job behind, then suddenly I was sat staring at four basement walls wondering if I’d done the right thing.”
Mr. Zuckerberg certainly seems to think so. Even a cursory examination of the facts shows how central Colm has been to the development of Facebook. A development of a social network, not solely into a global brand but into a cultural phenomenon and, some would argue, a tool of cultural revolution!
Three years ago Facebook celebrated 100 million users, today it has 800 million world wide, 280 million in Europe alone. Even the Pope has his own Facebook page.
“Those numbers are active users, not account holders,” explains Colm. “We only count those who log on at least once a month. Half of those are daily users so we definitely exceeded our expectations. It has been incredible really.”
Valuations of the company vary widely but some put it in excess of $50 billion with an advertising revenue which runs into billions per annum. In the same time frame Facebook has grown from having one employee in Ireland to more than 300.
The term phenomenal achievement was coined for such successes.
“I’m responsible for the team here today and for growing that revenue stream so it has been great but it is time for a new challenge,” Colm said modestly.
Such has been its strength, Facebook has been credited with playing a large part in the Arab Spring uprisings. A region in which Mr Long was directly responsible for introducing and growing the social network.
Though, as ever, a modest Colm declines an opportunity to collect any credit.
“I think Facebook was one in a series of tools used to drive change in the Arab Spring.
“There was a huge desire to see a demographic change. Our role was perhaps a little overblown, the key thing was the people, it was them who called for, protested for and led the change. The tools they used were secondary.”
That said, Colm and his team were constantly monitoring the Facebook feed from each country as tensions mounted.
“In that case we always err on the side of freedom of speech on the user side.
“Mark Zuckerberg has always been about creating a more open and connected society. Anywhere people are making lives better is what we are about.
“While we’re happy to play a role it is important not to take sides, that is a delicate balance but again we are about free speech in all its forms.”
Mark’s new post will concentrate on service users rather than revenue stream but, he says: “I think it is really exciting times ahead, Facebook is just starting in terms of building a business brand. There is so much we can offer business, from the large conglomerates and leading brands to small enterprises, local charity fundraisers and events and even newspapers, we can drive more subscribers to their sites due to the type of products we’re building.”
Products such as the ‘Places’ application which allows business to target customers with location based deals for example.
Despite his enjoyment of Facebook’s financial development, Colm insists that the site “should remain free at the point of access.” “The two things, that are developing the user service and revenue streams go hand in hand or you don’t have an advertising business. Despite regular rumours to the contrary, it is obvious it has to remain free. Charging people would kill our business.”
Colm was born in Creggan Heights but his family moved to adjoining Rinmore Drive when he was eight. The family still live there. One of six boys his parents Kathleen and Ricky Long sent him to St. Columb’s College where he studied French, economics and politics at A-Level.
Colm left Derry aged 18 and studied linguistics, specialising in Russian and French at the University of Brighton.
“I was always good at languages and I really enjoyed learning Russian but it was challenging. Learning a language from scratch for my degree really helped me understand how users connect with Facebook.”
Next week the family begin packing ahead of their move to San Francisco. There will be new schools, friends and challenges not only for Colm but for wife of ten years, Jean, and their three children Eoin, 9, Isobel, 3 and Beth 1.
“Jean does all the hard work, she makes it all happen at home but in terms of the packing I’m in denial about the whole thing,” he laughed.
Colm doesn’t have long in denial, Facebook and the world await his next move.