Facebook Booming in Asia – Local Competition, Too
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Facebook Booming in Asia – Local Competition, Too

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If social media companies drew battle lines on a map of Asia, Facebook would have nearly everyone else routed. Last year the massive swathe of terrain eclipsed Europe and North America to become Facebook’s biggest source of fans of any region in the world, with a whopping 242 million users as of last September.

In particular, this trend is visible in Southeast Asia. As noted by Tech in Asia, of Indonesia’s population of 240 million, some 64 million maintain profiles on the site. Bangkok has more netizens posting photos and updates on a Facebook timeline than any other city on the globe.

Further, when it comes to the speed of growth, Vietnam, India and Indonesia are by some estimates leading the world, just behind top ranked Brazil. Even in Japan, where the site was slow to catch on, there has been a veritable explosion of accounts opened since last year. It has even overtaken Japan’s Mixi.

This trend shows no signs of abating. Facebook may have reached its apex of growth in the U.S. and Europe, but in swathes of developing Asia it continues to climb. Market research and mobile promotions firm Jana (Sanskrit for “people”) recently did a survey of 2,000 Asian Facebook users in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines and Vietnam. The results are telling.

More than 50 percent of social media-saturated Indonesians check Facebook, the nation’s social media portal of choice, more than five times daily. The numbers revealed by the other nations surveyed don’t dip much either: users in the Philippines who check the site at least five times per day also exceed 50 percent, while Malaysian social media fiends who check in at least five times a day represent nearly 60 percent of those surveyed.

Another trend worth noting is the likelihood that users will use the site even more heavily in the future. At the lower end, 37.87 percent of Indonesians said they’d be checking in with their social networks more often in the future, while already heavy using Malaysians said they’d be 56.67 percent likely to increase their usage even more. Notably, only 9.75 percent aimed to wean themselves from Facebook.

The full results, including detailed breakdowns of how they access the site, what percent of users’ friends also have profiles, when they log on, what they do on the site – big ones: post status updates, read news feeds, share photos/videos and game – and which brands’ pages they “Like”, can be seen here.

Yet, to end with a glowing pronouncement of Facebook’s Asiatic rise misses some key points. Namely, the website’s penetration rate of 6.62 percent is much lower than in Europe (29.72 percent) or North America (44.63 percent). If anything, Asia’s mammoth population relative to any other global region make its absolute number of users seem paltry. While much of this comes down to linguistic barriers and patchy Internet access, there are a few other factors that cloud the picture.

On the business side of things, this is largely attributable to the rise of Asia’s own social networks. According to an article published by Wired, Asian social networking platforms like LINE (worth almost $1 billion in revenue) and Whatsapp (with a rumored value of $100 million) are getting it right where social media behemoth Facebook has gotten it wrong.

Put simply, people are gradually getting tired of receiving a deluge of images, updates and invitations to play games like Candy Crush Saga – the hallmarks of Facebook life. By contrast, the Wired article argues that Asian social media platforms tend to keep it light, fun and most importantly, simple.

Another factor holding Facebook back in Asia is the fact that the website remains blocked in its potentially largest market of all: China – where Weibo, yet another homegrown social media giant, rules the day. Facebook isn’t alone. Twitter and YouTube are also among the websites unable to scale the Great Firewall of China without the help of a proxy.

China’s Ministry of Industry of Information Technology released an unintentionally amusing article (link in Chinese) titled “Myanmar lifts ban of Facebook, blocked now by only four countries in the world”.

The article reads: “Myanmar recently unblocked the popular social networking site Facebook, which means only four countries in the world still ban the website: North Korea, Cuba, Iran and another country.”

One Weibo microblogger wrote: “You know what the other country is!”

Nonetheless, many in China find their way around the Great Firewall without undue stress. “I’d say around 30 percent of my Chinese friends use Facebook,” a social media specialist who works in Shanghai told The Diplomat. “We just have to use a VPN (virtual private network), which is inconvenient but not difficult.”

“On the other hand,” she added, “about 90 percent of them use Weibo. Slowly more are coming on to Facebook, but Weibo is definitely the king for now.”

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