Building brands in a changing society

The Other Social Networks That Matter in Asia

During a recent conference, I shared a shuttle ride with a brand manager from Jakarta, Indonesia. Over the course of the ride, she carried on multiple conversations simultaneously: one with me and an untold number with her friends over her smart phone. But it wasn’t the number of conversations that made this memorable; it was the fact she was using Path, a private photo sharing and messaging service. None of my friends are using Facebook these days, she told me, Path does it all – chatting, photos – and it’s just between friends.

Facebook still dominates Indonesia, of course, just like it does the rest of Asia. With a few notable exceptions – China, Japan and Korea – Facebook holds a comfortable number one spot in markets across the region, according to the 2014 statistics from We Are Social’s global study. But it’s the runner ups in this contest that are interesting, particularly for global or regional marketers who want to go a little deeper into the psyche of the digital consumer.

Indonesia happens to be Path’s number one market, which is interesting for a company headquartered out of San Francisco. Described as “the place for your personal life,” Path’s user base of 4 million in Indonesia versus Facebook’s 60.5 million gives the incumbent little to worry about. Still, it is notable that 4 million Indonesians find appeal in a closed network where they can share freely with up to 150 friends and family.

In Taiwan, with Yahoo!’s shuttering of the blog community Wretch, the lone challenger to the global social media giants is Plurk. This is a regionally popular micro blogging site with over a third of its users based in Taiwan. Meanwhile, in Thailand, it’s Instagram and picture-based sharing that holds a special appeal to the market: the Siam Paragon shopping mall in Bangkok was the world’s most Instagrammed location in 2013.

India offers surprises too. It appears that India is one of the very few markets beyond Brazil where Google’s Orkut was still a viable social network until recently. Zing in Vietnam is a similar story. It, too, once held the top spot but lost its position to Facebook in 2012.

Finally, there are the markets where Facebook is not king. In Korea, KakaoTalk, a multimedia messenging platform, is the number one social network. In Japan, it’s Line, another multimedia sharing app. And, of course, there is China, where Qzone, Wechat and Sina Weibo dominate. Momo, a location-based messenger app popular for flirting, is a relatively small player and yet it already has 40 million monthly users. It’s just another reminder of China’s impressive scale.

Outside of China, Japan and Korea, Facebook remains a safe bet for the social media needs of most Asian markets. Still, while Facebook’s usage statistics tell us where mass consumers are today, the smaller players may be indicators of where younger consumers will be flocking tomorrow. Or they may be legacies from pre-Facebook days. Either way, for the global marketer, there’s value in understanding where each market sits in its social journey and how that affects connecting with consumers in a locally relevant way. It might just be the differentiating factor in your next campaign.

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