Recently, I have been having conversations with my counterparts in Europe about social networking, and specifically Facebook. I understand that Facebook and Twitter are the golden children of social media with huge amounts of press coverage and no doubt Facebook is the fastest growing social network in the world as well in the Asia-Pacific region; the growth was a huge 458% – but this growth tails off outside English speaking world. As far as I’m concerned in Asia, it’s all hype.
My conversations all started with some comscore data and how for Asia it presented an inaccurate picture of the region. As a general rule I don’t use comscore data from the region because it presents an incomplete picture. Comscore does not measure any data from internet cafes, or mobile devices – e.g. how the majority of Asians access the internet. And maybe this is why no Asian countries are not listed in comscore’s recent “World’s Most Engaged Social Networking Audience” study, even though a third of the world’s Social network subscribers are in Asia Pacific. But that’s another welikey post.
Until recently, the region held scant interest for the American social networking heavyweights of Facebook and MySpace. Local sites such as Korea’s Cyworld and Japan’s Mixi dominated in the region as well as U.S. laggards Friendster and Orkut. Local sites dominate because they understand the domestic nuances of social networking behavior. Succeeding in Asia takes more than producing a translated version. This is where Facebook has failed. When they launched local language versions of their site, they did so without any major form of investment in the country – no local office and the translated version was done by volunteer members. Plus their mobile offering sucks. One more reason why Mixi and Cyworld dominate is because their mobile and PC functionality are identical, and the user interface works really well. Success in China is based on having partnerships with major portals which provide an audience base – QQ (tencent), MOP, Baidu, Sina, etc.
The main differences between Western & Asian SNS: (source: Isobar analysis of local information)
And to the most popular social networking sites in key Asian markets…
South Korea: (source: Korea Click Jun 2009) Note, besides Cyworld, all popular SNS are the blogging features of Korean portals.
Japan: (source: 2009 Internet White Paper by Impress)
For China there are all kinds of different ways of ranking social networks. But in general, socio-political differences determine 2 different kinds of social networking sites ; one where you register your real name and the other where users can remain anonymous (mainly for the portals, blogs, & bulletin board/ forum sites). I’ve included 2 ways of comparing SNS for China; sites requiring real name registration (the Facebook clones) and then the overall SNS market, which I feel is more accurate since there are 3 billion anonymous accounts (users have multiple accounts).
(source: iUserTracker Jun 2009) – the data below are for Facebook clones.
The overall social networking market in China: (source: Isobar analysis of Techcrunch, Neilsen and local data Mar 2009)
I’ve included the target demographics for each site because, this pretty much boils down to what services they offer and the anonymity issue. Youth are interested in entertainment and gossip, mainly looking at celebrity news and music. Blogging, forum posting and IM can still be published and read anonymously to the government’s ire. University students are interested in linking with their friends as a source of entertainment and popularity contests. For white collar workers these sites are a source of killing time, and the main form of killing time is multi-player games. Recent Chinese regulation states that users much register their real names to play games. I believe this was all in an effort to combat internet addiction, rather than censorship issues.
And the numbers for Facebook: