East Asia falls for Western social media idols


East Asia, and countries like Japan and South Korea, are known for being ahead of the game when it comes to technology in Asia.

As early adopting regions, Japan and South Korea have been amongst the first countries to witness 3G, mass market of mobile internet usage, high smartphones ownership levels, mobile geo-location and mobile services – like social networking, photo uploading, multimedia, etc.

Being so far ahead of the game, and thus innovating at their own speed with less outside influence, combined with both countries’ unique language and writing form, hasseen both countries’ social networking habits grow domestically with little influence from global networks.

Recently developments suggest that these stubborn, ‘home-grown’ markets are beginning to be influenced by dominant global social media players.

Last month an AP story looked at the rise of Twitter in Japan.

The proportion of Japanese Internet users who tweet is 16.3 percent and now surpasses the ratio among Americans at 9.8 percent. Twitter and Japan’s top social networking site, mixi, have been running neck-and-neck with monthly visitors between 9 million and 10 million but in April Twitter squeaked past mixi, according to ratings agency Nielsen Online.

Twitter estimates Japanese write nearly 8 million tweets a day, or about 12 percent of the global total. Data from Tweet Sentiments, a web site that analyzes tweets, show Japanese are sometimes tweeting more frequently than Americans.

AP continues looking at the reasons for its success.

A mobile version of Twitter started last October, further fueling the Twitter boom in a nation where Internet-connecting cell phones have been the rule for years.

One reason is language. It’s possible to say so much more in Japanese within Twitter’s 140 letter limit. The word “information” requires just two letters in Japanese. That allows academics and politicians to relay complex views, according to Tsuda, who believes Twitter could easily attract 20 million people in Japan soon.

Another is that people are owning up to their identities on Twitter. Anonymity tended to be the rule on popular Japanese Web sites, and horror stories abounded about people getting targeted in smear-campaigns that were launched under the shroud of anonymity.

The consumer response to Twitter is summed up by social media consultant Noriyuki Ikeda.

“Twitter is turning out to be like a cocktail party…Japanese see how fun it is to network and casually connect with other people.”

Interestingly though Facebook is yet to take off in Japan, with just 3% of internet users on the service, South Korea is going through a Facebook revolutionary according to Inside Facebook

But not every country in the [Asian] region has caught the [Facebook] wave. Japan is a well-known holdout, with its own strong social networks preventing Facebook’s growth. According to conventional wisdom, South Korea is another tech-savvy country that Facebook simply can’t break into.

South Korea’s recent growth tells a different story. In the most recent month, June, it added 211,280 monthly active users to Facebook, which equates to 23.5 percent growth. During the previous month, May, it added 183,020 new MAU, which was a growth of 25.6 percent.

This acceleration has been taking place throughout the year; in the last three months, South Korea’s Facebook userbase has more than doubled to its present 1,108,840 users. Below is a graph showing the country’s growth.

The question remains as to whether Facebook can overcome the resistance of native social networks, led by Cyworld, which itself failed to cross over to the United States. Depending on what South Korea’s users are coming for, it may be possible for Facebook to coexist with Cyworld and others; the country is notoriously game-addicted, and the fact that roughly 80 percent of South Korea’s users are under 35 suggests that games may be their motivation for visiting.

Gaming is a big part of social networks in Asia. Looking at Thailand, for example, which was a similar case last year, Hi5 held sway over a small but rapidly growing Facebook presence until the latter officially rose to the top this year.

Social games, like Farmville, and support for Thai script were the primary driver for Hi5 members ditching the site in favour of Facebook though, unlike Cyworld in South Korea, Hi5 was not native to Thailand and, without inferior gaming and layout, had little appeal for Thais once they and their peer groups had made the switch to Facebook.

With more developed online consumer behaviours, success in South Korea is unlikely to as inevitable for Facebook as its growth to market dominance in Thailand was.