Gartner on the development of social media in Asia’s ‘westernised’ countries

It’s a tall order to blog around the Gartner’s recent report on the development of social media in Asia. That may seem like a negative comment, but in fact the reason such a post is so difficult is that the report is so detailed and includes excellent analysis on a huge range of talking points… so my grumble is in fact high praise.

The main takeaway, as emphasised in the company’s press release, asserts that “social media in Asia Pacific is developing in different directions to the U.S. and Europe”. I dare say this emphasis caters for those with the lowest awareness of digital in Asia (certainly no-one living in the region) as the diverse culture within Asia means social media, like many things, has developed differently within the content itself, let alone ‘more developed’ regions like the U.S. or Europe.

Despite the (somewhat) simplified pitch, the report is the most comprehensive and analytical piece of research on social media in Asia that I have seen from any analyst firm or company.

So the real issue is how to do it justice without quoting the entire report, which is clearly not allowed – btw: additional thumbs up in Gartner and its PR for providing the full report to bloggers and media, it never fails to surprise me how many firms research and publish social media studies, only to deny said documents to the very bloggers and new media influencers they have just studied.

So, in a effort to find an alternative angle to the report – coverage of which has rightly been high profile – I’ve focused on the analysis and discussion behind the growth of ‘western’ social networks in region, with, for example, Twitter and Facebook performing exceptionally well in some areas where local players dominated an already active social media scene.

As I mentioned above, and is a big bug bear of mine, the term ‘Asia’ itself is pretty loose as it covers a region that is differs hugely by culture, politics, wealth, religion and many other factors. Asian states have far less in common with each other than countries in Europe or North America,  so insight that dissects the region to give more accurate, precise information is refreshing. The opposite, to lumping the region together as one, dilutes the value of any insight as it is rarely applicable across the entire region.

So below are extracts from the report – authored by  Nick Ingelbrecht, Research Director at Gartner – explaining trends and providing analysis as to why Southeast Asia has become a hot-bed for global social media sites.

“Westernised Economies”

As opposed to using the label Southeast Asia, Gartner prefers the term ‘Westernised’ economies which goes further than the region referring explicitly to Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia Singapore, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Though there are many shared factors for the rise of social networking across Asia as a whole – for example the rise of mobile and smartphones, though this influence varies across the region – the report sticks to looking at growth factors and explanations unique to these ‘westernised’ economies in Asia.

It explains:

While Asia’s biggest economies have been slow to embrace the global social communities of Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter, many countries in the region have followed the adoption patterns of Europe and North America.

Facebook, for example, has established a strong position in the more “westernized” markets of the region and is the most visited social networking site in Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia Singapore, New Zealand and Hong Kong (according to ComScore).

While the report goes on to state that “there are several possible reasons behind this trend, notably”:

1. The prevalence of English or roman character sets in the local language

2. Their recent twentieth century colonial history and familiarity with European and American mindsets

3. A large international disapora or migrant workforce using social networking to keep in contact with friends and family at home

4. Individualistic rather than the more collective societies of Japan, China and Korea, with the more culturally diverse communities opting for the global brands

There is little doubt for me that the use roman character sets has been a key driver of Facebook and Twitter adoption in Southeast Asia where Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore – in particular – have seen not only sizeable user numbers but proportionally large (for the region) penetration within internet users and amongst their respective populations as a whole.


Thailand, however, is exhibiting signs of social media development – with the country’s Facebook ‘population’ ranked 21st worldwide and its Prime Minister amongst the world’s top 10 most followed heads of state on Twitter – yet it uses a non-roman alphabet with a low rate of English compared with its neighbours. However, social is more collective than those in eastern Asia, it does not have a large international disapora nor does it share a western mindset.

The report is light on Thailand, though it is not the first time an analyst firm has paid more attention to larger more influential nations, which leaves us to draw our own conclusions.

Thailand has its own unique circumstances, such as the growth of mobile-internet through the rise in BlackBerry smartphones ownership and a unique political/censorship situation which saw a growth in social media triggered by civil unrest and protests earlier this year – as explained in more detail here.

Vietnam is another anomaly with mobile internet in the country growing more than 800 percent last year (reaching a total of 110 million mobile subscribers in early 2010) while over half of Vietnam’s population is under 30 years old, representing a generation that grew up and will continue to live on the internet.

Indonesia: the exception

Those two examples aside, the report does highlight Indonesia as a notable exception, bracketing the country under ‘Major Market Variations’ alongside key Asian economic powers China, India, Japan and Korea.

The adoption of social networking in Indonesia has been heavily influenced by local income limitations, price sensitivities and relatively low fixed broadband penetration.

Household fixed broadband penetration stands at less than 1% yet mobile penetration is approaching 70%.

It is not surprising therefore, that Indonesia has been recorded as having the world’s highest Twitter penetration as a proportion of Internet users.

The proliferation of low-price mobile phones, not least the takeup of the BlackBerry, big SMS bundles and increasingly competitive prepaid offers from the carriers has helped drive adoption of microblogging.

Twitter over mobile has come to be seen as a cheap, quick and easy social network service compared with the more bandwidthhungry Internet social sites. Twitter has also had a boost from local celebrities who have used the service to interact with their fans.

Facebook has gained ground over established rivals such as Friendster in Indonesia.

Facebook is not limited to wealthier users, since it is also popular through public Internet kiosks, however most activity tends to be in urban areas where people have easier and more frequent access to public Internet services.

Interestingly, many of the factors highlighted as key to Indonesia are arguably transferable and applicable to Thailand and, to a lesser extent, Vietnam, although neither boasts anything like the social media traction amongst the popular like Indonesia does.

There is more content from the report worth showcasing so I will prepare another post. However I will, again, try to adopt a different angle to existing stories reporting the findings from Gartner.