Search engines trail social networks in Singapore and Hong Kong

Another week brings another excellent digital media article from ZDNet Asia’s Jamie Yap. Previously Yap wrote about the how social media marketings lags behind usage in Asia, this time he noted the growth of social search highlighing countries in the region where social networking is more popular and infuential than search engines, and looks at the potential for the future.

Chiefly Google, and other search engines, have grown an entirely new industry around the science of getting websites, and links, to feature as visibly as possible (ie at the top of the page) for search terms that target audiences and customers are likely to use. Google itself has become a window to the web…however…given the sheer number of people worldwide using social media – 500 million of which are on Facebook alone – the importance of using social media cannot be underestimated alongside SEO and search engine marketing.

I’ve mentioned social media beating search in Singapore before (see here) but Hong Kong can also be added to the list.

John Merakovsky from Experian, the global information services company which owns Hitwise, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that “social networking visits have consistently exceeded search engine usage” in both Hong Kong and Singapore since late 2007.

Quoting recent statistics pulled from both countries for the week ending Oct. 23, the director of digital marketing at Experian Asia Pacific showed that social networks in Hong Kong had 16.69 percent of user visits compared with 7.58 percent for search engines. In Singapore, the numbers were 15.57 percent for social networks to 10.15 percent for search engines.

What makes Singapore and Hong Kong unique is that only the UK (this year) and Australia (briefly for a week around Christmas time only) – although I believe Sweden or another Scandinavian nation may also be included – have passed this landmark and yet it has been happening in both Asian countries “since 2007”, such is the distinctly different profile of internet users in both countries.

The article continues on the topic of social search, essentially explaining that, despite the rival in traffic numbers, social networking sites are not a ‘threat’ to search, it is more accurate to say they are complimentary marketing channels: search is about a user identifying a need or question, however information retrieval through social media is more often passive.

From the article:

User behavior is inherently different on social networks and search engines, Mortensen argued. He pointed out that on social networks, it is “more a question of an individual being made aware of a piece of information” he did not know before, by those in his online social circle. In this case, “[the referral traffic] makes you aware of something you didn’t know, and the referral comes from someone you trust, he explained.

But with topical, algorithm search engines, users have already made up their minds about what they will actively look for, said Mortensen, who asserted that the pattern of going to a typical search engine will not change. 

He expects that the near future will see a merging of social information from social networks and topical search done on search engines. But short of saying that social search is revolutionizing Web search, he defined social search as simply tapping into whatever referrals or tags that one’s contacts on network sites such as Facebook have made.

The article (here) is a recommended read and quotes a number of digital analysts in Asia discussing a theme which is sure to draw greater attention in Asia as the region’s usage of social networking sites continues to grow in both numbers and significance.