Guest post: The internet and social media in Southeast Asia

This is is a guest post from Singapore-based Stephanie Phua (@stooffi) who is taking part in the Standard Chartered Breeze competition to find the World’s coolest intern. I blogged about the competition back here and was contacted by Steph who is seeking endorsement from a fellow blogger as part of the competition.

I like to think I drive a hard (but fair) bargain, so Steph has provided this contribution. Following the post, are a few of my thoughts on her suitability for the competition.


– – –

Looking at the amount of internet users in the world right now, Asia accounts for a 42 percent of internet users in the world (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2010), even though their penetration rates are one of the lowest amongst the continents.

Based on population alone it’s logical for MNCs to target Asian markets like China, India, Japan and Korea. However, understanding how localization can take place in these contexts might be harder due to the language barrier, as well as the presence and popularity of locally developed social sites. Southeast Asian countries are usually overlooked due to the stigma that they are still developing and have yet to engage in social media. Companies usually fail to realize that it is easy and beneficial to penetrate into these markets, because of various factors.

With more than 110 million (IDC Digital Marketplace 2009) internet users across Southeast Asia, the internet is definitely the region’s fastest growing medium. Moreover, the untapped potential of the Southeast Asian market is huge – and this only means that internet usage will continue to grow.

A comScore study announced in June this year revealed that the key economic players in Southeast Asia were leading the region’s social media usage, namely the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. 

Singapore enjoys one of the highest internet penetration rates (77.8 percent, according to in Southeast Asia due to the government’s willingness and capability to establish strong broadband and 3G infrastructures. Singapore is also rated as one of the most advanced digital economies in the world (Digital Economy Rankings, 2010). That said, it seems like Singapore has already developed a strong position to support technological advancements and perhaps has reached a plateau in terms of technological growth. 

Malaysia is fast catching up at 64.6 percent, with the government apportioning efforts to create a welcoming culture for computing and technology knowledge. 

The Philippines and Indonesia actually have some of the lowest internet penetration rates (29.7 percent and 12.3 percent respectively) amongst their Asian counterparts. It is perhaps surprising then, that according to comScore these two countries are the region’s heaviest users of social networking sites. 

In fact, according to Semiocast, Indonesia is the second most active Asian player on Twitter, next to Japan. For Indonesia, mobile is emerging as a dominant internet access point, and the popularity of Blackberry smartphones probably fuels the heavy usage of Twitter.

The four countries mentioned have a relatively high percentage of English language speakers. Moreover, across all four countries identified, the top social networks are Facebook and Twitter (According to Such behavior echoes the adoption pattern of the US and Europe, and these two popular global platforms allow for easy adaptability to local cultures. While a brand would not have to understand the technological mechanics of foreign social media sites, it does not mean that market differences can be ignored. As with all global branding strategies, there should be a good mix between standardisation and localisation; and with social media, the nuances of each market and differences in communications have to be taken into consideration as well. 

Perhaps it’s time to pay more attention to the internet and social media in Southeast Asia. It’s big, and is set to grow even bigger.

– – –

Thanks Stephanie for this great contribution. In addition to the points raised I’d also add that a cursory glance at the number Facebook users in Asia [at this post here] – which now numbers more than 100 million – is important. From the list it is clear that South East Asia, with dominant share of the list, has an established, large audience online which, in turn, represents a potentially hugely valuable market – despite the fact it is often overlooked for the huge populations/economies of China and India.

Using Facebook as a measurement metric may not be traditional, but it has become such a key part of online strategies that there is value. Facebook itself has grown significantly from a social network that was (still is?) seen as a bit of fun, and I’d argue that its data is as/if not more ‘valuable’ than metrics such as internet penetration data (particularly when mobile is rarely included) in Asia as one can also plot active users, mobile users, value per users, and many other data points. The basic fact that 100 million Asians use it shows there a huge, captive audience across the region that businesses employing the right tactics and message can tap into.

Which rolls nicely into some comments about Steph and the world’s coolest intern.

SC has already blogged about her in some detail so I’m going stick to stick to her suitability for the position…or indeed any other social media vacancy for that matter.

SC is looking for someone with an understanding of Asia and its technology and (crucially) social media landscape, to which I present this guest post.

They want someone with great knowledge of Southeast Asia and its key business markets, and how social media fits into that paradigm.

Someone with a degree of experience in social media and its business uses is preferential, as is a person who is creative and already making use of social media as an example of what they are capable of and understand.

That she reached out to me with this proposal is further evidence that she is keen, willing and confident. While I should add that I have known of her for a while thanks to her spot writing for social media blog Penn & Olsen and her @socialmediasia Twitter activities.