Facebook, has helped drive Vietnam’s online business to new heights. Source: Reuters.

Despite govt concerns, Vietnamese business owners thrive on Facebook

FACEBOOK has become an entrenched part of everyday Vietnamese life as the platform opens the doors for more e-commerce and connectivity across the Southeast Asian country.

Intermittently banned and constantly a concern for Vietnamese authorities, there is little denying that the platform has helped many in the country grow their e-commerce businesses over the last few years. According to economist Nguyen Tri Hieu, e-commerce accounts for about 10 percent of the entire economy, while about 2.3 percent of all Vietnamese workers (roughly 1.1 million people) are employed by Facebook-based businesses.

“Excluding elderly and children, most people in Vietnam use Facebook, which now has a huge influence on society,” said Le Quang Tu Do, deputy head of Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information under the Ministry of Information and Communications, to Bloomberg.

“The growth in Facebook users creates favorable conditions for youngsters to start their businesses.”

Many young users of the platform are finding opportunities to break into the business world. Pages selling cosmetics, garments and perfume rack up as many as 200,000 followers, and are able to skirt many of the bureaucratic hurdles that make retail and commerce in Vietnam difficult. Opening a business in Vietnam, whether you’re an online or offline entity, can be costly and an exercise in futility, as entrepreneurs are forced to cough up cash, endure a lengthy application process, as well as harassment and potential shut downs by government officials

“If you open a shop on the street, you will be hassled by a dozen authorities a week,” said Vu Tu Thanh, chief Vietnam representative of the US-Asean Business Council, to Bloomberg.

In comparison, Facebook is easy, and it gives entrepreneurs access to huge audiences that would otherwise be inaccessible. Facebook is wildly popular in Vietnam, which records one of the highest social media use times in the world, driven by the country’s young population, of which almost 60 percent are aged below 35 years.

Facebook has made it easier for sellers to make a living without the costs of a physical store. Source: Shutterstock

According to Monica Peart, a senior forecasting director at research house EMarketer, Vietnam leads in terms of global social network penetration.

Facebook’s platform does not include a payments service in Vietnam, leading many business owners to process payments manually through a rather convoluted process involving multiple mediums, but the cost of setting up a Facebook shop as compared to a physical stores outweighs many of those issues. Facebook’s business platform has made business opportunities much more accessible to the majority of Vietnam’s low-income population.

“The only way I could succeed was by using social networks,” said Quang Dang, a Facebook entrepreneur whose cosmetics businesses today employ 200 people. “As long as Facebook exists, my business will keep expanding.”

“We haven’t seen this scale in other places,” said Joe Nguyen, the senior vice president of ComScore’s Asia Pacific division, to Bloomberg. “Vietnamese are very entrepreneurial. Everyone wants to try to sell something.”

The proliferation of Facebook in the country has created some problems for Vietnam’s communist  government. The authorities had at one point blocked access to the platform, but since reinstatement it’s become almost too crucial to the economy to block again. Though content is still heavily monitored, there is a palpable awareness of the importance of the platform to the Vietnamese economy.

“The government has a self-contradictory position toward Facebook,” said the US-Asean Business Council’s Thanh.

“Ministries responsible for economic growth would like to promote this. To those whose tasks are to control challenges to authority or the legitimacy of the state, Facebook just stands in their way.”

Unlike neighboring China, whose government censorship of Western technology companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google, has led to the embrace and popularity of local services such as WeChat and Weibo, Vietnamese Internet users have stuck with Facebook.

“Using Facebook is now part of Vietnamese culture and it has become a true gold mine,” said Cam Vu, a 25-year old entrepreneur whose Facebook business selling watches employs a workforce of about 300 people.