One in ten in Thailand on Facebook as membership passes 6.5 million

Capping off a year of stellar growth in Thailand, Facebook just hit a major milestone in passing 6.5 million members in the country. The stat is significant as it means that more than one in ten of Thailand’s population (officially 63.5 million) is – on average – registered on the service, a huge increase which has seen the country consistently ranked as one of Facebook’s fastest growing markets this year.

Image via Facebook

The actual number of users – 6,732,780 is estimated by Facebook – is particularly impressive given Microsoft Thailand’s estimation that there are 24 million in country online, which would mean that Facebook is reaching more than 25 percent of its accessible audience. However, the exact accuracy of these figures can be questioned as it does not include mobile internet, which is/may be the only access point for those without laptops or fixed-line access.

Thailand’s appetite for all things digital and technology has continued to growth this year – as Google’s Zeitgeist report shows – Facebook’s growth from an estimated 2.5 million members in January comes in a year where it overtook Hi5 as the country’s dominant social network, while high-end smartphones including the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android-based devices has seen their market presence increase enabling more and more Thai residents to access the internet, including Facebook and other social networks, on the go.

When Facebook passed 5 million members in August I concluded that three factors were responsible for the continuation of its growth after the political demonstrations earlier in the year had seen membership of the world’s most popular social network rocket by 11 percent as 280,000 new members joined over a two week period in the height of the protests.

The same factors in August have continued to be responsible for continued growth in user numbers:

Word of mouth: Undoubtedly the strongest factor and yet the most difficult influence to measure. With increasing numbers adopting Facebook in Thailand the spread, adoption and usage creates its own promotion dynamic. For example, non Facebook users may find friends posting photos on the service tempt them to sign up, or interest in the latest social game prompts them to give it a shot. The more people that use Facebook, the more ‘buzz’ is created and thus the stronger the word of mouth influence.

Gaming: We already know online gaming, social gaming and mobile gaming are huge across Asia. Facebook taps into all three making its entertainment and gaming offerings a big driver of new and returning traffic.

 Proof of the power of Facebook games in Thailand can be seen with the entry of Thai languages games to Facebook’s top twenty fastest growing titles and Kasikorn bank’s decision to create a Facebook game to run in conjunction with its existing SME marketing efforts.

Mobile: With increasingly sophisticated technology becoming available in more affordable mobile phones, more users are enabled to access the internet through their mobile device. In a market where fixed-line internet is immature, unreliable and available to less than 25 percent of the population, mobile is the big internet enfranchiser and the future of wider option of internet. The upcoming 3G license auctions mark a critical moment in the nation’s telecommunications industry and the future of mass market internet access 

Sadly the optimism over 3G faded with yet further delays to the bidding process, but the point remains the same as 3G – whenever it happens – is likely to be a major driver of increased activity on Facebook and new members who are unable to access it currently.

Facebook in Thailand in 2011

We can expect to the numbers continue to increase in 2011 but the question is what will be the saturation point for Thailand?

Markets like the US and UK seem to have peaked at 47 and 46 percent of the population as a whole. Clearly in Thailand – and across Asia – where internet access is far less widespread many of the population may not have the chance to be online enough/at all to find value from using Facebook.

This is where mobile comes in, as the much heralded primary access point for the internet in Asia. Facebook is pushing mobile ‘light’ versions of its site, designed for developing markets, with the aim of allowing those without fixed or regular internet to enjoy the benefits from their device. But with smartphones remaining a niche in Thailand – with precious few owned by those with regular fixed-line access – it remains to be seen whether mobile internet can step in to fill the digital divide just yet.

There is no doubt it has the potential to do so in the future however, particularly given the near-standardisation of features and mobile internet, which is allowing those with low budget phones to enjoy a more sophisticated experience, while budget smartphones – lead by Android – will also have a key part to play.

On a related note: Singapore-based blogger Michael Netzley’s initial and follow-up posts on factor driving digital uptake in Asia are fascinating reads, while my post discussing the issues raised is here.