Will the election make 2011 the year for Twitter in Thailand?

Twitter in Thailand is plagued by a lack of official data, however recent estimates suggest there are 450,000 users in Thailand with more than one million Thai-language tweets sent each day according to a Bangkok Post article.

From the article:

Thailand Trending, an agency that monitors daily Twitter use, listed 450,000 Twitter users in Thailand, of whom 100,000 are active.

Thailand is also marked on Twitter’s “heat map”, meaning the number of Twitter users is climbing. More than one million messages are tweeted in the Thai language daily.

It is unclear exactly what is meant by the 100,000 active statistic – and whether it is calculated by frequency of tweets or follower/following numbers – as 350,000 dormant accounts (more than 75 percent of the total) seems very high, although Business Insider suggests that there are just 21 million ‘active’ users worldwide.

The main problem with the data from Thailand Trending, useful though it is, is that it relies on the number of users that the agency is monitoring rather than the raw data itself. So while those that tweet in Thai are relatively easily located and, due to the small range in the language’s usage, most may be based in Thailand.

However, this method excludes those who tweet in English and any others that have not been detected.

Nonetheless, Twitter has certainly grown significantly in the last months.

Using data from Sysomos calculated back in November 2009, Malaysia-based tech blogger Grey Review estimated Thailand’s Twitter population at 317,339 with a revised figure of 910,000 proposed in February this year.

The latter figure, used to track unique visitors to Twitter.com, can be combined with data from Thailand Trending – which estimates that around 35 percent of updates in Thailand come from Twitter’s website – to give a revised estimate of 2.6 million Twitter users in Thailand.

Without official data from Twitter it is impossible to verify either of the figures – which differ wildly – but, using Thailand Trending figures alone, the number of tweets sent is impressive itself.

Social Media NZ carried an interesting guest post in March arguing that 2011 is Thailand’s big year for Facebook.

While I wouldn’t dispute the fact that Facebook will continue its stellar growth this year – with the 10 million member mark likely to be passed before the end of the year – most of its ground-work was done last year, when it tripled its user base and become one of the world’s fastest growing markets for Facebook. Bearing in mind Facebook’s 2010 success,  2011 could belong to Twitter if it can develop its user base in a significant way, but a hook to drive awareness is crucial.

An upcoming election, assuming you believe the Prime Minister will be granted his request for house disillusion, is very much key to my theory. As we’ve witnessed in neighbour Singapore, social media can change the shape of election campaigns with Facebook and Twitter providing a direct platform for political parties to communicate with voters, while voters themselves share ideas, links and argue online.

While Facebook and Twitter are both well developed amongst Singapore’s internet users, the two are not on such an equal footing in Thailand where Facebook has far larger mainstream visibility.

If Singapore’s recent political events are anything to go by, social media is likely to play a huge role in the proceedings which – given Facebook’s relative popularity and visibility amongst mainstream internet audiences – could see Twitter move into new user demographics and hit the kind of growth Facebook enjoyed in the country last year – thanks chiefly to the political events around the Bangkok protests amongst other factors.

It will certainly be interesting to observe Twitter in the run up to the Thai election which is scheduled between late June and early July.

To help keep up with the political/election buzz on Twitter I’ve pulled together this list of Thai politicians using the service. I suspect there are more than the 22 I’ve found on Twitter, so please raise any omissions in the comments section below or contact me via Twitter – thanks.