Social Media in Asia: everybody is in love with Facebook (but China says no)

facebook china

Hot subject today: how is Facebook doing in Asia?

I’m sure you’ve already seen this infographic by Ph. Creative, where they try to picture what Facebook will be in a dozen years: the Facebook University, the Facebook Healthcare system, eventually a Facebook Air Force. Of course this is all ironic, but Zuckerberg’s creature actually looks like capable of taking over the entire planet.

Yet there are some areas of the world where Facebook is not – or not yet – the main social networking platform.

Like in Russia, where VKontakte is the leading social network: more than 100 million accounts and 20 million daily users. Despite several issues related to spam and privacy, it seems to be willing to stay on top of the country’s social media scenario, being the fourth most visited website in Russia.


With more than 5 million Russian users, Facebook is obviously growing, and it could potentially keep on rising to the top of the chart, taking over both Vkontakte and the #2 social network in the country, Odnoklassniki. A while ago we talked about why VKontakte is still more popular than Facebook. But who knows what the situation will be in 5 or 10 years?

Let’s think about what just happened in Brazil: Facebook overtook Orkut at the end of last year. When a social network is annually growing by more than 300% there’s nothing you can do to stop it, after all. Especially when this social network has almost a billion users all around the world. And the rest of Latin America is not far behind Brazil: we just saw the case of a Colombian film that became the first movie distributed on Facebook.

And then – of course – there’s China. China has been able to resist the Facebook invasion for a number of reasons, which we are going to analyze right now.

1) The situation in Asia

Facebook is literally exploding  in Asia, especially in the South East: Thailand, Indonesia, Malesia, Vietnam. Big numbers and an extremely fast growth. Some figures? In the Philippines 93% of Internet users are on Facebook.

The new Social Bakers report shows it clearly: as of February 2012 there are 209 million Facebook users in Asia. And there’s more: “monthly growth is 3.4%. This is more than double compared to monthly Facebook global growth of 1.6%.”

Take a look at this:

facebook asia

Let’s randomly focus on a country: Indonesia. This report from We Are Social shows us how – despite the internet availability can’t be compared to the one in Western countries – the usage of social networks is very high: 71% of Internet users have daily interactions via social networks – mainly on Facebook.

internet penetration indonesia

And we don’t want to mention here the whole mobile revolution: let’s just think about the fact that in Cambodia Internet is available to 2% of households, while mobile technologies can reach the 76% of total population.

Here you go with a couple more slides, from another We Are Social report still referring to social media usage in Asia:

social media china

We said this before, didn’t we? Philippines are the “Facebook world capital”, if we consider the ratio of Internet users to Facebook users. Malesia and Indonesia are right after. Thailand is just a bit behind: I want to show you a campaign I run into a few days ago. It was made by AXE – which has 250k fans just in Thailand. It’s an integrated campaign, perfectly consistent with the usual Unilever’s deodorant tone of voice. I think it’s interesting:

All right, I know: putting some hot girls in front of a camera is not the newest idea ever, but still, it shows us which marketing strategies best perform the country: definitely the Facebook-centric ones. Looks like Zuckerberg is dominating Asia, right?


social media asia

Despite conquering the market in several Asian countries, the weight of millions of Chinese people that still don’t use it is really high. Therefore, our good old Facebook in not even in the top 3 most used social networks in the continent. Here’s why.

2) The Cinese social media ecosystem 

China saw the development of a galaxy of different social media, different than “ours”. It’s like an independent ecosystem, it’s not just about Facebook vs. RenRen.

As the time passes by, it will get more and more difficult for Facebook and Twitter to win over their “clones” RenRen e Sina Weibo. It will get harder for Youtube to displace Youku (300 millions of unique visitors) or Tudou. And even harder for Google to oust Baidu (400 millions users), and for messaging services to take over QQ, the enormous messaging platform with over 700 million users, available now in several languages. The sole QQ mobile gaming system counts more than 200M registered users.

QQ gaming platform

And how about Pinterest? I’ve no idea, but probably someone’s working on the “Made in China” version of it as I’m writing this post.

We will dig into the subject with a more accurate analysis of Chinese social networks in our next post (little teaser).

Then there’s the censorship issue, which is pretty relevant. I found this amazing article from a magazine called Internazionale – unfortunately it’s in Italian – that shows some interesting facts about the Baidu search engine. 85% share of the market, half a billion dollars in revenue and over 400M users – actually not very far from Google, that in 2010 had to close its Beijing branch. By the way: Google works in China, the thing is no one uses it.

On the Chinese search engine cinese you can’t find any videos or images when you type in “Tiananmen”, but you can legally listen to a huge amount of songs, after Baidu teamed up with Universal, Warner e Sony. These are the big contradictions of a web service that could potentially become the biggest search engine in our planet – even bigger than the Big G: projections says in 5 years it could rech 750 million users.

Facebook is blocked at the moment, same thing for Twitter. The Beijing government is also introducing tighter laws to control the traffic of Chinese platforms such as Sina Weibo. Like forcing users to use their real name – in order to better monitor whatever they share – or blocking specific keywords.

But let’s get to the point: I recently found out about this little thing:

mac china

Apple launched integrations with all the most popular Chinese platforms. Calendar synchronization with QQ and Baidu, Share Sheets compatible with Youku, and the possibility to share multimedia contents on Sina Weibo.

Western world is getting prepared for the Chinese social media invasion. But there’s something more: also the Western World is getting ready to invade the Chinese market. Today – in the second decade of the third millennium – when we consider setting up an “integrated social media marketing campaign” we must forget about the old Facebook-Youtube-Twitter logic. Nowadays, integrated web-marketing strategists have to keep in mind that there are more channels through which to push their messages, if they want to reach the biggest market.

Many international brands already do it, and we’ll see how in the next post (little teaser).

What is happening to social media happened to every other business field. I don’t want to annoy you with the same old statistics to prove that China is the next big thing, yet put just one number in here: over the last year the high-end car producer Ferrari grew +62% in the Chinese market. They don’t only use social media a lot; they also have some big dollars to spend!

My rant is over, but I guess at this point you are expecting a little teaser, right?

Well, as many of you already know, the most promising social network in China is Sina Weibo. Launched in the summer of 2009, it now counts more than 300 million registered users, which is more than a half of all the Internet users in China. I can’t wait for the English version to be released, I really want to start using it.

In the meanwhile, we’re working together with our friend Andrea Colaianni – that a couple of months ago shared on his blog a really cool infographic about the Chinese social media explosion – on an article that will explore hands-on the hottest social network in China. To find out what people using it every day think about it, and to understand its dynamics.

And – most importantly – to see in details which opportunities Sina Weibo & Co. can offer to global marketers all over the world.

敬請關注 (which I think is the translation of: stay tuned!)

Guido Ghedin


  1. Pingback: How does marketing on Sina Weibo work? | YDL

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