The vast memberships and fast growth show that social media is a truly global phenomenon. Most of the major social networks have global audiences numbering in the high millions, if not billions, with growth in nearly every country of the world. Social’s ability to instantly connect people in thousands of different countries can make the miles between nations disappear. For businesses with customers around the world, it provides the unprecedented opportunity to reach their audiences in every corner of the world with a few key strokes.
Despite all the closeness an Internet connection can provide, there are still some fascinating behavioral quirks that mark the borders between regions and countries. When your business is embarking on a global social strategy, it is important to understand how different areas of the world view and use social media.
Asia Pacific is a particularly interesting region, with generally high rates of Internet usage and a range of social networks that are unfamiliar to western audiences. Understanding the ins and outs that distinguish these markets is a must for multinational businesses looking to forge strong connections with those audiences. Here, we review the typical behaviors for social media use in China, Japan, and India.
Broad Trends in Asia Pacific
A study by integrated communications agency Waggener Edstrom examined brand engagement trends within the broader Asia Pacific reason as well as on specific countries. The research found that 78 percent of consumers get information about products and services on social media, and 68 percent share that brand-related information on social channels.
Facebook is the most popular network in the region, according to Bloomberg, boasting nearly 1.2 billion users as of January 2014. The networks most common to western audiences have much smaller followings in Asia Pacific. WhatsApp has 400 million members, Google+ has 300 million, LinkedIn has 259 million, Twitter has 232 million, and Tumblr has 230 million.
China is one of the most interesting nations in this region. The world’s most populous country has some restrictions around web properties; in fact, some of the top networks in other nations are blocked entirely. That’s not to say social media is non-existent. Statista projected that there would be 410.5 million social users in 2015, rising up to 504.1 million in 2018, and We Are Social found social media penetration at 42 percent of the total population.
Rather than Facebook or Twitter, Chinese netizens are more likely to be on networks created by Chinese businesses. Conglomerate Tencent owns several social media properties that have huge followings. Messaging app QQ ranked as the second most popular network in Asia Pacific with 816 million users, while blogging platform Qzone came in third with 632 million and Tencent Weibo secured 220 million members. Those Tencent properties are among the most valuable social brands in the country. And while those businesses are centered in China, the networks are global platforms.
Online brand engagement isn’t the strongest in China. GlobalWebIndex found that China’s average level of engagement was just 21.7 percent, ranking seventh out of 33 nations reviewed. The Economist also noted that Chinese shoppers place a high priority in reviews from friends and family, citing data from BCG that showed two-thirds of Chinese buyers relied on online recommendations for moisturizer purchases, compared with less than 40 percent for American shoppers. It’s entirely possible that brand engagement in China is low because businesses outside the region are less familiar with the other popular networks and have had a harder time building up the interest and reputation among Chinese tastemakers.
The cultural mores of Asia Pacific countries has also impacted the adoption of social media networks. For instance, Japanese culture discourages boasting and self-promotion. Thus, according to research by Social Media Today, Facebook’s real name policy has led it to be used as a marketing and professional tool, while LinkedIn has seen limited growth. It’s also noteworthy that the social audience here skews older, with only 34 percent of Japan’s Internet users in the under 35 age bracket.
As in China, several of the most popular networks are regional ones that have not migrated west. There’s also a strong interest in messaging rather than networks that broadcast status updates. Line is a domestic messaging app that has had some brand adoption, such as with Hello Kitty, but only about 300 brands have joined as official partners.
A survey by Fast-Ask showed that Line had the most use on a daily basis at 40.4 percent, followed by Twitter at 32.6 percent and Facebook at a low 23.5 percent. In fact, We Are Social found that Facebook penetration in Japan was just 17 percent. The agency found that only 66 percent of Japanese people had an account on any social media platform, and just 42 percent had used their accounts in the past month.
While Waggener Edstrom found that average paid media engagement in Asia Pacific is 74 percent, Japan fell below that rate with just 60 percent of respondents actively engaging with or clicking on ad content.
Brands looking to push their social media presence in Japan should invest the resources to understand the cultural differences at play on- and offline. This is also one of the few markets internationally where simply turning to the usually dominant Facebook is not likely to yield good results.
India has the type of breakdown of social media popularity that other nations have displayed. Facebook is the most common, with 94 percent of Indians owning an account. Google+ was second most popular, followed by Twitter, according to data from We Are Social.
The large population of social participants has proven open to brand interactions. GlobalWebIndex found that India had the highest brand engagement rate in the final quarter of 2013, clocking in at 26.9 percent. Paid media engagement was also high, with Waggener Edstrom finding that 83 percent of digital consumers in India clicked on advertisements posted by brands they like.
While social media and brand engagement is high, it’s worth noting that mobile usage is much lower than in other Asia Pacific nations. Nielsen found that smartphone penetration was just 18 percent as of January 2014.
For now, the openness to engaging with brands makes India an attractive market for multinational businesses that are interested, but mobile resources are better focused on other areas.