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Three out of every five people on Earth and more than half of the global internet population live in an Asia-Pacific (APAC) country.
With impressive numbers like this, it is likely that most in our industry will, at some point, face the challenge of marketing in the region.
Of course Asia-Pacific also offers great opportunities for brands to find new markets and even develop new products.
The APAC region, however, is not homogeneous. There are dozens of countries, hundreds of languages, and countless ethnicities.
Because of its diverse nature, it can be difficult to know where to start.
To help, Econsultancy recently published a new report, Social Media Strategy Asia Pacific Best Practice Guide.
In it, subscribers will find recommendations about:
- Social media strategy frameworks.
- Localising social media teams.
- Planning social media posts.
- Reporting frameworks.
The report also covers many of the developments of social media in the region as well as useful comments from marketers based in APAC.
Below are a few highlights from the report to give you a quick overview of the state of social media in the Asia-Pacific region.
1. Facebook is the king of social media in APAC
According to the latest company estimate, Facebook has 1.71bn monthly active users (MAUs). Out of these, 592m are in Asia-Pacific, more than North America and Europe combined.
When these figures are broken down by country and compared with the internet population of APAC countries, it seems that the social network dominates in the region.
Curiously, some countries show more Facebook users than netizens. This is most likely due to an estimation error from one or both sources.
Regardless, it is clear from the data that Facebook has significant reach in most of the major Asia-Pacific markets.
Marketers can, therefore, reasonably start in APAC by expanding their Facebook marketing in the region.
2. Except in China
The one glaring exception in the chart above is China. With only around 2m monthly active Facebook users, China's Facebook population is less than 1% of estimated 721m internet users.
For those unaware, the reason for this is that Facebook is blocked in the country by a government programme popularly known as the 'Great Firewall of China' (GFC).
The GFC, purportedly created to stop the flow of information harmful to the Chinese government, also blocks many other site popular with marketers in the west including Google, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Because of this, marketers who are targeting China should find out which sites are blocked and become familiar with the platforms which are available in the country.
3. APAC has its own social networks
Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of social media in Asia-Pacific is that there are many local social networks in the region with almost no footprint in the West.
Also interesting is that all of these networks have launched since 2010 and so are almost all based on mobile.
In China, WeChat is now the dominant social network in the country, and also the biggest cultural phenomenon on the internet as well.
With over 750m monthly active users, WeChat has become part of everyday life in China for search, sharing, chat, and ecommerce.
For more on WeChat and China's other social networks, please refer to our China Digital Report.
Japan, too, has its own preferred social network, LINE.
LINE does not quite have the footprint in Japan as WeChat does in China, but it is estimated that more than half of Japanese internet users log in to it daily.
For more on LINE and Japan's social networks, please refer to our Japan Digital Report.
Other APAC countries also have 'homegrown' networks that have become quite popular.
Korea has KakaoTalk, Vietnam's local social network is Zalo, and in India Hike has recently reported more than 100m registered users.
For more on these and other networks, please refer to the APAC Social Media Best Practices Report.
4. Local social networks face challenges
While the local social networks have prospered in their country of origin, none of them have been able to grow significantly beyond their borders.
Tencent, WeChat's parent company, famously spent large sums and enormous effort to get a foothold in other countries.
In 2013, the company signed up football star Lionel Messi to promote the social network globally.
While the company claimed to have gained 100m users from the endorsement, later reports showed that, following the campaigns, WeChat quickly fell out of the top 100 apps in target countries.
LINE has had more success in crossing borders.
It has become one of the leading messaging apps in Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Yet even with success outside of Japan, its quarterly growth rate lags far behind the Western chat-based social networks.
So, while it's difficult to keep up with the dominant social network in each country, marketers need to refer to current research before launching a big campaign in the region.
In APAC, what was big news last year may not be so popular this year.
5. Social commerce is huge
One area which Asia seems to be leading the way is with social commerce.
While Facebook is still testing its 'buy' button and Instagram sits on the sidelines, social networks in APAC have already integrated purchasing into social media apps.
Both LINE and WeChat offer in-app payments and are used heavily in their respective countries for everyday purchases including in-store, taxis, and even utilities.
Over the one-week Chinese New Year holiday in 2016, WeChat had more that 8bn transactions, far more than PayPal had in all of 2015 (4.9bn).
Also in China, purpose-built social commerce apps are emerging. XiaoHongShu, or RED, allows its users to share fashion tips and luxury product launches.
Instead of just sharing, however, RED also allows its members to buy merchandise directly through the app.
In 2016, the company reported that they had 5m monthly active users and $200m in sales on the platform.
In this way, some APAC countries are far ahead Western countries with the adoption of social commerce.
Marketers interested in social selling in the region should see how their brands can take advantage of this trend.
6. Attribution difficult in APAC due to 'dark social'
Finally, another trend which brands are facing in the region is that it is becoming more difficult to attribute clicks to the referring network.
While the major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter deliver source information to web analytics systems, most of the new Asia networks do not.
What this means is that any sharing or traffic which originates on these networks is hidden from brands.
Because of this, traffic from these new networks is said to have come from 'dark social'.
While it is difficult to gauge the size of dark social in the region, RadiumOne released a report which shows that the problem may be much bigger than most expect.
According to its research, dark social may account for nearly all of the content and data shared via mobile in the region.
So, while Google Analytics and other similar systems are useful for attribution in the West, more sophisticated attribution modeling will be necessary for APAC-based campaigns.
While the APAC region's digital landscape resembles the Western one in many ways, there are also many differences worth noting.
Facebook may be dominant overall, as in the West, but each APAC country also has its own social networks which should be taken into consideration.
Many of these, including WeChat in China and LINE throughout Asia, also offer in-built ecommerce features which are used far more than their Western equivalents.
Still, these APAC-based networks are struggling to succeed outside of their home nation and so brand marketers are advised to keep up-to-date on the latest trends.
Reading our latest report on social media in the region, Social Media Strategy Asia Pacific Best Practice Guide, is a good start.