The Asia edition of our Internet Statistics Compendium saw significant expansion through 2011. With rapid mobile and e-commerce growth in the region, more data has emerged than ever before.

When it comes to social media, Asia continues to be of significant interest to marketers, brands and anyone with an interest in social trends around the globe.

Here are a few highlights from our latest stats update…

On a continent of varying population sizes across countries ranging from some of the most metropolitan to some of the most rural, the surface data can be difficult to process.

Thankfully, analysts are striving to simplify this, and we can get a more rounded view of the most significant markets.

Penetration vs. ‘the numbers’

Often, when faced with statistics concerning the popularity of digital activities, it is natural for us to look first at penetration,  either on a region’s respective population or the ‘internet universe’.

However, Asia is a good example that proves the importance of acknowledging the difference between penetration and ‘the numbers’.

In a swathe of Asia-orientated presentations recently published by We Are Social, we get a great insight into how big social networking is within respective countries.

Brunei, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore all boast above 50% penetration (well above the regional average of 20%.

Social networking penetration by Asian country (We Are Social)

Although these are undoubtedly important markets, the combined populations of these four countries is just around 61.5m, leaving the number of actual social networkers at just over 30m, less than the number of people using Facebook in India, 38m.

It is only really when we begin to see social media penetration and ‘the numbers’ side by side that we start to understand the countries with real room for growth in 2012.

Despite India’s 82m+ market, which dwarfs that of the top four social penetration countries together, it itself has a penetration of 3%, one of the lowest on the continent.

Facebook still dominant?

In a presentation by Burson-Marsteller back in August, the focus is very much on the social media names scoring big in Asia.

If Facebook’s dominance in India isn’t impressive enough, then Qzone’s 531m user base in China is staggering, and makes up most of a relatively modest social network penetration percentage of 40%.

Top social networks in Asia (active users), Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific

Aside from India, Facebook is still out front in a number of Asian countries including Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines with 172m users in total.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, China’s social might means that three of its networks (Qzone and microblogs, Tencent Weibo and Sina Weibo) each boast more users with 536m, 310m and 250m respectively, despite all being mainly confined to one country.

Corporate activity

For businesses and marketers, social networks in Asia are demonstrating significant opportunity with further Burson-Marsteller data from November highlighting that 31% of Asia’s leading companies are currently active on at least three social channels.

Corporate use of social media channels by market across Asia Pacific, 2011 (Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific)

The emerging popularity of microblogs is evident in the corporate world also. In China, 80% of companies are active on these kind of services and across the region corporate microblogging increased by 10% between 2010 and 2011.

It will be interesting to see how certain services will grow in countries where we are likely to see a large increase in social network penetration over the coming year.

Areas with vast rural populations, such as India, may well be ones which make the most impact on what it means to be social in Asia for 2012 and beyond.