For most of the Western world, social media is synonymous with Facebook, Twitter, and maybe even Google+.
But for marketers targeting the Asia Pacific region, there are plenty of other networks they should seriously consider for their social mix. Indeed, the vast linguistic and cultural diversity in Asia has already produced a strong homegrown crop of hugely popular social media platforms with digitally engaged audiences.
“Chinese platform providers are seamless,” said Dr. Matt McDougall, chief executive of China-based digital agency Digital Jungle. “Tencent’s WeChat, for example, is saying, ‘We’re not just a communication platform--we’re now a gaming platform. We’re going to integrate a wallet so we’ve got transactional capabilities, and, by the way, let’s buy a travel company, and let’s involve that.’ So you’ve got all these various things in the ecosystem coming together to make this complete digital package, and Facebook and Twitter look fairly siloed in their approach.”
Asian social media platforms also provide a template for the way many have evolved from initial iterations. “If you look at Western social media platforms, they’re pretty much what they were five years ago,” McDougall said. “There’s a lot of noise about creating a business variation of Facebook, for example, and it’s been years in the making, while in China this kind of sudden pivot happens every month.”
As the locus of innovation moves away from its traditional Silicon Valley home, McDougall said he believes existing social media platforms will look to their Eastern counterparts for new ideas.
“The eBays and Amazons are going to look at this and think, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty interesting, sophisticated way of talking to consumers.’ Then they will adopt the things that worked for the Chinese,” McDougall said.
Following are five of the Asia Pacific region’s popular social networks that marketers worldwide should know about.
Created by Hong Kong Stock Exchange-listed software developer Tencent, WeChat is a free mobile text and voice-messaging communication service that launched in 2011.
Country of origin: China
Number of users: 600 million+
Focus: Messaging and chat, mobile gaming, location sharing, photosharing, mobile payments
Audience: The app is available in English, Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Malay, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, Italian, Russian, Hindi, and Turkish. Tencent does not release user demographics, but suggests there are already at least 180 million users outside of China.
Advertising: WeChat advertisers use a self-serve advertising system similar to Google in which they bid for QR-code compatibility and location-based features that make it an ideal platform for in-store promotions. The app’s conversational nature lends itself to sophisticated content campaigns.
Well-known advertisers: Nike, Cadillac, Starbucks, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Adidas, the National Basketball Association, Harrods
Used by 35 million of South Korea’s population of 50 million, Kakao is far and away the country’s biggest social media platform.
Country of origin: South Korea
Number of users: 140 million
Focus: Messaging and chat, mobile gaming, photosharing
Audience: Kakao is part of a shift away from both full-service platforms, such as Facebook, and microblogging platforms, such as Twitter. The preference in many markets is now for instant chat-based services. Kakao is actively targeting Southeast Asia, where the instant chat market is still very much for the taking.
Advertising: Kakao’s approach to advertising shuns the conventional banner ad in favour of its own user-driven system, Plus Friend, which channels content from brands and celebrities the user likes directly to that user in personal messages.
Well-known advertisers: Uniqlo, Burger King, GQ Korea, Outback, major Korean department stores
LINE is Japan’s largest social network and one of the fastest growing worldwide.
Country of origin: Japan
Number of users: 170 million active accounts
Focus: Messaging and chat, picture and video sharing, avatar-based online community (LINE Play)
Audience: While LINE has global reach, the company’s standout statistic comes from its home market of Japan, where no less than 60 percent of all Japanese women in their 20s and 30s are active users.
Advertising: LINE is similar to Korean counterpart Kakao with marketing messages (which can contain links to content and incentives, such as coupons) sent directly to users. While marketers must pay for this service and there are restrictions on the number of messages per user per campaign, the attraction of a system in which users are encouraged not only to follow brands but to take action has proved a hit with advertisers.
Well-known advertisers: Coca-Cola, The Wall Street Journal, Nissin Foods, Lawson convenience store chain
Founded in Canada before moving to Taiwan in 2013 (where about one-third of its estimated 10 million users reside, generating 60 percent of its traffic), Plurk was once considered a serious rival to Twitter.
Though eclipsed for now, it is still a small but ambitious company enjoying strong growth in India and Japan. Plurk has also made substantial progress in Indonesia where Twitter use is high, thus demonstrating it can still compete against its old rival.
Country of origin: Canada, but based in Taiwan as of 2013
Number of users: 10 million
Audience: Tertiary-educated women without children in Taiwan, the Philippines, and especially Indonesia.
Advertising: Banner ads
Well-known advertisers: Google, eBay, ANZ Bank, Allianz subsidiary PIMCO, EziBuy (the largest multichannel retailer in Australasia)
If you haven’t heard of VK (originally VKontakte, Russian for “in touch”) by now, you will be hearing more about it soon. With 80 million active users, it is probably the largest social media platform that isn’t part of one of the big Chinese groups.
Country of origin: Russian Federation
Number of users: 80 million
Focus: Social groups and entertainment
Audience: VK has unquestioned market dominance in Russia among 18- to 34-year-olds. If you are thinking of social media marketing in Russia, it is going to be on VK.
Advertising: VK offers targeted ads that appear in a user’s personal feed, and “post-paid” marketplace advertising that appears as posts in VK groups. This latter type is important: Compared with Facebook, interest-based groups play a much bigger role in the VK user experience.
Well-known advertisers: Coca-Cola and Samsung maintain profiles, as do many Western pop music artists.