Social media networks in the Asia-Pacific are developing differently from their counterparts in the West and evolving rapidly with their own unique services, according to a new Gartner report released Thursday.
The study noted that these Asian social sites are thriving on loyal user bases and highly lucrative business models.
Nick Ingelbrecht, research director at Gartner, noted that the Asia-Pacific social media market is diverse and evolving rapidly. "While global sites fare better in more westernized Asian markets such as Australia, some of Asia' biggest markets have evolved their own unique social network services distinct from those of Europe and North America."
Strong consumer interest in online games has helped to drive the growth of social networks in China, Japan and South Korea, while demand for online dating and matchmaking sites is doing the same for India.
Ingelbrecht said such niche social sites are proving to have the greatest staying power in this region. The Gartner analyst added that an early critical mass of local users as well as support for local language and content are good foundations for ensuring a long-term and loyal user base.
According to the research firm, Asia-Pacific has some of the earliest and most successful locally-developed social media sites, such as Cyworld, Mixi and RenRen. These site owners have not only been able to build a large and loyal subscriber base, they are also riding on highly profitable business models supported by digital content sales and subscription fees.
However, regional players will see growing competition from major global operators that are making steady penetration across this region. Feature-rich platforms are set to erode the margins of Asian social sites that charge subscription and digital content fees.
"Some of the older social sites that were popular in Asia have begun to show a loss of momentum and, in some cases, subscribers," said Ingelbrecht. "The willingness of Asian consumers to pay for social network service features is being eroded by the onslaught of the free feature-rich Google juggernaut and the range of Facebook's platform."
And while Asia's biggest economies have been slow to welcome global social networks Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter, other markets in the region show similar adoption patterns to those in the U.S. and Europe.
The Philippines, for instance, is home to avid social networkers where Facebook is the most visited site in the country, Gartner noted. In fact, according to comScore, 90 percent of the country's online population visited a social networking site in February.
Gartner also pointed to Twitter as a global platform that addresses cross-cultural boundaries more readily than other major social sites because of its ability to adapt to local cultures, languages as well as its wide availability on mobile devices.
The microblogging site saw strong growth in Indonesia where the country had the world's highest penetration of Twitter users, according to comScore. The Philippines and Singapore were also on the top 10 list in terms of penetration, coming in at 6th and 9th, respectively.
Gartner also noted that developed markets in the Asia-Pacific region "pioneered" the use of social networks on the mobile platform. The research firm added that particularly in emerging markets, where PC penetration is low, mobile access has become a critical component for social media adoption.