SEA flocking to social networks

Online users in Southeast Asia pushing social networking use and driving region's adoption to growth rates higher than global average, reveals new survey.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Internet users in Southeast Asia are flocking to social networking sites, driving up year-on-year penetration rates that are higher than the global average, according to new statistics from ComScore.

In a Web conference Wednesday, the market researcher discussed the state of Internet usage in the region from a survey it conducted in January 2011, covering six countries: Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

According to Joe Nguyen, ComScore's Southeast Asia vice president, Vietnam saw the highest year-on-year growth at 35 percent, where social network penetration in the country climbed to 66 percent last year, from 49 percent in 2009. Its penetration rate, however, was still comparatively lower than other countries in the region which all clocked adoption rates that were higher than the global average of 70 percent, Nguyen noted.

Social network penetration in the Philippines stood at 95 percent, while Malaysia was at 91 percent, Indonesia at 90 percent, Singapore at 82 percent, and Hong Kong clocked in at 76 percent.

The analyst also noted that the high adoption rates in Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia were "almost exclusively" driven by Facebook.

Facebook has seen strong success in other parts of Asia, where an earlier ComScore report in August pointed to Facebook as the most visited social networking site in India.

Nguyen said the Philippines has emerged as the world's leading market for the social networking behemoth. According to ComScore estimates, Facebook currently enjoys a 93.7 percent penetration rate in the country, knocking off search engine Google as the number one Web property in the Philippines.

Nguyen added that Filipinos spent an average 7 hours per month on Facebook. Malaysia, at 88.4 percent, and Indonesia at 87.4 percent, also ranked among the world's top 10 Facebook markets.

In addition, globally, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore were among the top 15 markets for Twitter. Some 21 percent of Indonesian Web users visited the microblogging site in January 2011, making it the fourth market worldwide with the highest Twitter reach. Philippines, at 13.8 percent, and Singapore at 13.6 percent took eighth and ninth place, respectively.

ComScore observed that worldwide usage of social networking sites grew from 67.6 percent to 70.5 percent between 2009 and 2010. Social networks also saw the biggest gains in terms of the amount of time online users spent on the sites, increasing 11.9 percent in 2009 to 16 percent in 2010.

On the flipside, e-mail and instant messaging (IM) fell year-on-year in terms of worldwide reach, noted Nguyen. E-mail use slipped from 65.8 percent in 2009 to 61.3 percent in 2010, but IM saw a more "dramatic" slide from 41.1 percent in 2009 to 34.7 percent past year, he said. Both e-mail and IM also fell in terms of time spent online.

Photo-sharing on the rise
The increased use of social networks, however, was overshadowed by the photos category, he said, which saw the fastest growth, from 42.8 percent in 2009 to 52.7 percent in 2010.

Southeast Asia also saw similar growth rates in this category where Vietnam again led the pack, jumping 73 percent from a 49 percent penetration rate in 2009 to 66 percent last year. Malaysia came in second with a 47 percent growth rate, followed by the Philippines at 46 percent, Hong Kong at 23 percent, Singapore at 17 percent, and Indonesia at 16 percent.

Nguyen observed that photo-sharing has become a "key component of the social networking experience", noting that the high growth was evident in every Southeast Asian country, driven by photo-sharing among Facebook users, where users would upload and tag photos of themselves and their friends, though, he also referred to the popularity of other photo-sharing sites such as Flickr.

The ubiquity of digital cameras as well as cameras on mobile phones, as well as the large youth populations in these markets also contributed to growth in this category, he added.

The ComScore survey also assessed the region's use of other Web sites including online retail, online banking, multimedia sites, travel sites, online video, search, news and blogs.

For instance, visits to travel sites, online retail stores, multimedia sites and online banking sites increased across the six Southeast Asian countries. Only Hong Kong and Singapore showed relatively flat growth for online retail visits, Nguyen said.

The analyst added that visits to travel sites saw significant growth due to the region's rapidly increasing user confidence in using the Internet to research and book flights. The growing number of low-cost or budget carriers servicing the region also contributed to the increase, since more people can now afford to travel and are willing to spend money online to book flights on low-cost airlines, he said.

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