As 2013 starts shaping up, one thing is true: never has social media mattered so much.
It's a global trend, but it's Asia that is seeing the most exciting changes. Having confirmed a 27.5 percent increase in social network users in Asia-Pacific during 2011, an eMarketer.com survey predicted continued growth up to 2014. India and Indonesia lead with the highest growth rates and comScore research revealed that Indian web users spend one in every four minutes online using social networks.
The shift in global usage from west to east is impossible to ignore. It's clear that Asia and other rising markets will have far more influence on the social media scene in 2013 and beyond.
Facebook has of course dominated global social media over the last few years. In 2012, Asia became the continent with the most Facebook users – over 298 million of them by the time the Facebook Q4 earnings slides were published. As more and more Asians come online, this figure can only go up, although at a less frantic pace: Forbes sees only Japan and Vietnam maintaining current rates of growth in Facebook account creation.
While the site's Q4 earnings statistics show that North America remains far more lucrative to Facebook, monetizing the booming Asian market is bound to be a priority for the network. Indeed, Facebook expert John Haydon (via Social Media Examiner) predicts that using Facebook accounts to pay for real-world goods will become commonplace.
This points to smartphones being a key part of Facebook's strategy. Its Q4 statistics confirm that the number of mobile Facebook users continues to rise steadily. It's a statistic that should interest businesses in Asia, given that Asian web users lead the way in mobile browsing. In fact, mobiThinking predicts that in Asia mobile won't become "just the best, but the only way for brands...to connect with the majority of customers." The Nielsen Social Media Report 2012 agrees: 59 percent of consumers in Asia-Pacific do their social networking on mobile phones and 28 percent on tablets.
Google+ will continue to gain ground in 2013. The network enjoyed early popularity in Asia, particularly Singapore and India. By September 2012 it was seeing 100 million active monthly users. Niche marketers who are yet to be converted would be wise to give Google+ a second chance. It's even more important if you want to link an online presence with a physical one. Google+ Local and Maps now include customer reviews, scores, and photos, giving consumers ever more information to aid their decision-making.
Twitter also remains an important part of any global social media strategy in the coming year. Its importance in Asia shouldn't be underestimated: Semiocast figures put Japan in the top three countries for Twitter accounts in 2012. Indonesia, India, and Philippines also rank highly. In 2013, expect more personalization from Twitter. Social Media Examiner also predicts that brands will be able to gain better ranking in this new Twitter algorithm via paid advertising.
2012 saw Pinterest emerge as a major social media player. By May 2012, it was the third most popular social network in the U.S., according to The Social Skinny. One interesting fact is that India had already beaten Canada to second place, contributing 4.4 percent of the site's users. Pinterest is also finding favor with web users in Singapore, who are some of the most active pinners. With Rakuten now a major investor in the image-sharing network, it is likely to gain even more ground in the Asian market.
At the same time, expect similar sites with a local angle, such as Pintile in India and Moguje and Wantu in China to become more visible. Fashion and beauty are big markets for Pinterest and similar networks, which so far have been more popular with female consumers.
Clearly we're moving toward a more visual web. It's a trend that Asia has embraced. Instagram continues to increase its social media market share and, after North America, sees more visits from Singaporeans than any other country. In 2013, images will continue to gain importance in social media. Infographics and SlideShare presentations will also inform and influence consumers. At the same time, Social Media Examiner expects to see enormous growth in podcasting.
All this suggests that 2013 will be a year of more engaging content competing for the attention of online consumers. The established global networks such as Facebook and Twitter will evolve to earn more via advertising and e-commerce. Meanwhile, social media marketers will become smarter about producing more sophisticated content.
At the heart of this will be Asian consumers, aware of their new importance in driving global social media. No longer an afterthought for global brands such as Facebook, their needs and wants are set to shape social media over the next few years.
Image on home page via Shutterstock.
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March 19, 2014