Social Networking: No Longer a Niche Market

Where do 3 out of 4 global Internet users visit during a month?

What captures 15 percent of total time spent online worldwide?

What do Asia-Pacific Internet users do online for nearly 3 hours each month?

If you answered social networking, you’re right.

For those people that still consider social networking a niche market, it’s time to wake up and face the data.

In June, 924 million Internet users around the globe visited a social networking site, making it one of the most popular online activities, and it just keeps growing.

In the Asia-Pacific region, half of all Internet users visit a social networking site each month. Although Asia Pacific as a region reports lower social networking usage than other regions (due largely to low broadband penetration in some markets as well as restricted usage in places such as China), usage across the region continues to increase rapidly. Several markets in Asia were some of the most avid users of social networking in the world including the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, which each saw more than 90 percent of their online population social networking during the month.

What’s even more impressive than the sheer volume of traffic to social networks is the amount of time people spend on these sites. Social networks now capture more time than email, news, games and entertainment activities online. Instant messengers are the only online activity more engaging than social networking in the region. In several markets, visitors are spending more than four hours a month on social networking sites including in the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and New Zealand.

But wait, isn’t social networking just for kids and young people? No longer the case. What used to be an activity dominated by the 18-24 year old demographic is now a main activity in the digital lives of users across all age groups. In Singapore and Hong Kong for instance, more than half of social networkers are age 35 and older.

So now you have an idea of just how ‘non-niche’ social networking is, but what does this mean for you as a digital marketer? There are three ways to use social networks:

Word of Mouth Marketing

Social networks – as a matter of course – offer communication. Not just two-way communication between you and your customers, but between your brand and your brand advocates and your potential consumers. There are many case studies about successful word of mouth campaigns. That’s the beauty of social networks; if you create content that has intrinsic value and spurs interest in consumers to forward it on, or to retweet it, or to ‘like it’, it will take off with a life of its own. This is not easy and requires much research and creativity and, more likely than not, some failure.

Social Listening and Reputation Management

Brand Marketing Campaigns

With over 75 percent reach in most Asia Pacific countries, social networks are now mass market media just like Yahoo, MSN, and other major portals. Branding is about reach (eyeballs) and frequency (the number of times these people are exposed to your message). If you have large cross media campaign to brand a new product or service, the social media is just as effective as the other main media. Just like other sites, it’s important to remember that each social media site offers brands and advertisers access to unique audiences. Many people are on more than one or two social networks for different reasons. Are you looking to reach women age 15-24 from a certain region in Malaysia? Are men age 55+ your key audience? Are you looking to reach social networkers that are also heavy users of online retail sites? Each social networking destination is unique in not only the utility it offers to its users, but also who these users are. Understanding audience characteristics from a demographic and behavioral level is integral to a sophisticated digital strategy.

Social media platforms will continue to evolve and it’s important for brands and advertisers to look to the future. That includes examining: How will social networking evolve in the mobile environment? How will this change PC-social networking usage? What are the synergies that exist between PC and mobile social media usage? What are the differences between PC and mobile social networkers?

Although still a niche market, one can assume mobile social networking won’t be for long.

This column was originally published on Sept. 13, 2010 on ClickZ.Asia.

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