Facebook has just made its phenomenal initial public offering at NASDAQ, and industry observers are talking of how big the impact of the social network's IPO will be, outside of newly-minted millionaires and billionaires of the Internet age. But, apart from Facebook's new found influence and clout in the financial scene, there is also one additional driver of growth for what can be considered the de facto social network for most of the world's online citizens: Asia.
Facebook is already reaching saturation in terms of growth in western countries like the U.S., Canada and the UK, with an annual growth of about 10% or less, according to Facebook data. Meanwhile, the same figures indicate that Asian countries are on the rise. Indonesia, in particular, is the second most populous country on Facebook, with 41.8 million. India has 41.4 million. While these are still nowhere near 157.4 million Americans on Facebook, the growth rates are interesting to note. Indonesia has an annual growth rate of 30%, while India is at 139.5%. (Brazil has an almost 300% growth rate per year.)
Facebook as a Platform for Social Change
Tom Crampton, head of Asian social media for Ogilvy & Mather stresses the importance of Asia for Facebook. "For the Facebook platform itself, Asia is wildly important. But in terms of the future of the platform, it is even more important," he said. Not only does Facebook foster communication and collaboration amid the diaspora characteristic of Asians across the continents, the social networking service has also become a relevant force in challenging social structures and political powers in the region.
"Facebook and social media have played a huge part in providing a platform for people to voice their feelings and create symbolic actions that can help rally people to the cause," said Yassir Yousuff, managing director for Nielsen's social media research arm NM Incite.
But, even amid explosive growth in Asia, there are still certain challenges to be overcome. For one, there are restrictive governments that pose a big roadblock to Facebook in the region. China, for instance, bans most western social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and the like, due to these companies' reluctance -- or refusal -- to comply with local content filtering regulations. In other countries like Japan and South Korea, local social networks are more popular, partly due to cultural differences. In Japan, for example, there is a preference for the use of pseudonyms, which Facebook discourages and even disallows.
Room for Growth, with Focus on Mobile
Still, Asia might be the best place for Facebook to fulfill its massive growth potential, partly due to social upbringing and personal preferences. "Asians are not as aggressive as networking in person," said Napoleon Biggs, head of digital media for Asia at Fleishman Hillard, comparing Asian personalities with that of their American or European contemporaries.
Bangkok is currently the most populous city on Facebook with 8.68 million users, surpassing Jakarta's 7.43 million, according to Socialbakers. Other cities are likewise placed high, with Mumbai being 9th (3.70 million), Kuala Lumpur at 14th (3.33 million), Bangalore at 16th (2.93 million) and Singapore at 17th (2.66 million).
There is still a lot of room for growth in the region, but some areas are hampered by lack of infrastructure. For instance, India's potential for social media growth is hampered by poor Internet service quality, as well as availability of desktop computers. In this regard, mobile access will be the key for success for Facebook. "Mobile is a great untapped revenue source for Facebook in Asia," Crampton said, noting that Friendster once dominated in Indonesia, until Facebook's Blackberry app became popular in this country where Blackberry is still the dominant smartphone platform.