Whether they are used for political activism, connecting people, or video sharing, social media platforms are helping change the conversation globally on a daily basis.
Social media is the “steroid” of social relationships in Indonesia, says Enda Nasution, co-CEO at the soon-to-be-launched Indonesian social network platform Sebangsa.com.
“Culturally Indonesians love to belong to a community of friends and family,” he explains.
“There is this Javanese saying that it's OK to starve, as long as you are close together, which captures what Indonesians think about their communities,” says Nasution, who has been dubbed “the father of Indonesian bloggers.”
Indonesia is the fourth-biggest country on Facebook, while Jakarta and Bandung have been named among the most active cities on Twitter.
While Facebook and Twitter dominate, new players in the market are gaining popularity, such as Path, Instagram, and Google+, as well as Asian instant messaging apps such as WeChat, KakaoTalk, and Line. Social media is particularly popular with the young urban population. Entertainment, social interaction, and disseminating information are the nation's most regular uses for social media. Nasution explains that Indonesia's economic growth, democratic system, and enabling freedom of speech fuels social media adoption.
The main barriers to social media growth in Indonesia are patchy mobile coverage and low-quality data. Since most social media users in Indonesia connect using mobile devices, prices of smartphones and subscriptions are also a barrier, but are dropping, he adds.
About 30% of Indonesia's 240 million population is on Facebook, meaning there is still plenty of room for growth. However Nasution predicts more home-grown social media that caters to specific audiences to pop up in future years.
Social networks in Kenya have “taken off phenomenally,” and are changing the way people communicate in the country, says Beatrice Karanja, associate director of Portland PR, Kenya.
The way Kenyans use social media has shifted from being a socializing tool toward more activism, she says. Testament to this was the presidential election in March, dubbed the digital election, which saw citizens and government officials take to social media to express their views. Kenyans have been using platforms including Twitter to hold the media accountable, too.
For example, there was huge social media backlash over CNN reporting, berated for being sensationalist, sparking the hashtag #SomeoneTellCNN to trend. “It means people can communicate without fear of repercussions. That's changed freedom of expression,” she adds.
Mobile penetration is high at 77.2% according to the Communications Commission of Kenya, and it is the main platform for accessing social networks.
In June, telecoms provider Safaricom launched free Wi-Fi on Nairobi's public transport Matatu. Karanja says Safaricom is a good example of a brand using social well on a customer service, brand, and corporate level. But more brands must ensure they engage social media users, she adds: “They can't ignore it because it is the future and they need to start a debate with the younger audience earlier.”
Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world. Mobile penetration is high at almost 89%, according to Northwestern University in the sovereign Arab state.
As a result, people in the country are hyperconnected and social media usage is rocketing. But the heterogeneous demographic makeup of the country, which is 20% Qatari and 80% expat, means usage is highly segmented, explains James Mitchell, digital director, Grayling Qatar.
Facebook and Twitter are the most popular social media sites in Qatar, but Instagram and Keek, the video-sharing site, are growing among Qatari nationals, says Mitchell. Half of the expat population in Qatar are white-collar workers and LinkedIn is popular among them.
The incidence of social networking online is higher among Westerners, at 85% of Web users,and lower among Qatari nationals, at 67%, according to Northwestern.
Social media usage is split between Arabic and English language. Users are predominantly male at 65% compared to 35% females, however the latter number is increasing, explains Mitchell.
“Qatar is culturally conservative. Having a locked account is quite common,” says Mitchell. “This is across demographics, with the expats tuned into the legal and cultural conservatism. There is a self-regulation and they are not outspoken on political discourse.”
With a relatively small consumer market compared to the United Arab Emirates, brands are doing basic happy Friday-type activity, says Mitchell. He points out that brands that succeed create good content in Arabic.
Mitchell predicts there will be a more liberal use of social media in years to come. “The 18- to 34-year-olds would have witnessed the Arab spring, grown up in an established Qatar, and be educated in Europe and North
America, so we might see increasing sophistication and a little less self-regulation,” he suggests.
Social media in Mexico is “growing like crazy,” and shows no signs of slowing, says Bahigh Acuna, new markets lead at Spotify Mexico. This is due to the fact that Mexico is a highly sociable country, making social networks a natural online extension of this, he says.
Social networks are mostly accessed from Web-based devices, but there is mobile growth. Socializing, entertainment, and the consumption of news are the most popular ways social media is used.
Mexican Internet users also have a large appetite for video, explains Acuna, but they tend to be consumers, rather than producers, of this content.
Social media is also playing an important role in reporting crime. An example of this is Narcotuits (or Narcotweets), which is a Twitter stream for anonymously reporting drug-related crime, making it easier for journalists to cover it and citizens to stay informed.
“Using social media to have sensitive information such as this at a very fast speed definitely helps the population avoid undesirable situations and helps them stay safe,” Acuna says.
He says social media activity in Mexico is similar to other Latin American countries: “Behavior on social networks has changed and users have become more cautious over the years about how they post on social media.”
More companies in Mexico are jumping on the social media brand wagon, as they understand that it needs to be part of a 360-degree marketing strategy. Coca-Cola is one such brand that has a highly engaged audience in the country, says Acuna: “The market is very exciting for users and brands.”
In the past two years, Vietnam has seen a significant rise in social media adoption. Out of 33 million Internet users, six in 10 are active on social media, and just under half are Facebook users, says Ha Nguyen Thu An, head of Social@Ogilvy, Vietnam.
Mobile is fueling the growth with penetration in 2012 at 121.7 million subscribers, says Ha. Six in 10 Facebook users in Vietnam access it from mobile. “These numbers alone give us a great indication of what marketers can do – a lot,” she says.
Staying in touch with friends is the main activity on social media, followed by entertainment, such as watching videos, playing games, chatting, and e-commerce.
Social media users in Vietnam have started to become active and vocal about brands and products, expressing their opinions and experiences, says Ha. Simple notification systems, forums, and multimedia sites are driving engagement and interactions, while micro-blogging sites, such as Twitter and clone Mimo, “aren't doing very well,” says Ha, explaining they are mainly used for celebrity content.
Censorship is murky in Vietnam and officials do not declare publicly whether Facebook is banned as in neighboring China. “We experience blockages from time to time,” Ha says. “These occur during the nation's
political events, elections, and just last month rumors were surfacing about a total lockdown,” she says.
According to Ha, brands are using social media mainly for marketing communications, but tend to stop at building communities. “We all need to be brave enough to look beyond the number of fan likes and start to treat communities as customers,” she says.
“The social media scene will mature, like Western and other Asian counterparts. The strong platforms, with the intention of users' benefit at their heart, will win and stay on.”