Analysis: Thailand passes 5 million Facebook users
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Analysis: Thailand passes 5 million Facebook users

Thailand recently passed the landmark of five million Facebook members registered in the country – hitting 5,337,920 – which, given Facebook’s recent announcement of 500 million members, means the country now accounts for more than 1 percent of the total Facebook population worldwide.

The passing of five million is more than just hitting a rounded number/landmark, it reflects strong growth which has more than doubled the number of users from around 2 million in January. See below from a previous blog detailing the growth, albeit with uneven measurement:

Facebook membership in Thailand, January 2009: 250,000

Facebook membership in Thailand, January 2010: 2,000,000

Facebook membership in Thailand, 6 April 2010: 2,498,960

Facebook membership in Thailand, 26 April 2010: 2,787,320

Facebook membership in Thailand, 21 May 2010: 3,132,860

Facebook membership in Thailand, 7 September 2010: 5,337,920

There is no doubt that the political protests triggered substantial growth and awareness of Facebook in Thailand, particularly reflected during March, April and May, however new growth drivers have emerged as the political situation has returned to a cooler (but arguably still uneasy, with emergency laws still active) landscape.

Yet despite the loss of this trigger, Facebook numbers have continued to grow (as the below chart from Facebaker’s indicates) which suggested other factors are responsible for the spread of Facebook adoption.

Note: the Facebook Thailand data from Facebakers is not always updated on a regular basis, hence what looks like periods of stagnation but are in fact lulls in measurement.

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New growth factors

There are a number of drivers which are keeping Facebook numbers growing in Thailand, my three key picks are below:

Word of mouth: Undoubtedly the strongest factor and yet the most difficult influence to measure. With increasing numbers adopting Facebook in Thailand the spread, adoption and usage creates its own promotion dynamic. For example, non Facebook users may find friends posting photos on the service tempt them to sign up, or interest in the latest social game prompts them to give it a shot. The more people that use Facebook, the more ‘buzz’ is created and thus the stronger the word of mouth influence.

Gaming: We already know online gaming, social gaming and mobile gaming are huge across Asia. Facebook taps into all three making its entertainment and gaming offerings a big driver of new and returning traffic.

Mobile: With increasingly sophisticated technology becoming available in more affordable mobile phones, more users are enabled to access the internet through their mobile device. In a market where fixed-line internet is immature, unreliable and available to less than 25 percent of the population, mobile is the big internet enfranchiser and the future of wider option of internet. The upcoming 3G license auctions mark a critical moment in the nation’s telecommunications industry and the future of mass market internet access.

Significance

So Facebook has hit five million users making it a more attractive marketing tool than ever before.

While Facebook adverts typically yield higher level of interactions – for a number of reasons but principally they are more trusted – even a low response rate of 1 percent gives an advertiser a market reach of 50,000 individuals clicks, but there are greater prizes to be had.

Starbucks is a brand well known for pushing the digital envelope and it is no different in Thailand where it is the most visible domestic brand on Facebook with close to 75,000 members ‘like’-ing it,  and its Thai-language page. The stat is more impressive when you consider the likely (but confirmed) number of foreigners that make up the total membership but would not join the Starbucks TH group due to the language. Then there are likely many Thailand-based Facebook users who simply joined the main Starbucks page only.

To help gauge the impact and significance of a much larger population of Facebook users in Thailand I spoke to Bangkok-based social media marketing expert Siwat Chawareewong (@siwat) who believes are beginning to adopt social media marketing in large numbers.

Siwat, who is the MD of WPP-owned mInteraction, commented:

Facebook marketing is becoming a key tactic for almost every marketers ranging from SMEs to Multi-National corporations. Some marketers who have tested FB marketing since last year and already gone through the learning curve have started to create a proper guideline and make social media marketing more systematic and measurable. Some marketers realized they are a bit too late and quickly jumped into this and tried to catch up with others.

I fully agree with Siwat, further proof can be found from the increase in the number of Bangkok-based social media based jobs for non-Thais. Until recently, opportunities were restricted to Thai nationals, aside from a few foreigners fortunate to have been in the right place/right time, however now companies/agencies are seeking experienced digital professionals to bring expertise to this newly emerging digital marketing industry in Thailand.

Don’t get me wrong, Thailand has not made it into digital significance just yet, near neighbours Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines (and possibly even Vietnam) are greater in number, English speaking markets offering more opportunity to international and domestic business. There is also the issue of growth, with Facebook reportedly enjoying a 30 perent penetration rate of online users, how much further can it grow without require more of its target audience to be online? Once again the significance of mobile internet is made clear as a driver of new users.

Cautions aside, Thailand is showing that despite a great number of technology and political constraints, it has a thriving social media landscape… and that is just looking at Facebook alone.