Foursquare officially huge in SE Asia – but how big and why?
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Foursquare officially huge in SE Asia – but how big and why?

I would classify myself as a non-believer when it comes to location-based social network Foursquare. Though I have an account I don’t feel an urge to divulge my whereabouts online nor am I suitably compelled to ‘play the game’ and compete for badges… I know many others that use social networks but maintain skeptical about Foursquare.

Despite my stance, many in Asia are positively addicted to Foursquare according to this excellent presentation – put together by Oliver Woods on slideshare.net – which demonstrates just how popular the service is across Southeast Asia.

Although the stats are not a patch on Facebook or Twitter’s huge user numbers in the area, they are impressive in comparison to activity in other parts of the world – such as Western markets where it has been available longer – which is illustrated by the Foursquare world check-in map of 2010.

I’ve includeed a few key slides below and covered a few talking points raised – but please do check out the full presentation here.

Unsurprisingly Indonesia tops the list of active Foursquare users taken in April 2011:

Indonesia: 312,000 users

Thailand: 152,000 users

Malaysia: 136,000 users

Philippines: 64,000 users

Singapore: 48,000 users

These stats are updated from recent data I blogged here

The below stats on Foursquare traffic are taken from Alexa (and therefore not wholly reflective of traffic from mobile, I believe) but it remains interesting to note that the US is nowhere to be seen amongst the top traffic generating markets.

fs-usage-worldwide

But as this map of check-ins from 2010 from Foursquare itself shows, Southeast Asia is a hot bed of activity:

fs-usage-worldwide2

Woods looks at a number of different countries and assesses the tell-tale signs of Foursquare addiction in each.

Indonesia has its ‘Badge Mafia’ who “obsessively collect badges by any means necessary for status or honour” – with some reportedly even paying other users to check them into place!

Singapore‘s userbase pulled together to arrange an impressive Foursquare Day 2011 event in Singapore at the weekend with a number of businesses taking part, while some bars are spotlighted for using venue-based marketing to give discount to Foursquare uses checking into their watering holes.

– Foursquare is seen as a powerful restaurant guide in Malaysia thanks to comments and feedback left by users that check into restaurants, with many outlets using Foursquare coupons and discount for users, while some Malay airlines are noted for their use of the service.

– Kasikorn bank, in Thailand, is noted for introducing an exclusive Foursquare style debit card (news to me as a Kbank customer and Foursquare uses living in the country?!)

Equally, for Thailand, there was a noticeable increase – via lab.in.th – in the number of Twitter users checking in via Foursquare during World Foursquare Day – 16 April – with 420 mentions of the #4sqday hashtag – impressive though it is unclear how accurately this reflects the number of users that took part in the Bangkok meeting.

16-apr-fs-usage-on-twitter-in-thailand

Woods’ slides are interesting and put out a compelling case for Asia’s importance to Foursquare which has recently acknowledged its visibility in the region and launched dedicated Asia-only badges in conjunction with events and specific markets.

Why is Foursquare so popular in Asia?

Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are seeing a huge boom in growth across many Asian markets, in contrast to more stabilized user numbers in western markets where markets are maturer and these services have been available, or known about, for longer periods of time. Many of the same reasons for the big two social networks’ successes in the region can be applied to explain Foursquare’s popularity in SE Asia – though, again it is important to note that the number of Foursquare users is significantly lower than Facebook and Twitter, but usage is proportionally higher in Asia versus other markets.

Mobile

Mobile, and smartphones in particular, are increasingly becoming the access point of choice for many Asians, while apps and the mobile web make social networking on-the-go an easy activity. With smartphones set to grow in the region, we can expect to see more Asians taking advantage of feature-rich phones and using social network services.

Data from GfK, taken from The Next Web, illustrates the growth of smartphones in Asia:

Smartphone sales in Asia rose to 4.7 million units over the last year, growth of over 270%. Sales totalled a whopping $1.48 billion and accounted for almost half of worldwide sales over the previous twelve months.

However,  it is important to point out that mobile usage, and the reasons behind it, does differ from country to country.

In Singapore, for example, where there are more iPhones per person than anywhere else in the world, smartphones ownership is high, with many users likely to make use of the mobile web and apps on their feature rich phone.

Countries like Thailand and Indonesia, on the other hand, have less sophisticated infrastructure which makes owning a mobile phone, with an unlimited, special social media package tariff more affordable and easier than fixed line access through a PC.

As a whole, we’re already seeing Asia is consuming the highest proportion of mobile internet (versus fixed-line) anywhere in the world, which shows just how significant mobile is in the region.

Attitudes

There is also a difference in attitude in Asia, as pointed out in this excellent Business Insider interview with Jonathan Gardner, a former Asia-based senior executive with PR firms Hill & Knowlton and Edelman, who says:

The social media stuff is clearly huge. It’s almost shocking how prevalent it is, particularly in the middle class and higher in places like Taiwan and Thailand. There’s just this amazing urge to document their lives. And there’s huge engagement with that.

And then the way they’re using the phones may be different. Here we see a lot of news content being consumed on smartphones. You see less of that in Asia, you see a lot more engaging with games and videos, a lot people use the GPS function, and quite a bit of people using it for search. And a lot of instant messaging.

The tendency to be more narcissistic and make greater use of GPS and location tends itself ideally to Foursquare, while the gaming element is also a big draw for some markets, like Indonesia as mentioned.

Of course, any discussion of Foursquare in Southeast must make mention of Koprol, the Indonesia-born location-based social network that was acquired by Yahoo last year. The fact that it emerged and found success in Indonesia is proof alone of the interest that the country, and region, has for location services.

What about privacy?

Privacy certainly seems to be less of an issue in Asia than in western countries.

Facebook is usually a prime barometer to measure attitudes to privacy online, whereas in markets like UK media, bloggers and social network users alike often highlight the potential dangers of data and privacy online, the issues receive considerably less attention in countries like Thailand and Southeast Asia.

It is unclear as to why this is. Are Asians more trusting of their peers, or did the western backlash came after the social media ‘honeymoon’ period…meaning that Asia will experience the same concern for privacy once its markets mature sufficiently?

Things can only get bigger

One thing is for sure, however, and that is that Asian presence on social media will only get bigger.

With many unable to financially afford or gain access to the fixed-line web, smartphones offer a more affordable option which could help spread internet access to more remote, less urban and less affluent communities who can benefit from increase communication and access to information.

Focusing back on Foursquare – unlike its more illustrious peers such as Facebook – the service is unlikely to gain huge mainstream attention but its users numbers are likely to increase across the region, particularly if more businesses integrate location-based marketing – a move that could be driven by Facebook when its Places and Deals services out across Southeast Asia increasing awareness of both LB-marketing and online deals.