Social networking is the new SMS

13 Jan 2011

For years, the Philippines has enjoyed a reputation as the biggest SMS market in Asia, if not the planet. Now with SMS volumes on the decline, the country may be on its way to becoming the biggest social-networking market on Earth.

At least according to Techie Insider, which doesn’t offer a whole lot of evidence to back such a conclusion. But it’s not too far fetched.

For a start, SMS traffic is declining. The NTC earlier projected a decline in SMS usage for 2010, and credited the expected drop to the rising popularity of social networks. Last week, mobile operator Globe Telecom reported a decline in SMS traffic ranging between 6% and 12% over the holidays, and while Smart Communications reported growth in SMS traffic, that growth was noticeably lower than recent years, according to ABS-CBN.

Meanwhile, a September report from ComScore found that 97% of the Philippines’ Internet users access social networking sites at home or work.

However, the same report found that the same percentage of Internet users in Malaysia also frequent social networking sites, although Filipinos at least spend much more time on them (6.4 hours on average in June 2010, compared to a mere 4.5 hours in Malaysia). Indonesia is hot on the heels of both markets with 95% of surfers spending an average of close to six hours on social networking sites.

Indeed, Indonesia is ranked as Facebook’s second biggest market (and Twitter’s third biggest), which has a lot of people excited, according to The Economist, in part because the vast potential inherent in a country where Internet penetration is still under 20%.

So the Philippines may or may not be able to claim the title of the biggest social networking market. But then that may depend on how big a role mobile will play. The ComScore figures don’t include mobile access, and it’s not clear how much of Indonesia’s Facebook activity is happening via mobile (Facebook says over 200 million of its 500+ million users worldwide access the site via mobile, but doesn’t break that down by country).

Still, with Facebook’s overall mobile usage at roughly 40% already, mobile is certainly going to be the prime factor in social networking growth, especially in Asian markets where mobile is fast becoming the chief access link for the Internet for most users.

Just ask Twitter, which was always designed with a mobile component in mind (via SMS, ironically). At last week’s CES event, Twitter chief Dick Costolo said onstage that 40% of all tweets come from mobile devices, compared to between 20% to 25% a year ago.

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