Facebook targets Asia

21 February 2011

TOKYO: Facebook, the social network, is seeking to expand its user base in Asia, with Japan and South Korea among the company's core target markets.

The online giant opened an office in Japan last September, where the number of people using its site, and forging connections with one another, is rapidly increasing.

Indigenous players in the social media space like Mixi and Gree are already entrenched in the lives of many netizens, but Facebook is optimistic.

Based on prior experience in South Korea, coming up against an apparently dominant domestic operator, Cyworld, the US firm predicts it may be set for a surge in demand from the Japanese audience.

"We saw that six months ago in Korea. We're in that steep curve right now in Korea," Blake Chandlee, Facebook's vp and commercial director for Asia-Pacific, Latin America and emerging markets, told the Asia Media Journal.

"We're starting to see early indicators of that in Japan, which is great. Japan is a very big market which we really have been working on."

As in other areas where Facebook sought to stimulate interest, it has established an official presence and partnered with telecoms, media and software groups, to deliver engaging material.

In Japan, the US organisation also pursued more low-key measures, such as adding a section enabling members to enter their blood type, traditionally held to influence an individual's personality traits.

"I think we as a company realise there are some local nuances we at least need to be aware of, but we're not about to go out and build lots of different experiences around the world," said Chandlee.

"It's a little bit against our DNA. We like to create global platforms, and let other people build up on that."

One policy that Facebook claims to always avoid is reacting to the position or moves of its rivals.

"We don't look at competitors and make decisions on that stuff," said Chandlee. "At the end of the day, we believe Facebook touches a different need."

The social media giant's further initiatives include Facebook Places, a mobile geo-location service, which has been rolled out in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The Deals add-on to this platform, letting companies send tailored offers via the same channel, should be introduced in Asia in the near future.

Display advertising remains a primary revenue stream for Facebook at present, and the social network has allied with a range of brand owners in Australia and Singapore to test the effectiveness of these efforts.

Given that the sort of coordinated adspend and sales tracking statistics supplied by Nielsen's are often lacking in emerging markets, Facebook is adapting its approach here.

"We are building different types of measurement functionality for Asia," Chandlee argued.

"We're doing a little bit with Nielsen, we're doing some of it outside the Nielsen relationship as well, but core to where we think the world is going is definitely research."

Facebook also unveiled a sales office in Hong Kong in February, albeit denying this was a precursor to pressing into China.

"We have no plans right now to talk about entering into mainland China and trying to be aggressive in that," Chandlee told the AFP news agency.

Data sourced from Asia Media Journal; additional content by Warc staff