HONG KONG: Advertising expenditure on social media in China is forecast to triple over the next five years, overtaking Japan to become the region's largest market, new figures have shown.

Data from analyst Forrester Research indicate that spending by advertisers in this channel will grow from $535m in 2014 to $1.7bn in 2019. In comparison, spending in Japan will double over the same period, from $864m to $1.6bn.

"Chinese consumers are addicted to social media," Wang Xiaofeng, Forrester Research analyst, told the South China Morning Post, as she estimated that upwards of 95% of metropolitan internet users were on social networks.

Accordingly, marketers are following them onto the various domestic platforms that have sprung up, although sites such as Sina Weibo, QQ and Renren have been in danger of falling out of fashion as messaging apps like WeChat gain in popularity.

They have reacted with new initiatives and new focus. Thus, for example, Renren made a strategic shift earlier this year to focus on college students and the younger generation, while Weibo looked to integrate itself with TV shows and live events.

Major networks such as Facebook and Twitter that are widely used in the rest of the world are blocked by Chinese authorities.

Wang also noted that 90% of metro Chinese adults online are smartphone users, and said that the greater access to social media offered by mobile was another factor in the growth of advertising expenditure there.

While the level of adspend is currently higher in Japan, social media users in China are far more likely to connect with brands.

"On average, online metro Chinese who are Sina Weibo users engage with 29 brands, while online Japanese Twitter users engage with eight brands," said Wang. And almost half of China's users metro online adults did not mind seeing display ads on social media.

The fastest growing social media advertising market in the region is India, which Forrester projected would leap from $127m in 2014 to $1010m in 2019.

Data sourced from South China Morning Post; additional content by Warc staff