SINGAPORE: Social media is increasingly at the heart of Asian consumers' online activity, a trend driven by wider ownership of connected devices and the basic human need to interact, according to a major new study.

Wave7 from UM, a media agency network and a division of IPG Mediabrands, is the latest issue of its global social survey of 48,945, 16 to 54-year-old active internet users in 65 countries. It found that in some countries, such as Singapore, virtual sharing was on the way to overtaking face-to-face sharing.

"It's no longer enough to simply track the latest trends, because much of what you see is just background noise or, even worse, a complete distraction," said Pat Lim, Managing Director of IPG Mediabrands in Singapore.

"What we really need is to understand the motivations behind these trends – because even the most superficial social interaction online is driven by a consumer need," she added.

The Wave7 report suggested there are five basic needs that brands needed to meet if consumers were to connect with them: Relationship, Diversion, Learning, Progression, and Recognition.

"By answering these needs, and by combining technology, social platforms and media in a more cohesive way, brands can put themselves in an extremely powerful position," Lim stated.

In terms of platforms, the study found that Facebook showed no sign of decline in the APAC region and noted that users across Southeast Asia were using affinity social networking to satisfy their core needs of Relationship (58%), Diversion (51%), Recognition (53%), Progression (39%) and Learning (49%).

Microblogging was growing strongly, with China at the forefront of this trend, as 86% of internet users there were also active on Sina Weibo. In Southeast Asia Indonesians were most active at 69%, well above the global average of 52%. Only Singapore was lagging, with just 40% following this particular trend.

One of the fastest-growing areas of social media has been professional social networking. In Singapore, for example, the proportion of respondents active on such sites jumped from 35% last year to 51% this year, as people sought to boost professional profiles, as well as influence opinions and earn respect.

And emerging markets such as Indonesia and the Philippines were increasingly seeing social media as essential to improving social status, with 30% and 36% respectively agreeing it helped build career and financial opportunities.

But South Koreans, at 25%, were the least keen in the APAC region to leverage social media for career advancement opportunities.

Lim added that social media activity was no longer the preserve of the young or the early adopter. "Its high penetration gives us an unprecedented opportunity to understand consumers by analysing their social behaviour and unlocking the true value proposition to foster a mutually beneficial relationship and build long-term relationships online," she said.

Data sourced from IPG Mediabrands; additional content by Warc staff