SINGAPORE: Few doubt the need for business of all sizes to have an online presence, but Facebook has suggested that SMEs in Southeast Asia may be better off with a social media presence than a website.

Arrow Guo, head of Small & Medium Business, SEA at Facebook, made the case, writing in Marketing that as more and more of the region's 600m people go online, many are bypassing desktops in favour of mobile devices.

And with a significant proportion using Facebook and checking it up to 14 times a day there are clearly opportunities for brands to reach a sizeable audience through the social networking giant.

Guo observed a growing trend of small businesses without websites operating through Facebook Pages, and said these were now effectively new storefronts for them. He also reported that nearly 70% of Facebook users were connected to at least one SME page from their home country.

But recent regional research from Edelman suggests that brand-based content on social media attracts generally low levels of engagement.

"In Southeast Asia only Vietnam posts double-digit engagement levels with brand-based content, standing at an impressive 25%," PR Week reported. "Elsewhere, however, most markets struggle to get above 1%."

For Thailand, the figure stood at 1.17% and fell progressively thereafter, to 0.6% for the Philippines, 0.55% for Singapore, 0.4% for Malaysia and 0.29% for Indonesia.

In Edelman's review, Facebook was the number one social media platform across all these countries in terms of user numbers.

It was also in Southeast Asia that Quartz earlier this year undertook some research which was widely reported along the lines of "Facebook is the internet". It was not quite that simple, although Quartz did find that 11% of Indonesians who said they used Facebook also said they did not use the internet.

This, it suggested, could have "profound effects on how the internet evolves": if consumers are spending much of their time on Facebook, then businesses, governments and publishers will also need to go there.

Its new Instant Articles program is just the latest example of how this is already happening.

Ultimately there is a danger that everyone will end up playing by the rules of one company, and that, Quartz argued, "has implications for us all".

Data sourced from Marketing, PR Week, Quartz; additional content by Warc staff