The dominant social network sites of Europe and North America have yet to extend their reach into parts of Asia Pacific where local sites retain the leading consumer mind share and profitable business models, according to new research from Gartner, Inc.

“The Asia Pacific social media market is highly diverse and in many places evolving rapidly,” said Nick Ingelbrecht, research director at Gartner. “While global sites fare better in more westernized Asian markets such as Australia, some of Asia's biggest markets have evolved their own unique social network services distinct from those of Europe and North America.”

In China, Japan and South Korea, the growth of social networking has been driven by strong consumer interest in online games, while India's social networking market has been spurred by demand for online dating and matchmaking sites.

“Niche social sites serving the business and dating communities appear to have the greatest longevity in Asia Pacific,” said Mr. Ingelbrecht. “Building an early critical mass of local users, featuring local language and content provides a good basis for sustaining a long term and loyal user base.”

Asia Pacific has some of the earliest and most successful locally developed social sites, such as Friendster, Cyworld, Mixi and RenRen, with site owners establishing large and loyal subscriber bases supported by highly profitable business models built on digital content sales and subscription fees. Social networking in Asia, however, is changing as the major global operators make steady incursions across the region, with feature rich platforms set to erode the margins of Asian social sites charging subscription fees and digital product sales.

“Some of the older social sites that were popular in Asia have begun to show a loss of momentum and in some cases subscribers,” said Mr. Ingelbrecht. “The willingness of Asian consumers to pay for social network service features is being eroded by the onslaught of the free feature-rich Google juggernaut and the range of Facebook’s platform.”
While Asia's biggest economies have been slow to embrace the global social communities of Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter, many countries in the region have followed the adoption patterns of Europe and the US. The most avid social networkers are in the Philippines.

Twitter is one global platform that does cross cultural boundaries more readily than the major social platforms due to its adaptability to local cultures, languages and its ubiquitous availability on mobile devices. Indonesia, for example, has seen strong growth in micro-blogging and in mid-2010 became the country recording the highest penetration of Twitter users as a proportion of Internet users worldwide. The Philippines and Singapore also joined Indonesia in the top 10 countries with the highest penetration of Twitter worldwide, ranked sixth and ninth respectively.

“Strong as the major social sites are today, however, we do not believe that any of them will dominate social media indefinitely in Asia Pacific,” said Mr. Ingelbrecht.

Developed Asian markets have pioneered the use of mobile social networking, which has been further extended through the diffusion of smartphones, mobile social sites and mobile extensions to Internet social networking sites. In emerging markets, where PC penetration is low, mobile access has become a critical requirement for social media adoption.