Since 2020, the way in which people communicate has changed drastically, with the pandemic accelerating already well-established communication trends. As an example, active social media users worldwide increased from 3.4 billion in 2018 to 4.6 billion in 2021 alone according to We Are Social and Hootsuite, and in China alone, social media use post-COVID increased from 17.2 hours to 21.4 hours – the extra time estimated to have been spent by consumers trying out new platforms.
Of course, asserting that the pandemic is the root cause of such a rise would be incorrect, but it has certainly been a catalyst. With social media now an integral part of the marketing strategy for most brands, it’s important that communications strategists stay ahead of the latest trends. In this insights article, I outline key social media trends that brands in APAC will need to consider if they want to make real business impact.
According to Google News, more than 175,000 online articles are related to “Metaverse” and over 43,000 posts on Instagram use the hashtag #Metaverse. In APAC, especially in markets like Hong Kong, Singapore and China, the Metaverse is gaining momentum and recent figures are testimony to this increasing curiosity. Data from Wunderman Thompson shows that 56% of Chinese consumers are familiar with the term Metaverse, compared to 31% in the UK and 26% in the US. In 2018, the Chinese virtual idol industry was estimated to be worth USD15.5 million – in 2023, it is expected to reach over USD235 million.
Combining technologies like VR and AR, people can experience a range of activities (and more) in the digital world that is the Metaverse. Brands of all sizes and industries should start considering entering the Metaverse, but first they need to have a clear idea of their role, objectives and audiences. We are already seeing many APAC brands entering the space, with tech giants Alibaba and Tencent being amongst over 400 Chinese companies to trademark Metaverse related phrases. Expect to see many more in 2022.
The new era of content creator has begun – virtual influencers are booming on social media, especially in some Asian countries such as Japan and China. In Asia, virtual influencers are more than digital characters as they often serve as progressive enablers, sometimes used to substitute humans in achieving business and social goals. For example, Naughty Boo in Thailand is a tool of empowerment that helps break down gender related stereotypes.
More top tier brands are looking for more innovative ways to market products leveraging virtual influencers. In 2021, SK-II worked with ‘Imma’, the first virtual human in Japan, for their global campaign, which grabbed the audiences’ attention successfully, especially Gen-Z who was an audience the brand actively targeted after usually being associated with mature women. A major appeal for brands and marketers is that virtual influencers are easier to manage than the human kind. Their images and messaging is completely customisable which is less risky for brands. However, there are limitations to virtual influencers, like emotion, interaction, and the product categories. Also, the cost can be much higher than real human influencers because of the development cost of CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery). Brands will need to consider their business needs and objectives to balance the pros and cons when choosing the type of influencer to work with.
With over 2 billion active users worldwide, WhatsApp is the world’s third most popular social media platform, going well beyond just messaging amongst friends. According to Business of Apps, India has the most WhatsApp users in the world with 390 million users, whilst Indonesia is the next top market in APAC with 68 million users. Businesses can use the platform to provide product information, promotion notifications, and customer services via the specially dedicated WhatsApp business function. In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific Airways and HSBC have recently begun using WhatsApp to offer their customers round-the-clock customer service, leveraging their outreach through innovative contact channels. In 2022, WhatsApp is expected to launch an array of exciting new functions, including one that allows users to use its Business Directory and search for nearby businesses.
Prompted by the pandemic, more and more brands set up E-commerce sites in 2020 and 2021 and Statistapredicts that E-commerce revenue in Hong Kong will reach USD24,235 million in this year. Social commerce is a subset of E-commerce and plays an essential role in driving online sales effectively. Facebook and Instagram are gearing up with new shopping features, for example, they are testing the live-streaming commerce function to make shopping on social networks more accessible and enhance the shopping experience for consumers. In the future, audiences may be able to proceed with the payment via social media directly. Therefore, marketers should start to strengthen their social media and social commerce presence in 2022.
Video is still playing a critical role on social media. A study by Wyzowl found that 88% of audiences make a purchase decision after watching a brand’s video. Using video content, preferably short video content, can help brands deliver their messages in a more engaging way and have a positive impact on how the brand is perceived. Various social media platforms are enhancing their short video features, like Instagram Reel and YouTube Stories. It’s important for APAC brands to tap into this trend as it will help them reach broader target audiences, demonstrate brand personality effectively and support business objectives such as sales goals. It’s also important to be on the right platforms – in China there are many short-video apps that reach different audiences, such as video-focused social networking platform Douyin, video-sharing mobile app developer Kuaishou, short video sharing site Watermelon and animation-themed Bilibili.
If you’d like to learn more about social media trends in APAC, or if you need support developing or implementing a social media strategy, feel free to reach out to us here. You can also read up on China’s Social Media landscape by reading our ‘Social Media Playbook for Brands in China’.