Asia now has its very first dedicated social media research center, after the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) launched its Social Media Laboratory this week.

The new facility will be responsible for studying social media culture and technology across Asia, in a move that HKUST describes as “bring[ing] academic and commercial significance to the development and application of social media in the region.”

Speaking at the launch event, Professor Tony F. Chan, President of the University’s Science and Technology department, revealed his pride that HKUST had become the first educational institute on the continent to make the introduction:

With this laboratory, our faculty and researchers are taking an active part in nurturing research and development talents in the blooming new arena of social media, and building Hong Kong as a leading hub of creative media and IT technologies in the region.

The center will work with a number of local businesses as it looks to build links with corporate companies in the region. A number of local partners are tapping the center’s resources and expertise, and they include domestic telecom and IT firm PCCW, TimeWarner-owned publisher Turner Broadcasting and popular restaurant guide Open Rice.

As part of the launch, the university has also agreed to build a video social network which will connect the faculty and its students to the business community in Hong Kong and beyond. The collaboration is in conjunction with tech firm Cyberport, and the company will also put together a series of events — including training courses, workshops and other seminars — to help keep students up to date with the latest technology trends and issues for businesses.

Social media usage in Asia has grown massively over the last couple of years but a significant amount of analysis and measurement of the region is made out of other parts of the world. While reports have found that business use of the medium remains immature.

Though social media usage in the region is strong, a number of reports have found that strategy and campaign activity is below the standard of common practice in North America and Europe. That was the conclusion of a report from PR firm Burson Marsteller last October, which was echoed by research published by TNS one month later.

Being based in Hong Kong has the advantage of links to China — and its own unique social media space — as well as the rest of the continent, while the level of English in the country is among the highest in the region.

The establishment of the continent’s first dedicated academic facility may not be the factor that brings a seismic change and increase in sophistication to business use of social media in Asia, but it is a step in the right direction. At the smallest level, it could provide more data and may encourage other universities and educational institutes in the region to follow suit, which can only be a good thing.