This article was published on September 21, 2012

Asia is now Facebook’s largest continent after hitting 242 million users

Asia is now Facebook’s largest continent after hitting 242 million users

Technology companies worldwide are increasingly realising the potential of Asia and, in a clear sign of the size of that addressable market, Asia has surpassed Europe as Facebook’s largest continent, based on member numbers.

Facebook’s latest statistics, via Socialbakers, show that the continent (which includes Middle Eastern countries) now has more than 242 million registered users, putting it ahead of Europe by nearly 1 million, with North America’s figure some 6.5 million users lower.

This handover was always likely to happen — given the sheer size of Asia’s population — and what’s most interesting to note is that the social network has signed-up just 6.26 percent of people in Asia, that’s some way below its rate in Europe (29.72 percent) and North America (44.63 percent).

There are a number of reasons for the low penetration rate in Asia — language, varying levels of access to technology, awareness and more — but it’s clear that, if Facebook is to connect the world as CEO Mark Zuckerberg aspires to, growing its presence in Asia (and Africa) is among its biggest challenges.

Asia itself is a hugely diverse continent and Facebook is the dominant social network in most countries, bar a few well known exceptions (such as China). That indicates that, to grow its numbers, the service needs to do more than raise its (already high) profile among existing Internet users; targeting mobile and basic devices is key.

In India, where social networks account for 25 percent of time spent online via PCs, Internet penetration is less than 10 percent. While that has seen mobile Web usage overtake that of PCs, the lack of Internet access means that Facebook (and any other Internet service) will struggle to gain the kind of traction that it enjoys in Western markets.

Economic factors are outside of Facebook’s control but the company has signalled its intention to help improve technology in Asia, and the US firm invested in a project to build an undersea Internet access cable for the region. That’s in addition to more standard projects, which include a focus on feature phones, which account for more than 70 percent of mobile handsets worldwide, and deals with operators.

The company regularly updates its Facebook for Every Phone app, and it sharpened its emerging market focus when it bought feature phone specialist Snaptu last year.

Facebook isn’t alone in facing the challenge of growing in emerging markets but, as the preeminent global Internet service, it is better placed than most to reach new demographics.

Note that we haven’t discussed Facebook’s dilemma with China as yet. The social network remains blocked in the country, where Twitter-like services Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo have both amassed userbases in excess of 300 million, showing a large potential market for Facebook.

That issue — which tangles politics and nationalism, among others — isn’t about to be addressed by Facebook, and a company executive recently confirmed that the social network has no plans to enter China.

Facebook recently overtook Mixi in Japan, which ranks fifth in Asia; here’s the rest of the continent’s top ten, via Socialbakers:

Image via Flickr / Spencereholtaway

Further reading:

Binu lands $2m Series A funding led by TomorrowVentures to bring the benefits of apps to ‘dumb phones’

Emerging markets: Will technology deliver the promise?

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