Defying Facebook: which emerging market social networks will stand tall?

Map of social networks

Social networking stalwart Facebook claims one-billion users. That’s around a seventh of the population of the planet. Sometimes it’s easy to believe the internet is comprised solely of Google, Wikipedia and Facebook. But what about more regional social networks, mobile social networks and specifically those with a strong foothold in emerging markets? How do they stack up against the behemoth that is Facebook?

According to Italian social media strategist Vincenzo Cosenza although Facebook’s star is still ascending around the world, there are pockets of the globe where the social networking giant does not claim number one position.

Cosenza’s been tracking these stats and updating a world map of social networks for a number of years and he reports that at the end of 2012, Facebook dominated in 127 out of 137 countries, with a mere four other networks claiming poll position in the remainder.

Map of social networks

A year ago, according to his data that is based on Alexa rankings, there were six social networks in prime position; midway through 2010, 14; and, as many as 17 in 2009.

In addition to Facebook, the top social networks around the world are:

Tencent’s Qzone has 552-million users across Asia and has recently also gained number one spot in South Korea, according to the data. The network centres around blogging, photo sharing and music. Unusually, users pay for most services, including the mobile version.

Facebook-esque V Kontakte (VK) has finally ousted Odnokassniki in for top spot in Russia, with 190-million users there.

Odnokassniki, available in Russian and Ukranian, is hanging on to the number one social network position in Moldova according to Cosenza’s map.

Persian-language Cloob has climbed the ranks in Iran, where Facebook is hard to access thanks to censorship, says Cosenza.

Other regional social networks you should know about:

The most significant social media plays that aren’t Facebook all seem to exist in China. According to Socialbakers, Facebook does have almost 600 000 users in China, making the country the 100th largest Facebook country by numbers. But if you look at the percentage of the population using Facebook, it’s a lowly 0.04% – placing China stone last out of 212 countries.

After the Urumqi riots in mid-2009 and the subsequent banning of international internet and social media services in China, several local social networks took the gap to seize market share. Others were launched on the back of the ban. Here are a few of the headlining local services.

Baidu Space
This Chinese social network and web services company must surely be a significant pretender to the Facebook throne. The social networking/blogging arm of this Nasdaq-listed company is called Baidu Space – as Blogger is to Google, so Baidu Space is to Baidu. Customer numbers are difficult to come by, but as the Motley Fool points out, with internet access and online advertising growing off a low base in China, the future is bright for this company. What’s more, it wouldn’t be surprising if the search giant had a mobile social play up its sleeve, with the recent launch of a low-cost smartphone (Changhong H5018) that works on its own operating system, Cloud.

RenRen, dubbed China’s Facebook, has followed the social networking giant’s trajectory: first operating as a college-based network, and then opening up to the wider community. There is one significant difference though; since 2008, it has offered a WAP version of the service.

According to the company’s third quarter results – it is listed on the NYSE – the user base grew by 25% year-on-year with 172-million activated users in the quarter. Monthly unique logins in September 2012 were 48-million. Total net revenues were US$50.4-million, rising 47% from the same quarter last year.

Like Renren, Kaixin001 is a Facebook copycat – although unlike Renren it hasn’t so blatantly nicked Facebook’s colours and layout. It was launched in March 2008 and grabbed marketshare after Chinese internet censorship was stepped up in 2009.

Kaixin001’s claim to fame is that it is the first to introduce the Chinese market to clones of successful Facebook apps, such as Friends for Sale and Happy Farms, says Wikipedia. Back in 2011, Kiaxin001 claimed 120-million registered users.

Weibo is a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter. Its full name is Sina Weibo, as “weibo” means social network so crops up in a number of other services’ names, such as Tencent Weibo. The service was launched in August 2009, shortly after the Urumqi riots and is known to censor posts that are critical of the Chinese government. In fact the company is said to employ up to 1 000 people to monitor and censor Weibo users.

The service has however captured up to 30% of the Chinese internet base, with, according to Tech in Asia, 368-million registered users. That puts it second only to Tencent Weibo’s 469-million registered users.

By comparison, Africa’s mobile social networking poster children, Mxit and 2go, have around 10-million and 20-million users respectively. Facebook meanwhile has 51-million Facebook users across the entire continent. Cosenza’s data is fairly limited when it comes to the African continent, and it will be interesting to see whether Facebook repeats its dominant performance across the continent, another of the giants makes a play, or homegrown networks gain ascendance.



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