Last Updated: Dec 1, 2010
Malaysians on average have 233 friends on their social networks, compared with the world average of 119.Teh Eng Koon / AFP
The country’s love of making friends, online and off, makes it a gold mine for online advertisers who are increasingly moving into the social-networking side of the internet
It must be their gregarious and friendly nature that makes Malaysians embrace the social media.
Or it could be an act of defiance against the relative lack of media freedom that makes portals and social networks their platforms of expression.
More likely it’s a combination of both – and other factors such as easy access and the Malaysian education system of boarding schools – that has recently led to their being named the friendliest people in the world.
According to the recent Digital Life study by the global research company TNS, Malaysians on average have 233 friends on their social networks, compared with the world average of 119.
Malaysians are also the heaviest users of social networking, averaging nine hours a week compared with 5.2 hours a week in rapid growth markets such as the Middle East, Latin America and China, says the survey, the largest ever digital research project on online behaviour, covering 50,000 people across 46 countries.
“I’m not that surprised to hear that,” says Mas Muhammad Sukri bin Masika, 28, who has just graduated from a German university and has 487 friends on Facebook. “Malaysians were already the top users of Friendster in its heyday.
“One main reason is that many of us were sent away to boarding schools at an early age, followed by university. Social networking is an easy way of keeping in touch.”
Malaysians, like many South East Asian cultures such as those of Indonesia and the Philippines, are open to establishing friends, online and off. The Malaysian way is simply to invite everyone they know.
The hundreds of guests at a wedding or a free-for-all party to mark a national festival such as Eid, Chinese New Year, Diwali or Christmas are a testimony to this “open house” concept.
Another reason for the rise in Malaysia’s number of social media users is the cheap and easy access to the internet. The unit cost of access and fixed-term contract requirements are about a tenth of Australian rates.
Facebook is the most popular social network, with 8 million Malaysians accessing the website last month, according to the Malaysian Digital Association.
YouTube, Friendster, MySpace, Flickr and Twitter are also in the top 10 social networks in Malaysia. This global outlook is different from its east Asian neighbours such as Japan, Korean and China, where the main social network is locally developed.
The potential to make money in Malaysia is therefore enormous. There are 16 million web users in the country, a number forecast to rise to 20 million within two years.
A high proportion of these are young and savvy users, the type who make up a high volume of the traffic on social-networking sites. This is the future generation that Facebook is targeting with its new e-mail service.
With the Malaysian economy improving (some people are even talking about a property bubble), the future certainly looks bright for the providers of digital life.
Social media started out as a playground for computer geeks. Today they are a force in the advertising world. This drives earnings on networking sites, which are free to users and hence dependent on ad revenues, to new heights.
According to published forecasts, social media spending is poised to explode, with revenues reaching multibillion dollars by 2012.
A recent study by the US market research company comScore found social-networking sites accounted for more than 20 per cent of all display ads viewed online, with MySpace and Facebook combining to deliver more than 80 per cent of ads among such sites.
“Over the past few years, social networking has become one of the most popular online activities, accounting for a significant portion of the time internet users spend online and the pages they consume,” says Jeff Hackett, a comScore senior vice president.
“Because the top social media sites can deliver high reach and frequency against target segments at a low cost, it appears that some advertisers are eager to use social-networking sites as a new advertising delivery vehicle.”
The industry vibes are certainly positive. DiGi Telecommunications, a big mobile service provider in Malaysia, plans to spend up to 50 per cent of its advertising budget on digital media, with a focus on young professionals.
“We believe Malaysians have become more internet-savvy and DiGi is determined to explore this new space more than ever ,” says Albern Murty, its head of products and segment marketing.
“We have already started evolving beyond ‘traditional’ digital advertising and managing our social media communications.”
Global digital companies, take heed.