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Social Listening and Digital Research in Emerging Markets

With rising competition and increasingly saturated markets, brands are looking for opportunities to scale their growth by tapping into emerging markets. As internet access and social media use grow in these regions, they offer plenty of untapped potential for companies across industries to expand their reach. 

In fact, this potential will increase as the use of social media becomes more widespread in regions such as Southeast Asia and North Africa. A Pew Research Center study found that 59% of adults in the Philippines and 49% of adults in Tunisia were already using social media. while Statista reported that 56% of the population in North African countries used social media. Although these levels may not compare to the level of social media use in advanced economies, they’re still significant for brands that seek to expand.

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Cultural Differences and Language Nuances: Planning your approach

But it’s not all plain sailing. When entering emerging markets, brands need to go in with an in-depth understanding of the consumers within these unique regions. Cultural differences and language nuances may make it challenging to develop campaigns and messaging that truly resonate with audience groups. This makes it crucial to conduct social listening as the increased social media use in these emerging markets also results in richer, more relevant data that you can analyse for consumer research.

When conducting social listening, brands need to be strategic in their approach. For starters, it’s important to realise that local companies have a greater chance of getting it right compared to big international players. This is largely due to the cultural understanding that local companies and analysts have of the target market, which allows them to interpret the data more accurately than companies with limited exposure to local customs and traditions.  Letting employees who work from your company base handle research projects covering far-away markets might seem like the easy solution logistics wise, but is rarely effective in practice.

Online Channels and Digital Behaviour: Aspects to consider in your go-to-market plan

When conducting social listening on an international scale, brands should be careful not to use a one-size-fits-all approach. Factoring in key differences between the markets – in terms of languages, habits, traditions and social media consumption – is essential to truly understanding the needs, preferences and values of the audience.

So, let’s take a closer look at four emerging markets and their differences in social media use and online behaviours. 

North Africa

Key platforms

This region sees significant adoption of leading social networks, with Facebook being the main platform of choice across all North African countries. Visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are less popular mainly because many users in the region still rely on data bundles. With Facebook, users can still access posts on a 20 MB free reserve. 

As such, messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messenger are also popular in this market. Interestingly, YouTube is much more popular than Facebook in the Western Sahara market with 66.67% of the population using it compared to Facebook’s 28.57%. 

Key online behaviours

In most North African countries, social media serves as the primary source of information, going beyond the original purpose of socialisation. This behaviour is most prevalent in Morocco, followed by Libya and Egypt.

The high usage of messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp also suggests that people in the region are using social media to stay connected with friends and family. Additionally, YouTube sees significant usage despite data restrictions, suggesting that video consumption is another major social media activity in this market. 

Online and digital trends

Middle East

Key platforms

The Middle East sees a ton of social media usage, mostly owing to the excellent internet service in the region. According to the International Journalists’ Network (IJNet), older networks like Facebook and Twitter continue to remain relevant.  However, visual-led platforms like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube seem to see increased adoption among social media users in the region. This is largely due to people seeking entertainment while they were confined to their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. WhatsApp is also a popular choice in messaging apps, especially among the UAE population. Although the first Arabic social media app, Baaz, was launched in 2020, the adoption rate isn’t too significant compared to these leading networks. The app has seen about 100,000 downloads on Google Play.

Key online behaviours

News consumption is one of the leading uses of social media in this market. Based on the IJNet report from earlier, 79% of Arab nations aged between 18 and 24 get their news from social media. Social is also shaping other activities, with many people using it to research brands. A majority of users in countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and UAE are more likely than the global average to use social media in brand research. 

Key digital trends

  • Influencers dominate the market, with influencers in the Gulf region seeing their TikTok following increase by 65% during February and August 2020. 
  • Social media users in the region are starting to use Arabic as their chosen language. It now contributes to 72% of all Tweets from the region. 
South Asia

Key platforms

Facebook completely dominates the South Asian market, contributing to a majority of social media usage across countries in this region. In fact, India leads globally in terms of Facebook audience size, making up over 329 million of the platform’s users. Bangladesh and Pakistan rank 10th with 44.7 million users each. Other leading platforms like Instagram, YouTube and Twitter are also popular in this region. Again, India is the country with the most Instagram users with over 230 million of the app’s users being from the country.  When it comes to messaging apps, WhatsApp is a leader in the market. WeChat is also fairly popular, although the ban on Chinese apps in the Indian market has impacted the numbers. Although there are a few local social networks in this region such as Koo in India and Kotha in Bangladesh, the usage of these apps isn’t as widespread as the mainstream social media platforms.

Key online behaviours

People in this region use social media for a range of activities, with news consumption being a major one. In India, for instance, 63% of users consume news content through social media.  Many social media users in the region also use the channel to express themselves and connect with friends and family. Younger users even go to platforms like Instagram to discover trends. Meanwhile, countries like Sri Lanka have been able to use Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to find aid amidst an economic crisis.

Key digital trends

  • With an increase in smartphone penetration and mobile service users, mobile ecommerce is more popular in the South Asian market than in developed economies.
  • Cash payments are still very popular in this region, with many ecommerce businesses offering solutions like cash-on-delivery.
Southeast Asia

Key platforms

Facebook dominates even in the Southeast Asian market, with Timor-Leste having the highest share of users at 99.56%. YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest also continue to be relevant in this region. For messaging, WhatsApp and Messenger are popular choices among Southeast Asian users. Interestingly, East Asian social media applications seem to see significant penetration in this market. LINE, Snow and WeChat are among the top platforms in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Key online behaviours

Compared to the global population, Southeast Asians spend the longest time on social media daily. This naturally has an impact on how consumers in the region use the channel in their daily lives. Most significantly, social serves as a channel for consumers to engage with brands and discover products. In fact, 72% of Southeast Asian businesses have been able to engage more with consumers with the help of social media. Video consumption also seems to be big, especially with the younger population. YouTube ranked number one in popularity among young adults in Southeast Asia, with 90.1% of users aged 16-24 using it. About 64.6% of people in these age groups are also consuming short video content through TikTok.

Key digital trends

  • Voice search and voice command features are gaining popularity in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.  
  • Gaming is a major social lifeline for youths in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Unlock Opportunities in Emerging Markets with Culturally Sensitive Social Insights

It’s simple. To generate insights from online conversations, you need human-led analysis from skilled social media analysts fluent in the language, culture and nuance of the region and social platform. With our team of 150+ in-country analysts across the globe, including key emerging regions, brands seeking growth opportunities in these fast-expanding markets can rely on Convosphere for actionable insights. Make your go-to-market strategy a success – download our new report and contact us today.

Our global insights team conducts social listening in over 100 languages to answer our clients’ most important business questions with actionable insights that deliver impact.

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