Opinion

Twitter at 10: It’s time to get cracking on North East Asia

David KoTwitter celebrated its 10th anniversary this week. But while the social media platform has become an integral component of a brand’s marketing arsenal, David Ko suggests not every region is happy with its progress.

Happy birthday Twitter! My first tweet was in March 2008, when Twitter was fresh and full of promise, a pure, elegant way to share thoughts compressed into 140 characters.

The hashtag was invented on Twitter in 2007. We rejoiced when Twitter set up their Asia Pacific office in Singapore, and much later, Hong Kong.

But marketers located in North Asia are growing impatient with Twitter, worried about stagnant user growth and a threat of irrelevance.

Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla, with penetration rates in the high 80s percentile in many Asian countries, but in the beginning there was a purity to Twitter’s chronological feed, not controlled by algorithms.

As a social network consumer, I got to decide what I see, not Facebook, or Instagram. Sadly Twitter caved to the inevitable with their recently “improved” timeline.

Nonetheless, over the past three years we’ve tirelessly recommended Twitter as an essential component of many clients’ globally directed social strategies, although said clients have consistently pushed back due to relatively low user numbers in North Asian markets such as Korea and Hong Kong.

We understand there are larger strategic challenges that Twitter has to solve, including sluggish user growth and a lack of definition of the brand’s identity, but other platforms are not standing still.

WeChat and Line are stalwarts and growing fast, Whatsapp’s entry into ad-driven monetization is inevitable, even Pinterest is gaining traction. Interestingly, we’ve started to plan client campaigns on Snapchat (username: davko1), while demand for Twitter as a brand communication option has dwindled.

Twitter and Facebook are both censored in China, but only one CEO has repeatedly visited China and launched a relentless campaign to get their platform unblocked. Incredibly, in spite of censorship, Twitter still enjoys China penetration over 20%. That’s a golden opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, Twitter is still relevant on the global stage, as exemplified by the heatmap illustrating how news of yesterday’s Brussels terrorist attacks spread.

Its role during the Arab spring is still recalled with admiration. I would hate to see Twitter slow down in North Asia because of the inherent challenges. India is a terrific market, and Twitter is tremendously successful there, as they are in other Southeast Asian markets such as Indonesia where they have the highest penetration.

The shift from social networks to messaging apps as the new frontier for innovation is already happening, which can represent an opportunity for Twitter since they are essential a hybrid of both. Can they solve their chronic distractions long enough to leapfrog their competition and increase their relevance in North Asia? That is the question.

I hope they do, because I still remain, after all these years, a fan.

David Ko is managing director and founder of Daylight Partnership

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