South Korea offers some of the best online and mobile connectivity around the world, while Vietnam, though displaying annual growth rates of more than 30%, is still far behind. This diverse Internet landscape makes for interesting startup ecosystems, especially in regard to social media.

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it had more than 410 million monthly active users (MAU) across Asia. Facebook generally works very well in these ecosystems, as culturally, Asia is very relationship based. This is demonstrated especially in Vietnam, where more than every fifth person has a Facebook account.

Twitter, however, is only used by 45% of all social media users in Vietnam, and even then on a very sporadic basis. For many nations, Twitter is seen as a tool for professional usage and therefore works less well in the Vietnamese culture.

The Philippines, however, have a huge twitter following. Of the social media users, 97% use Facebook, and 81% use Twitter. The reasons are both “light” and tragic at the same time. Twitter is seen as a great way to spread gossip and entertainment news, as well as catastrophe updates in the natural disaster prone country. This is especially exemplified by the success of the #SavePH hashtag, which is used in case of earthquakes and floods to warn and inform the population.

So how do startups profit from these high rates of social media usage?

Startups in Social Media

Unlike other markets that try to create domestic versions of Facebook and Twitter, East Asia is building an industry around these niches. It's a very diverse scene, with both B2C and B2B solutions: South Korean Chinchin connects customers to possible love interests, which are second connections on Facebook. On the other hand, Vietnam based Chomp creates cross platform ad campaigns for its business users.

One popular trend is social media sentiment analysis, which is especially useful in this part of the world given the different languages and dialects colored by Spanish, French, and English influencers. One recent example is Senti, a Philippines based startup that is also looking to expand to Indonesia and Malaysia.

Social commerce is equally popular, especially in Thailand. At Seedstars Bangkok, Facebook plugin provider Sellsuki pitch their F-Commerce solution, but they are far from the only the only player: Bentoweb and Page365 are strong competitors. Yet the most surprising is the rise of Instagram commerce, which is currently handled over hashtag promotions and links in the comments. At the moment it’s more spam than coherent commerce, but we’re certain Thai entrepreneurs are already working on fixing the issue.

But most-of-all Southeast Asia needs commerce solutions that are available on a mobile platform, as the majority of the population has no access to a computer, only phones.

A messaging culture

It therefore comes as no surprise that even giants like WeChat want to get into the ring and are featuring chat plugins for sales. Because it is important to take into account the fact that mobile messaging apps remain huge in Asia. And furthermore it’s not just Whatsapp.

Indeed Wechat (China), Line (Japan), Viber (Israel), and Kakao Talk (South Korea) are the stars of the Asian messaging scene. With the exception of Viper, these companies are true Asian success stories: WeChat currently has the world’s most MAUs, and Line and Kakao Talk are former startups that each have over 50 million users. Vietnamese contender Zalo has also achieved relative fame domestically with over 7 million users, thanks to large investments and aggressive advertisement by digital content giant VNG.  

What gives many of these local messaging services a leg up compared to Whatsapp et al. is that they often feature desktop clients, games, and are more culturally sensitive. This includes a heavier reliance on pictures, emojis and video chat tie-ins than Whatsapp, as East Asia, especially South Korea and Japan, enjoys ‘cute’ and visual products.

If you want to stay on top of startup trends, join us in Geneva from the 4-6 of February. International startup competition Seedstars World is bringing together the best entrepreneurs from emerging markets and fast growing startup scenes, and you can be there to meet them and watch as they pitch for an equity investment of USD 500k.