Social media has become the driving force behind youth-based social movements in Asia and an essential communications platform for companies, panelists said at a session of the World Economic Forum on East Asia earlier this week.
Satya Witoelar, co-founder and designer of location-based microblogging site Koprol, said that in Indonesia, social media had become a tool for empowerment of the younger generation.
“The biggest effect of social media in Indonesia is that it has been able to generate public and social movements,” said Satya, whose social media start-up was acquired by Internet giant Yahoo.
That view was echoed by a fellow panelist, Ken Dean Lawadinata, chief executive of Indonesia’s largest home-grown online community, Kaskus, which has more than 2.7 million members.
“Social media is about freedom of expression and freedom of minds, and Kaskus has become a channel where they can express themselves freely,” Ken said.
Among the most notable online social movements was the Indonesia Unite tag on microblogging site Twitter, which began as a show of solidarity following the twin hotel bombings in Jakarta in July 2009. It then evolved into a broader nationalist movement that has rallied against terrorism and contributed to disaster relief efforts.
ComScore, a research firm specializing in digital trends, reported in August 2010 that Indonesia had the highest penetration of Twitter users, with 20.8 percent of the country’s estimated 31 million Internet users visiting the microblogging site that month.
Another overview of the so-called Twittersphere in the country was reported by social media monitoring agency Sysomos in its “Exploring the Use of Twitter Around the World” report, based on data from mid-October to mid-December 2009.
The report showed Indonesia was sixth out of the top 20 countries based on the number of Twitter users, or tweeps, accounting for 2.41 percent of users.
Indonesian tweeps also contributed 2.34 percent of the world’s tweets during that period, while Jakarta-based users generated 0.8 percent of tweets contributed from cities around the world. The capital was also in 11th place in the list of cities from where tweets were generated, and the only Asian city in the top 15.
Social media has also been a revelation in other Asian countries for its power to rapidly disseminate information.
Jaideep Shergill, chief executive of Hanmer MS&L Communications in India, cited the example of high-ranking government officials in India who had lost their jobs because they tweeted the wrong things online.
He said such cases would have never happened in the past, even for officials mired in corruption allegations. “It’s clearly a revolution,” he said. “The power of the Internet and social media is beyond people’s imagination.”
Another example of the might of social media in Asia was presented by Yoshito Hori, head of Globis University in Japan.
“Twitter in Japan became the quickest way to find out what was happening following the earthquake and tsunami in March,” he said, adding that people were quick to post updates on who survived and who went missing in the aftermath of the massive disaster.
But social media platforms are about more than just Facebook and Twitter, said Michelle Guthrie of Google Asia Pacific. “Social media is not restricted to those two sites,” she said, explaining that photo sharing sites were also some of the most popular platforms for Asian users.
In times of PR or management crises, corporations have also turned to social media platforms, said another panelist, Vijay Eswaran Vijayaratnam of the QI Group, Malaysia.
“Social media is the language of the future and companies now need to relate to it though in this part of the world,” he said.
The WEF’s 2010-11 Global Information Technology Report, titled “Transformations 2.0,” said Indonesia had made the greatest progress of any economy in its Networked Readiness Index, citing Indonesia’s rapid adoption of information and communications technologies. It jumped 14 places to 53 out of 138 economies, from a ranking of 67 in 2010.
The report attributed the significant improvement in the country’s ranking to developments in three main areas: general business, regulatory and infrastructure environment for ICT; the readiness of individuals, businesses and governments to use and benefit from ICT; and the actual usage of available ICT.