We’re all familiar with the major social networks in the U.S. (FB, Twitter, etc.) as well as which ones are up and coming (Vine, Snapchat, Kik, WhatsApp). But what are not talked about a lot, are the social networks out in Asia that are growing insanely fast — like WeChat, KakaoTalk, and LINE. Although culturally targeted towards a different audience, these Asian networks will one day cross the pond and come to the U.S. and start competing out here. And although they started as pure messaging apps, they’ve increasingly added features to become full social networks. Basically, it’s only a matter of time before one of them comes out of nowhere to dominate like Gangnam Style.
The time has come: Facebook is falling from grace. It appears that although people used to love flooding their friends’ newsfeeds with pictures and information displaying their every move and emotion, these people have now moved on. It’s no longer cool to upload hundreds of photos from your most recent vacation, which can be overwhelming for friends as well as for the uploaders themselves (uploading, adding captions, and tagging your photos can be a huge time commitment). Today, less is more. Keeping social sharing simple and instant is the secret to integrating into people’s lives and mobile devices.
I know that predicting Facebook’s downfall is a bold statement, but if they don’t bend to keep up with changing trends, they will lose their spot as the U.S.’s top social network. Given the viral nature of social networks, this can happen much sooner than we think. If that time comes, here are the reasons why an Asian social network will be the service to ascend the throne. Facebook’s latest mobile only effort – Facebook Home – aims to attack the Asian messaging apps directly, by taking over a user’s phone and making its messaging “chat heads” ever present. Unfortunately for them, it seems Home has had a less than head turning reception at launch.
User Interface – Facebook is trying to be everything to everyone. The user experience is way too cluttered. In contrast, Asian social networks like LINE and Weixin have slick user interfaces that focus on simplicity and visually pleasing graphics. There are so many actions a user can take, and while those options are easy to access, they are still in the background rather than in your face. These messaging apps are about interaction first, then everything else.
Stickers are sticky – It’s all about the UI and user experience combined with some very sticky features – likestickers which are used by many Asian social networking apps.
The sticker love actually traces back almost a couple decades in Japanese culture. Back in 1995, when email and pagers were taking off in Japan, people were struggling with the transition to the shorter, more casual nature of these forms of communications, because in Japan, personal letters are supposed to be long and filled with lots of expression. Digital communication sometimes doesn’t get the writer’s intended message across – which can cause a lot of confusion. This is a big reason why things like stickers and emojis are so successful – they keep things light and fun, while helping users convey their actual sentiment in our world of dry communication. This is a concept that some U.S. social networks, such as Path and MessageMe, are slowlystarting to grasp, but ultimately they are late to the game and may not have the time or tools to catch up with some of their Asian counterparts.
Mobile Monetization – Facebook still has yet to find the right formula for monetizing on mobile. Its latest solution is to increase the number of ads rolling into user’s mobile feeds, but placing them in a user’s feed rather than on a banner. This adjustment was made in an effort to make advertisements less disruptive to the mobile user experience due to limited screen space, but scrolling through a bunch of ads isn’t so seamless in my opinion.
On the other hand, Asian social networks seemed to have figured it out. LINE, for example, utilizes a character licensing model where its stickers behave as unique, market-specific advertisements, a method that has brought in phenomenal funds for the service – one that in my prediction will outstrip all of Facebook’s mobile revenue already in this year. Call it a bold proposition, but the rumor quietly circulating around Asia is that LINE is already about to cross $1B in revenue, which trumps Whatsapp’s rumored $100M in revenue.
Audience – The new recipe for limited social sharing appeals to that teen/tween market, which acts as the barometer for what’s the next “hot” and addictive trend in the industry. Facebook admitted in its annual 10-K report that it’s losing young users, which is a huge red flag that the service needs to make some serious changes. Teens and tweens are one of the strongest early adopters and influential markets out there. Facebook knows this, as the service itself started with college kids before expanding to anyone and everyone.
Asian social messaging services get what users today are looking for out of social sharing: simplicity and fun. Facebook should start looking East for inspiration on how to up the ante and regain engagement, before an Asian social network beats them to the punch and funnels away a large portion of their user base, primarily on mobile.