Asia, frontier markets

Social Media Spotlight: Myanmar & The Digital Frontier

Guest post by Nomfundo Msomi

For digital media stakeholders in Myanmar, as well as Burmese society as a whole, the keyword of the decade is change.

Ever since the country began its process of liberalization and democratization in 2010, Myanmar has seen massive growth in internet penetration, mobile subscriptions, and social media usage. Further media deregulation is expected in 2016, which will surely open up new business opportunities. Although the country’s total internet penetration is relatively low, Myanmar’s rate of growth is high, and local businesses are shifting their focus from offline to online and social media. Global businesses should do the same.

In 2009, SIM cards in Myanmar could cost up to US$2,000, effectively making them off-limits to most consumers. NPR reports that back then, about 1 percent of Burmese had cellphones — the lowest level of proliferation outside of North Korea. Nowadays, with barriers to entry eased and international business flowing in, mobile users can buy them for as little as US$1. Tech in Asia’s Q4 2015 report on Southeast Asia’s digital landscape highlights Myanmar’s remarkable growth in mobile penetration. In one year alone, the number of mobile subscriptions in Myanmar rose from 15 million to 30 million, a huge increase for a country of around 54 million people. That rate of growth is expected to continue through 2016.

Nonetheless, it’s important to note that overall internet penetration remains relatively low. IDG Connect estimates that 2-5 percent of the country is online. The lack of infrastructure, especially in rural areas, has been the major roadblock to bringing people wired connections. But as mobile devices become widely available, many Burmese are jumping straight to wireless internet connections.

Social Media Platforms: Global All-Stars & Home-Grown Newcomers

Facebook

Thanks to the growth of private-sector telecommunications and a relaxation in censorship, social media networks have exploded in popularity, and Facebook reigns supreme. Facebook had 4 million Burmese users in 2015, and that number is expected to grow exponentially. For many, Facebook serves largely as a news reader and a way to learn more about businesses, brands, and products. The Atlantic’s fascinating interviewwith Burmese Facebook users posits that Facebook’s popularity is attributed to its self-contained user interface. Burmese users aren’t just interested in celebrities and news channels either. Businesses are seeing increased traffic on their pages — Telenor Myanmar, for instance, has over 2.2 million fans. As far as global global brands are concerned, numbers are relatively modest but steadily growing: Coca-Cola has over 700,000 fans, and KFC, which recently debuted in Yangon in 2015, already has 250,000.

Again, the percentage of Facebook users in Myanmar is still relatively small in absolute numbers, but with major growth anticipated — and demonstrable interest — international brands should pay close attention. Anticipating future social media trends will eventually pay off in the long run. Facebook’s ubiquity makes the platform an especially easy way to reach potential audiences in Myanmar.

MySQUAR

MySQUAR (formerly Squar) is Myanmar’s first and (currently) only local-language social media platform. Although some have compared it to Facebook, MySQUAR’s founder Rita Nguyen has insisted that its intent is quite different. (Note: At the moment, Facebook cannot render the Burmese language.) In a 2014 interview with Forbes she explains that MySQUAR “is a much more comfortable experience than trying to navigate something in a foreign language that has features that are useless to you. […] There is room for more than one social network, especially in a market that’s so hungry for online content and experiences.”

In October 2015, MySQUAR met their target of 1.5 million registered users, indicating a 50 percent increase since June 2015. That same year, the company debuted on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM (an international market for smaller growing companies) and raised $2.6 million through their IPO. With such impressive growth in so short an amount of time, the stage is clearly set for MySQUAR’s long-term success. This Burmese-language platform is definitely one that social media marketers should keep an eye on.

Myanmar Is On The Rise

Myanmar is changing rapidly. Mobile penetration is expected to hit 100 percent within the next five years, and Burmese users are clearly eager to connect with each other and brands. For those businesses wishing to win in the region, Myanmar and its massive social media potential should not be overlooked.

Nomfundo Msomi is marketing manager at Lamplight Analytics

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