I’m putting on my shoes at the stinky steamy locker room at a Taipei city pool earlier this month and a poster on the wall asks me to “check in.” These Facebook requests along with like-us pleas are as common as “open for business” signs on the super-wired island of Taiwan. Facebook messaging has replaced mobile phone texting for the younger crowd. Personalized marketing is on the move and cash-conscious local developers eagerly work with Facebook to develop mobile apps.
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Taiwan has the world’s highest per capita penetration rate at 15 million active users per month, local media said on March 1. Facebook calls the reports overblown but says Taiwan has “one of the highest penetration rates for FB users against the population” in Asia. Facebook’s top markets are home base the United States followed by Brazil and India, tech research firm Gartner says.
However you measure it, Taiwan is Facebook’s ace in Asia as competitors trump it in other markets. Like other developed Asian markets, it has high broadband and smartphone penetration. Mobile subscriptions come to 125% of Taiwan’s 23 million people, and 4G service will start later this year. Unlike its peers, Taiwan lacks a serious local rival to Facebook. Its best effort Wretch was closed last year by parent company Yahoo, for example.
“In Taiwan you can see a lot of familiar people on Facebook,” says Sean Chen, a restaurant review app developer in Taipei. “There is no other local company in this market now and Facebook is the biggest one from a foreign country.”
Facebook naturally has plans for the island where you’re an outcast if not posting a shot of your most recent meal or perfecting a profile selfie while stuck waiting for the bus. The decade-old California-based company calls mobile a top priority, likewise use of the social medium to advertise businesses. “As we look into 2014 and beyond, we are seeing that the industry is shifting back to a more personal way of marketing and it represents one of the biggest shifts in marketing in generations,” Facebook greater China head Jayne Leung told this blog. “Facebook, which is built around people and the things they care about, is uniquely positioned to lead this shift.” That’s where people like Sean Chen come in, as the founder of Taipei Shih-chi works on an Android and iOS app to collect and “favorite” (that’s a verb) food blogs.
But the service with 1.23 billion active users worldwide as of Dec. 31 is already losing some face in Taiwan to LINE, a Japanese-designed mobile app that offers free chats, calls, conferencing and data uploads. The 3-year-old app had registered 300 million users as of November and become the biggest social network in Japan. People in Taipei, and of all ages, now say “LINE that to me” as often as “Facebook me.” It’s a matter of time before LINE boosts services for advertising and third-party app developers.
“LINE the social messaging app is doing extremely well in Taiwan,” says Shalini Verma, a principal analyst with Gartner in Australia. But Facebook’s purchase of the LINE-like WhatsApp mobile messaging service in February could keep it competitive. “Facebook should try to align its newly acquired WhatsApp with the needs of the Taiwanese,” Verma says.