At our first day at Stenden Rangsit University we were shown around school by Thai students. After this introduction day, the friend requests started to come rapidly. Once I accepted those friend requests it did not stop there. Almost my whole timeline was filled with Thai posts, photos and videos. Quickly other Thai students started to add me. Some students which I never talked with or have not even seen. When this happened I started to wonder, how come that the Thai people are so active on social media? It almost seemed like they are addicted to social media. And what is the cause of why this is happening? And another interesting fact I was triggered to look into, what is the result of this phenomenon? Are there businesses or even the government who plays a big part in this evolvement, and how benefit from this huge growth in use of social media?
Of course social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter are highly used all over the world. But Thailand shows a tremendous usage on social media the past few years. Based on research of the year 2014, Thailand has the largest amount of comments, shares, photo updates, likes and posts per user on Facebook. Much higher than the global average. Almost half of the population of Thailand is active on Facebook, from which 66 percent return to Facebook on daily basis. But not only Facebook is a commonly used social media platform, the second most used platform is YouTube. The largest group of users of Facebook and YouTube is between the age of 18 and 24. But the age of the social media users variates from 13 till 55 and older. For more info about social media statistics; http://syndacast.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Thailand-Social-Media-Landscape.pdf.
Thailand also had the most rapid growth in the number of accounts being made over the year 2014. This goes along with the mobile penetration rate of 125 percent. This rate gives the number of active mobile phone users in a specific region. This means that there are more mobile phones than people in Thailand.
When looking at those numbers, automatically the question arises; is there a specific reason for this rapid growth in social media- and mobile phone usage? Different reasons can be given for this great change in social media.
First of all the theory of Hofstede individualism vs collectivism can be related to the social media usage of Thailand. This theory refers to the relationship between individuals and others (Novera). Thailand is considered a very collectivist country. This can be one of the causes of the high usage of social media, because of the collectivist behavior the inhabitants of Thailand have. Thais value social connections a lot. They feel the need to belong to a long-term commitment or group. Social media is a long-term group where people meet on. There is a great feeling of ‘togetherness’ and social media gives a whole new level to this. Through social media everyone can always be together and stay connected. This is very much in line with the Asian culture.
Secondly, Thai people have a whole different view on the use of internet. Based on the Accenture Survey it can be said that the Thai population has a high engagement to the internet and sees the internet more as the center of their lives rather than something that makes life more efficient. They also believe that the internet is a tool which helps them achieve their goals. Interesting to see is that more of the ASEAN countries share this view on the internet, and some are even stronger in their views when it comes to engagement and the internet being the center of life.
Another reason for the high increase in usage of social media could be that social media is still relatively new to Thailand. The most accounts on social media are from the area in an around Bangkok and some other bigger cities. But still not everywhere in Thailand people have access to the internet. So once there was access to it, all the people massively started to make accounts on the different social media platforms, and started to explore it.
Business and government
This increase of the use of social media did not stay unnoticed by businesses and the government. The growth of social media has created a lot of business opportunities for Thailand. As well as for international companies as local companies. First of all, social media is a great marketing tool for companies. The five biggest industries of Thailand, which are FMCG, e-commerce, fashion, electronics and retail food, all have had a significant increase in consumer relations via social media. Most of those interactions were via Facebook. But social media also creates opportunities for the local and smaller companies. Social media gives those companies the opportunity to grow, since social media offers a level of visibility and access that surpasses many of the barriers that underdevelopment can pose (Hootsuite).
When it comes to the government the growth of social media had a large impact as well. It has become a huge part in the Thai politics. Since social media is the number one source of following the news and sharing opinions. Many politicians and activists are using social media to share their thoughts and opinions. This is quite a change for the government, since the government has always direct and indirect controlled the media. While now, social media is a medium which cannot be controlled by the government. Therefore the government is busy trying to figure out how to deal with social media. Because it is both a curse and a blessing.
Are Thai people addicted?
So are Thai people addicted to social media? I think they are, but on the other hand who is not? But Thailand is a special case, since the growth in social media was in such a short matter of time and that Thailand is now one of the countries who uses social media the most. This is because of the fact that it is in their culture to be involved and interested in other people’s lives. This as the result of being a very collectivist country. Secondly they have quit a strong view on the use of internet, they feel very dependable towards the internet. And lastly, the internet is still relatively new to a lot of Thai people. The internet is still seen as a luxurious good rather than a basic good.
When it comes to the business opportunities for companies the increase of social media is a huge benefit. It creates a wide range, which makes it a perfect marketing tool and it makes customer relations easier to maintain. Whether social media is a good phenomenon for the government is a whole different discussion. It is on the other hand a great tool for politicians to share their believes and opinions but on the other hand it also creates a platform for activists and critics. Since the government has always been able to control the media, this is something that will not stay unnoticed at the government.
All by all, social media definitely had a big impact on Thailand and will continue to have an impact. And depending on how the Thai population, the business industry and the government deal social media, it can be an addiction or a skill.