Malaysians are the most popular people on the Internet, while Japanese are the least, according to a global survey that shows how national cultures are reflected in online behavior.
Malaysians won the Internet popularity contest with an average of 233 friends in their social network, compared with 68 in China and just 29 in Japan, according to the Digital Life study by global research firm TNS.
The findings are no surprise in a gregarious, multicultural nation that has a tradition of “open house” parties where the doors are literally thrown open to all, and where new acquaintances are eagerly made.
“The Malaysian way is just to invite everyone you know,” said Chacko Vadaketh, a Malaysian actor and writer with an impressive 1,010 friends on his Facebook account.
“And people who you would know and consider your friends is a much broader concept than in other communities,” he said, reminiscing over family weddings with 1,000-strong invitation lists.
Malaysia also has a large diaspora of professionals who have sought opportunities abroad, in a “brain drain” that has made social networking sites invaluable for maintaining links among far-flung friends.
Vadaketh, who has Indian and Syrian ancestry, studied in Britain, has family and friends on several continents, and is now living in the US, is not untypical of Malaysia’s wired generation.
“I resisted Facebook for a while, but I felt I had no choice because it’s overtaken e-mail in some ways,” he said. “I wanted to keep in track with events or get invited to parties, and a lot of it was only going out on Facebook.”
Mark Higginson, director of digital insights with Nielsen’s Online Division, said each country’s embrace of social media is dictated by its own national characteristics.
So the outgoing Southeast Asian nations of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia have reacted differently to the more conservative East Asian cultures of China, Japan and South Korea.
“Japanese are big users of social media, they’re just not highly adoptive of Facebook and a platform like Twitter is only just starting to take off,” he said, adding that blogs are also enormously popular in Japan.
“A blog is very much a self-editorialized viewpoint, so it’s a statement and not a discussion ... I think that fits in with the Japanese culture in that sense, the concept of face and of a very organized profile,” he said.
South Koreans prefer the more free-wheeling discussion forums on leading homegrown portals, while in China social gaming or other activity-based concepts are most popular, he said.
“Social media is so diverse and one of the big things we learned looking at different countries in Asia-Pacific is that the differences are really quite amazing,” Higginson said, adding that this had big implications for business. “One size does not fit all in a region like Asia-Pacific. You can imagine it’s a little easier to have a social media strategy across Europe, but here, knowing the local landscape is so critical.”
James Fergusson from TNS said the firm’s study showed each country has “a unique digital DNA.”
“Malaysians, like many Asian cultures, are very open to establishing friendships online, whereas in Japan, people tend to be more selective in choosing their online friends,” he said. “Social networkers in Japan tend to shy away from revealing personal details, instead relying on avatars and aliases.”