On Wednesday, The Digital Movement(TDM) had the privilege of hosting Jeff Roberto, Marketing Director of Friendster Inc who was here in Singapore for the Ad:Tech conference! It was a closed lunch session at the porsh Global Kitchen located in Pan Pacific Hotel with 10 people consisting of TDM’ers, bloggers and thought leaders in the social media space.
What I really liked about this session was how everyone was seated together on a round table and had ample opportunity to ask Jeff questions while he talked about Friendster’s plans to move forward and grow in the social networking(SNS) scene of Asia. Okay I know you’re probably thinking “Who cares about Friendster? They’re dead” with most of our friends having moved their attention to Facebook. However, we often forget they only represent one sector of the Gen Y population from the age of 20 onwards from a small segment of Asia.
Interesting Statistics (Global)
Here are some statistics from Jeff (source of data: ComScore Inc.) that gives a better picture of Friendster’s position globally:
Monthly page views increased from 6 billion to 22 billion over the past year. Looks like Friendster is actually growing. My interpretation of this is the number of people joining/spending time on Friendster has increased and is more than the number of people leaving.
This graph shows the average number of minutes spent monthly on each site. I find this information very interesting. Even after Facebook introduced Facebook chat, people are still spending more time on Friendster. Could it be the explosion of noise from the insane amount of Facebook apps that is causing this? Might explain why the upcoming Facebook profile interface will be separating apps from the main profile page.
Interesting Statistics (Asia)
Alright I know you have had enough of Statistics. I’ll get to the Q&A part soon. Just one more graph to show how Friendster is doing in Asia. ^^;;
Currently Friendster is at least twice the size of any SNS in Asia but as Facebook has just started picking up its pace around the region and I don’t have the growth graph for Asia, it is hard to say where Friendster will stand in the future
1) Users leaving
One of the questions I asked Jeff was whether Friendster has any plans to reduce the number of older youths from leaving to other SNS like Facebook. His response after a quick laugh was that they are definitely very interested in retaining their users but currently their main target group (which is a majority of their users) are in the age range of 16 to young adults. If users want to move to Facebook which has an interface that caters better to the mature audience they won’t stop them.
I would relate this to the business analogy:
Instead of customizing the product to fulfill everyone’s changing taste and interests(and risk having a bad product), it is better to focus on the needs of one segment and deliver a really good product
To me his response makes sense as most of the teenagers (at least those I know from Malaysia and Singapore) are still actively engaged and signing onto Friendster and not Facebook as most people their age are not on it. However on the other hand if the tastes of these youths change to liken that of Facebook’s interface and content, Friendster might be facing a problem just like how university and college students are moving now.
2) Tapping on local celebrities
Another question I asked was about Friendster’s marketing plans to continue growing their user base in Asia. One of their plans is to partner with local celebrities to set up Fan Profiles to not only encourage their fans to support them on Friendster but to also build their fan base among the Friendster community. I thought this was a very interesting strategy that have not been done by any SNS in the region.
An interesting point about Fan Profiles is that unknown artists have built a larger fan base than well known ones. One of the success stories is Karen Kong, a Malaysian singer who built her career and fan base on Friendster. She has done some interesting things to build her popularity like broadcasting an online concert series. She now has 168K fans as compared to famous singer JJ Lin’s 40K.
3) Building content with local companies and developers
Instead of leaving the community to develop content for the platform, Friendster will be working closely with local companies and developers to develop content that is attractive to the locals of each country in the region. This campaign has been tested with Rexona’s campaign in Malaysia and Nokia’s iTalentStar contest. The Rexona campaign was a competition where users had to sign on to Friendster and add the Rexona Room Makeover app to participate. Nokia’s iTalentStar was an American Idol style online competition with participants from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Phillipines with users voting for their favourite talents on the contest pages. Both campaigns received tens of thousands of fans on their fan pages.
4) Going mobile with text alerts!
So yea, Friendster has gone mobile but there’s no big deal about that. Everyone is mobile. The difference though is text alerts. Not everyone in Asia can afford a 3G connection and have access to Wi-fi but everyone has access to a phone service. With text alerts, they will be able to literally keep up to date when on the move. Think about it as Twitter for Friendster.
The nice thing about this is that it is not one-way. Users can use text alerts to update shoutouts, post bulletins, send messages and friend requests. When I asked Jeff about the costs, he said that they’ll be partnering with local telco companies so that only standard text messaging rates will apply. I must say it is a good and unique mobile strategy for Asian countries. Now they just have to add the application feature and users will be hooked on their profiles all day.
To sum the meeting up, after meeting Jeff my perception of Friendster’s current state and future changed as the statistics presented looked positive, the plans sound solid and Jeff’s excitement gave the impression that the team of 65 at Friendster’s office is equally confident. Looking at their plans to open country offices in Asia, we can expect some exciting things coming along our way very soon.
Alright! Before I sign off here are some pics
Side note: About offices, I asked Jeff whether the offices in Asia will be doing any development work coz as we all know, most APAC offices do sales and operations. He is unsure of the exact arrangements but the office in Phillipines will be doing development work while the rest will focus more on sales and marketing. Oh well…