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Trends 2019: Facebook on the social forces shaping business

The start of a new year can be both an exciting and somewhat anxious time for business leaders. Understanding trends, anticipating potential shifts in consumer behaviour and responding appropriately, poses a different level of challenge when you are based in as diverse a region as Southeast Asia.

This region is experiencing what some call ‘the rising wave’ – a large emerging middle class – which is getting ready for an exciting future throughout Southeast Asia. Fueled by growing economies, bold entrepreneurs and rising incomes, the middle-class community in Southeast Asia will approach 350 million in population with a combined disposable income of USD$300 billion by 2022.

This is a population that has leapfrogged into the mobile-first lifestyle and it affects how people discover, evaluate and converse with businesses and ultimately, how and where they make purchases. The shift to mobile is particularly pronounced in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, where people spend 3.9, 3.7 and 3.4 hours, respectively, on their devices. At Facebook, we are seeing three significant consumer communications trends which we expect will intensify in 2019: Video, Stories and Messaging.

Last August – we rolled out Watch, a video platform, showcasing a variety of content from creators and partners, as well as scripted and unscripted original programming curated by Facebook, and found strong adoption in Southeast Asia, especially in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. We also found that Southeast Asia leads the way in people accessing video content on mobile.

Another interesting development is the consumer adoption of the ephemerality of the Stories format. People now share more than 1 billion stories every day across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Four SEA countries are among the top 10 Facebook Stories and Messenger Stories viewers. A recent eMarketer report which examined the popularity of Stories, said it plays into several broad consumer communication trends – a preference for sharing photographs or video over typing out a text update, the comfort of knowing what you post isn’t going to stick around forever and the need to share everyday moments with smaller audiences.

This preference is also driving the rise of messaging. Of all the consumer communication trends we are seeing, messaging, has the most implications for business as it gives people a direct line to the businesses they are interested in spending their money with. People are turning to messaging when they want a brand’s guidance or expertise, when they seek a more streamlined shopping experience and when they want to signal that they are open to important updates, whether that’s a delivery notification from a favourite retailer or a gate change from an airline. People and businesses around the world now exchange over 10 billion messages on our platforms each month.

This preference for messaging is even more pronounced in Southeast Asia, with 85 per cent of the people in six countries – Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam – using messaging apps or services several times a day . Data points from the GlobalWebIndex also showed that messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and others are growing at a rapid pace in Southeast Asia.

Messaging is important because it draws people and businesses into what can become an ongoing conversation, rather than a one-time transaction. In many cases, messaging can offer people a concierge-like experience. After answering an initial filtering question, people are able to engage in a two-way dialogue, unlocking a more meaningful and personalised brand experience. We surveyed people across four countries and found that being able to message with a business made people feel more confident about the brand and more connected to it. This is a new paradigm where businesses can make people feel cared for and create a connection that fosters brand loyalty.

So what do these trends mean for business leaders? Where should they focus their energies in 2019? I have two areas of recommendation. First, experiment with different mobile-first formats from Stories, videos and slideshows to engage customers wherever they are. Second, choose messaging tools for your business that can help you start conversations with your audience and build memorable relationships.

Benjamin Joe

Benjamin Joe is the Regional Director – Southeast Asia at Facebook.