In Asia, Facebook counts 212 million users, just 5 percent of the 4.3 billion people who live there. Asia is a region that is largely dominated by Facebook, which has overtaken a number of rivals that once ruled markets across the continent, including Friendster, Hi5 and Google’s own Orkut.

While Google carefully guards its user figures and doesn’t break out data based on country or region, Ryan Hayward, who oversees marketing for Google+ across Asia, told TNW that the social network is making good progress in the continent. Google+ is now up with 90 million users worldwide and while the spotlight shines on its battle with Facebook and Twitter ant the ongoing enhancements it makes to its platform.

Celebrities

Google has made a concerted push to gain visibility through the acquisition of high-profile users, and that same methodology has been applied to Asia. The most pertinent example was the recent collaboration with Japanese super girl band AKB48 in December.

Hayward reveals that the girls, and there are 48 of them in the group, have accumulated more than 3.5 million followers collectively and have been quite impactful about getting people to engage with Google+ in Japan, and other parts of Asia where they are popular. Hayward cites the example of Yuko Oshima, whose 143,645 followers make her the most followed AKB48 member on Google+). Although she has considerably less followers than Britney Spears (1.6 million), Oshima’s fan engagement is considerably greater than the US popstar’s.

Though Twitter is well established in Japan, which holds Twitters record for tweets per second, and Facebook is showing signs of growth there, it took both services some time to gain traction.

Politics

Politics has been a big driver of social media adoption in Asia generally, as noted watcher Dr Michael Netzley observes, and Hayward says that Google is seeing impressive results in the area.

During the recent election in Taiwan, which drew global attention due to its links with China, Google+ usage “exploded” amongst political candidates. Indeed, the uptake was such that Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou (77,428 followers) had ten times more followers than Barack Obama, although the US President’s recent usage of the hangout feature has seen his following grow to 380,000

During the recent election in Taiwan, which drew global attention due to its links with China, Google+ usage exploded amongst political candidates.Hayward says that it isn’t entirely clear how Google+ took off amongst Taiwanese politicians, but the popularity of YouTube as a political communications tool may be key, given the work that Google has done to link its video service with the social network.

Business

Google is particularly proud of the business usages of Google+ in Asia, which has been put to work in a number of ways by NGO in particular. For Hayward, the attraction of Google+ for brands is the way that it allows them to personalise communication with customers like never before and nowhere else: It’s the ability to communicate with more than just text, and beyond 140 characters,” he says. “Brands are using video to reach customers too, maybe not everyday, but it is more than just a neat feature to have.” Google opened an office in Bangkok last year and it used its presence on the ground to run a Web education session with a number of  NGO and charities that operate in the country.

China

No talk of social media is complete without mention of China. The country recently passed half a billion Internet users and its authoritative stance on foreign Webs service — which has seen a number blocked — makes it a hugely challenging market.

While Google has insisted that China is still a key part of its plans for the region, Google+ is blocked in the country, where it is only accessible through a virtual private network (VPN) system which bypasses the Great Firewall Web censors.

However, Google does still count on the support of one of the country’s most visible social media figures, artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, whose has quickly built 47,000 Google+ followers away from his 120,000 Twitter followers.

 

Google showed the basics of Google+ and a number of other techniques to use data from the Internet and communicate via the Web. As a result of the sessions, Google+ hangouts were used by a number of  NGO to help puts a face on the tragedy and attraction donations to help with the fallout from the worst flooding in more than a decade.

Encouraging organic growth

Google is focusing on the markets where it is initially seeing growth, including Japan and India, and Hayward admits that it is taking a reactive position on building the social network. Rather than actively driving it, the company is watching to see where activity heats up before acting to develop it.

Lack of figures

For Hayward, the attraction of Google+ for brands is the way that it allows them to personalise communication with customers like never before and nowhere else: It’s the ability to communicate with more than just text, and beyond 140 characters, he says.

However, it just leaves us a little unsure of exactly how much interest there is compared to Facebook, which puts user numbers on its site and can be seen on Socialbakers among other places, and Twitter, which has had it user numbers approximated by country and by language of late. Google isn’t trying to take over the world, and Hayward points out that there is a place for all social networks online, and were not looking to change that.

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