When you’re in Myanmar you’ll hear the phrase “Facebook IS the internet” a lot. And you’ll see and experience it too. It really is used for everything online: searching, shopping, sharing. Meanwhile Messenger is often the first point of call for any consumer wanting to engage with a brand or business.
But a few recent developments should make us ask whether this will continue.
How Facebook became Myanmar’s internet
Until very recently, you would rarely see businesses advertise a website on their print or billboard marketing. Similarly, I have also had personal experiences where big-brand clients couldn’t see the value in creating the simplest website to provide basic info to potential customers.
Instead, if a business was going to have and advertise an owned* digital space at all, it would only be a Facebook page (* okay, it’s not really an owned media space, but close enough…).
(Equally, paid media spend would be focused on acquiring vanity metrics of Page Likes and post likes. But getting beyond these to more useful paid media metrics is a topic worthy of a later post…)
So how did Facebook become the internet?
Of course, the usability and social hooks of Facebook was one factor. However, a few other things have contributed:
- a scarcity of Myanmar-based web agencies, developers and Myanmar-language website services to build an online ecosystem
- a lack of credit cards for payment of website building services
- Myanmar’s age demographics – past government policies led to a ‘youth bulge’, with 30% of the population aged 15-34.
- Facebook’s support for Zawgyi – the naughty non-standard font that shouldn’t really exist, but does, with most people using it
- Facebook being pre-packaged on phones…
- … and access being offered free, without data charges
- A lack of IT infrastructure within organisations.
(Seriously. Facebook and Messenger have filled the void left by internal server setups and paid-for cloud storage. They are used heavily for internal work comms and file sharing. This has led to a professional culture of Facebook usage (file management and version control be damned), which has reinforced its uptake amongst the general public.)
The state today? Ask someone to search for something and they won’t open Google or another search engine, they’ll open Facebook and search, search, search within it.
Why Facebook may start losing its grip
Although this state of play is looking strong for Facebook, soon it will stop being synonymous with the internet.
More and more Myanmar web service companies are launching, offering web design and other services
Increasing numbers of companies are appearing in Yangon, some with venture backing. And all of these are going to help increase digital literacy and expand the online ecosystem.
Myanmar’s youth demographic is shrinking
The following image from the United Nations Population Division shows the diminishing numbers of young people. See that bulge in the 15-34 year-old bracket? The decrease in the birth rate in recent years means that, proportionally, the percentage of Myanmar citizens in this age group is going to shrink.
And as more brands look to grow in Myanmar, competition for the decreasing number of youth eyeballs is going to increase.
The introduction of credit cards, for within-Myanmar use
The recent announcement that credit cards will now be able to be issued and used within Myanmar is going to kickstart the digital economy. We’ve written about this over here.
Whilst its growth has been phenomenal – 50% of Myanmar Facebook users have joined in the last 6 months – Facebook is going to experience a serious slowdown in new users, especially as we reach almost 90% internet and smartphone penetration.
And together with that will come…
Social network fatigue
At the moment Facebook engagement rates on content are very, very high (compared with, say, the UK) but as the networking experience matures and grows old, this will drop.
Other platforms are looking at Myanmar and licking their lips
Viber may have 260 million monthly active users, with 18 million in Myanmar alone. And if it’s to be belied, Vietnam’s Zalo platform has just announced 2 million users in only 4 months of operation in the country.
Facebook is reducing the Messenger experience with new ads
Just this week Facebook announced that it is testing new ad locations within Messenger’s UI. And not just discrete ads, but walloping great big cards that sit below your Favourites and your list of friends Active Now.
Although these are great for brands and advertisers, it’s one more negative chip in the Facebook & Messenger experience.
What this means for brands and advertisers
Start looking now for new ways to advertise and reach consumers online
As new Myanmar websites proliferate, search engines will gain traction. Google Search Ads, CPC, are important to start considering now.
Pay attention to and exploit Facebook’s new ad spots before others do
Facebook is trailing the new Messenger ads in Australia and Thailand, and with the typical high usage patterns in Myanmar, we can assume it will be a rolled out here too.
(Excitingly, Facebook has also recently announced mid-video ad spots too, with ads appearing in videos longer than 90 seconds.)
Get more creative
Static, branded images aren’t going to cut it any more. They’re feeling tired and Myanmar’s Facebook is looking cluttered with brand imagery.
Look to GIFs, video and other content types as quickly as you can to distinguish yourself and combat fatigue.
What do you think will happen in the next 6 months in Myanmar? Let us know in the comments!