This is the fourth in an ongoing series of articles that explores our society’s changing relationship with the digital world. Each article is based on themes and data extracted from the landmark Digital 2020 Report, featuring original research conducted by Hootsuite and We Are Social. The first three articles in this series are:
Part 1 – Exploring Our Digital Planet
New York is known as the city that never sleeps – but Thailand is taking that idea to a whole other level.
Averaging out at 9 hours and 1 minute per person per day, Thailand remains one of the leading countries in the world in terms of total time spent online. Mobile connections alone account for a whopping 4 hours and 57 minutes of that time – long enough to watch three full-length movies. Only the Philippines spends more time per person on mobile devices. As we will see, all that time has to come from somewhere … and Thailand’s social priorities make for some fascinating reading.
Note that the numbers above were calculated before the Coronavirus led to school and business closings. At the present moment, even these statistics are likely to be substantial underestimates. Statistics from Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission show a dramatic rise in internet use in the month of February, as the virus began its spread around the world:
Consumer data use per person (in megabytes)
The corresponding numbers for March have not yet been released, but with nationwide school closings, a work-from-home culture beginning to take shape, and many businesses now forced to close their doors, Thailand’s internet addiction will likely go to unprecedented levels. And in the coming months, the introduction of 5G service may provide yet another boost to the digital sector.
Even so, it’s hard to imagine some numbers rising much higher than they already are. For example, Thailand’s total number of mobile connections (93.39 million) already significantly exceeds the entire population of the country (69 million).
Thailand’s netizens – and what they do online
Among Thailand’s 52 million active social media users, those between 25 and 34 years old make up the most active age group. These people grew up alongside a maturing internet, learning to make use of modern digital technology as it was being introduced. They also represent a core customer base for many common industries, once again revealing digital marketing as the ideal channel for brand building and sales.
Nationwide, Facebook and YouTube are far and away the most popular platforms, each attracting 94% of all Thai internet users. When video streaming, entertainment seems to be the goal more often than not. Thailand’s most popular search terms on YouTube prominently feature music, movies, and cartoons – without a single educational or news-based search term anywhere in the top 20.
With 85% of Thai internet users actively using LINE, this sticker-heavy app is holding strong in third place. It remains well ahead of Facebook Messenger, and has three times as many users as WhatsApp. We’ve written previously about LINE’s surprising popularity among Thai internet users, as well as the special cultural reasons for it – while the platform’s achievement here serves as yet another reminder that every audience must be understood and met on its own terms.
When we look more closely at people’s actual online activities, we find some intriguing results. The infographic below highlights the most popular kinds of online video and audio content in Thailand:
While the tremendous popularity of online videos and personal vlogs stand out the most in the above data, the real highlight may be that 44% of Thai internet users now listen to podcasts. In previous years, podcast statistics were not even included in Thailand’s annual Digital Report – presumably because they had failed to catch on across the culture in a significant way.
The growth of the podcast industry in Thailand is well worth keeping an eye on, as it provides a willing audience for valuable long-form content. The unique format of podcasts allows brands and ideas to become much more familiar among members of a given audience. We’ve written in detail about some of the other advantages of this medium; podcasts are ideal for long commutes and complex concepts, letting companies put a charming representative forward to talk at a relaxed pace. In the present climate of social distancing and personal isolation, the conversational nature of podcasts may indeed hold extra appeal.
The widespread adoption of music streaming and online radio underscore the importance of audio as an effective communications medium. Blogs and articles can do an excellent job of keeping readers informed and entertained – you’re in the middle of one right now, after all, and we hope you’re enjoying it – but not everyone is a reader, and plain text rarely delivers the same relatable intimacy as a person’s voice in your ear.
Speaking of intimacy: Few things are as close to our hearts as our phones. We carry them everywhere, use them for our most private conversations, and many of us even sleep next to them – if we even sleep at all. Recent studies suggest that Thailand’s phone addiction has altered rest patterns across the country. Headlines like these began appearing several years ago:
Here are some highlights from a Bangkok Post article on the subject, connecting internet use to a decline in sleep quality as far back as 2016:
Thais sleep the least among Asia-Pacific countries and spend the longest time on non-work internet browsing.
This is according to the Healthy Living survey in Asia Pacific carried out by the AIA Group, a pan-Asian life insurance company.
THAIS SLEEP 6.3 HOURS, WISH TO SLEEP 7.7 HOURS
Thais sleep on average 6.3 hours a day, the lowest among the 15 countries surveyed, although Thais said they wished to sleep 7.7 hours .…
The survey also found that adults who were online in Thailand spent five hours a day on the internet for non-work purposes, the highest in the Asia-Pacific region.
They did so even though they were aware excessive internet surfing had negative impacts on their health: less time for exercise (83%), less time for sleep (81%) and bad for their posture (81%) ….
Too much screen time – being online, playing video games, watching TV – and homework are seen as the culprits, according to the survey.
Keep in mind that Thailand’s internet habits have only grown more intense since the above article was written. In 2017, additional studies gave us headlines like: 20% of Thais suffer from insomnia, not enough sleep. The article explains that, among other things, “Watching TV and using smart phones late into the night can be also factors behind difficulty in sleeping.”
A typical 2018 article on the subject is headlined: One in three Thais not getting enough sleep. From the story, we learn that just over one-third of Thai people sleep less than six hours per night, on average. By this point, our average time spent online was far longer than that.
In 2019, as Thailand’s internet use increased, the headlines once again warned of poor sleeping patterns: Millions of Thai People Suffering from Insomnia and Sleep Disorders, reads a typical headline. The article shares some sobering findings, including that “up to 19 million Thais suffer from sleep deprivation.” An academic study from January 2020 directly linked sleep loss to smartphone use.
Much like the world’s beer and liquor producers who urge their customers to “drink responsibly”, we at our digital agency in Bangkok are simultaneously happy that people love to spend their time in the digital world, and concerned that the great appeal of online life is having real-world consequences on people’s health. Inadequate sleep leads to more absent-minded mistakes during waking hours, lowered productivity, and compromised immune systems, along with other ill effects.
Although we at Lexicon love all things digital, the fact remains that moderation is a virtue, and sleep is a necessity. And as we will see, real business lessons can be learned from this deeper understanding of Thailand’s digital habits.
Marketing as a tool for connection
On the most superficial level, sleep numbers represent just another data point to consider when doing market research. A business could, for example, advertise products in a way that requires less mental effort on the part of the consumer. Brand stories may also decide to depict and emphasize comfort and relaxation, as opposed to physical activity.
But every effect has a cause, and Thailand’s intense love for digital content is no exception. Researchers have long ago found that, among other factors, addiction results from a lack of meaningful connection in people’s lives. Indeed, a close reading of this article should have already provided clues that this sort of connection is indeed the goal for many people in Thailand as they go online. Consider again how the following characteristics apply to Thai netizens, as mentioned earlier:
- Enthusiastic participation in the social media universe
- The special popularity of video and audio content, including vlogs
- The frequent habit of staying online at night, instead of getting extra sleep
- Increased data use alongside growing awareness of COVID-19
The common thread in each of these activities is that they prioritize human contact over other ways to make use of the internet.
Marketers should understand that the digital world is popular across Thai society because it helps to fill some very specific emotional needs. Of course, the internet also acts as a source of information about the world we live in – but a bit of self-reflection will reveal an obvious point: Few of us regularly deprive ourselves of sleep just to get more information. The most compelling explanation is that Thailand stays online because its people are reaching out for attention, and for connection.
Brands should provide the type of content that fulfills these needs. Favor the personal over the impersonal. The conversational over the technical. The emotion-based stories over the logical ones.
This article has taken raw data and turned it into a human story. Your brand can do the same, and your audience will thank you for it. In terms of its digital habits, Thailand is one of the most connected countries in the world – yet its people remain desperately hungry for a different kind of connection.
Your brand should want the same thing. So, once you’ve researched your audience, start reaching out to them on a human level. Make sure your content is well-suited to mobile formats, and tailored to your customers’ own preferred internet habits. Work to earn their trust – because this is the foundation of all relationships – and do everything you can to add real value to their lives.
Particularly during these difficult times, with the need for comfort and reassurance now greater than ever, this path forward can help your organization earn the loyal following it has always sought. By becoming the connection your audience needs, you (along with your customers) will find yourselves sleeping much better at night.
Thai internet users. Thai internet users