One of the many reasons why this acquisition happened is because Facebook wants to achieve global dominance in mobile social media – and WhatsApp’s 450 million active users is the best user-base that money can buy. WhatsApp hasn’t revealed its user numbers in Asia, but from living in Asia and travelling around frequently, I can safely say that WhatsApp is big in certain parts of Asia – but it’s no longer as popular as it was two to three years back. If Facebook wants to own the world, it has to own Asia. Even with WhatsApp in its pocket, I don’t think it has succeeded in owning Asia.
In the past couple of years, a lot of people in Asia have become addicted to a variety of messaging apps because they’re hooked on cute stickers or want social gaming integration. So those people are now using Line or KakaoTalk. In China, WeChat is the next big thing, and it’s trying hard to expand around the world. Others are using apps like Nimbuzz, Tango, Cubie, BBM, or Viber. Those are all smaller than WhatsApp, but they’re still growing fast. Viber was acquired by e-commerce giant Rakuten last week, which gives it enough financial muscle to market itself across Asia. So competition is definitely strong here, and there are many markets where – unlike in Europe or the US – WhatsApp is not the leading messaging app.
And so Facebook’s $19 billion buy-up has little impact in many parts of Asia, including important, big-spending markets like Japan and South Korea (hooked on Line and KakaoTalk), as well as in young and dynamic places like Thailan and Indonesia where Line and WeChat are fighting hard – and spend big on TV ads – to win over news users. Plus, don’t forget there are very local rivals in some countries, such as the popular Zalo in Vietnam.
Has Facebook lost the chat app battle in Asia? Of course not. Like it or not, Facebook has 368 million monthly active users in Asia. This active user figure is bigger than the total numbers on Line, KakaoTalk, Viber, WeChat or any other rivals. Not all 368 million Facebook users are on mobile but what it does say is that Facebook has huge and growing reach in Asia. Now that it owns WhatsApp alongside its own social media offerings, Facebook has a powerful mobile and messaging side to its social network. It’ll be interesting to see how money can be made from the very minimal WhatsApp – possibly with virtual items like stickers, which Facebook Messenger is already offering.
All in all, competition in Asia is stiff and Facebook doesn’t quite have the world domination that it wants yet. With WhatsApp in its pocket, Zuckerberg’s company still faces WeChat, Line, Viber, and all the extra features that they offer.
(Editing by Steven Millward)