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Social trends shaping business in 2020

Asia has aced the mobile Internet, making the region home to some of the world's fastest-growing economies.

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The commerce landscape will continue to evolve with people opting to interact with businesses via experiences that are most relevant, personal, and seamless in their daily lives.

A SEAFOOD vendor selling via live-streaming, an Instagram-only tempeh company, a cross-border education service operating entirely online - these are real examples of business innovation previously unimaginable.

The year 2020 crowns a decade of change that has upended traditional ways of starting, marketing and growing businesses across the world. This is even more pronounced in Asia, where entire countries have leapfrogged to the mobile Internet, making the region home to some of the world's fastest-growing economies.

According to a McKinsey report, by 2040, Asia could account for more than half of the global GDP with global cross-order flows shifting towards the continent. The report shows how these changes could shift globalisation towards regionalisation with 60 per cent of goods traded by Asian economies being from within the region. In addition, 71 per cent of Asian investment in startups is intra-regional, and 74 per cent of Asian travellers travel within the region.

Against this backdrop of macroeconomic change, people's expectations for the experiences they have with brands and businesses are evolving fast. As we have seen over the last few years, people adopt new technologies long before businesses do, and it influences how they discover, research and finally make purchasing decisions.

We see this on Facebook, where every day billions of people across the world come to connect with people, products and services they care about.

We stand at the intersection of community and creativity, where brands can identify, take inspiration from and participate in the communities that people inhabit. At the start of 2019, we shared three social trends that were on the rise across our platforms: ephemeral sharing, videos and messaging. As we head into 2020, these trends have only intensified in our region. Simply put, Asia is about more - more mobile, more video, more stories, more conversation and more commerce.

Asia drives 61 per cent of all new mobile subscriptions as compared to Europe, the Middle East and Africa combined (25 per cent), and the United States (14 per cent) is also seeing a rise in video consumption. In 2019, over 54 per cent of digital video viewers were from the Asia-Pacific. It's interesting to note that video-on-mobile is far from a homogenous experience. Unlike traditional video, mobile video experiences are not linear and vary based on a number of factors. Through our research and experience over the last few years, we've seen two distinct categories of video experiences that have accelerated largely due to mobile: "on-the-go" and "captivated viewing".

As a result of these changing viewing habits, people are most drawn to brands that are easy to discover and use, whether it's through their strong presence in online communities or their high-quality mobile content across platforms. With the continued growth in streaming services, people will be looking to brands that can clearly communicate their offerings and to those that can create a more personalised viewing experience.

We're continuing to see fast adoption of ephemeral sharing as each of our story experiences across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp now have more than half a billion daily users. As more and more people use stories, we're making it easier for marketers to adopt this format and reach people where they're spending their time.

The same goes for messaging. At the start of 2018, we shared that over 8 billion messages were sent between people and businesses on Messenger every month. That number has more than doubled to 20 billion messages this year - which shows that people expect to communicate with businesses in much the same way as they message with their friends.

As people increasingly use messaging apps, we're helping businesses make the shift too. There are now over 40 million monthly active businesses on Messenger and research shows that people in emerging countries in APAC are more likely than the global average to message a business. In fact, 63 per cent of people surveyed in the Asia-Pacific messaged a business last holiday season. More than 5 million businesses are actively using the WhatsApp Business app each month.

An interesting subset of this preference for messaging is the growing use of messaging or online chat to buy and sell. A study by Boston Consulting Group in partnership with Facebook across nine countries found that South-east Asia outpaces other countries surveyed in both awareness and adoption of conversational commerce. Of the nine countries surveyed, the percentage of respondents who had undertaken a conversational commerce transaction was the highest in Thailand and Vietnam, at 40 per cent and 36 per cent respectively, followed by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The rate of adoption for other countries is still nascent - US (5 per cent), Mexico (6 per cent), India (10 per cent), and Brazil (11per cent), which shows substantial opportunity for growth.

All of these developments mean that the commerce landscape will continue to evolve with people opting to interact with businesses via experiences that are most relevant, personal and seamless in their daily lives. With increasing affluence and access to the mobile Internet, the way people discover new products is very much about a connected experience. Therefore, ensuring that your business and brands are visible and discoverable is going to be an essential element to winning in the new era of commerce.

So what else can businesses do to prepare for this new era of commerce? Bring connection back to the equation.

First, businesses can enhance connections by designing mobile-friendly websites, apps, marketing and real-time communication to reduce friction and establish the best experiences for customers. Second, they must think about how their internal teams connect so they can better deliver the experiences that customers expect across the full value chain. Thirdly, all of this requires an innovation mindset - being willing to experiment with the new - from AR/VR formats to interactivity, from vertical video to reimagining the channels and platforms on which you can stand out and be discovered.

Finally, measure what matters. The spaces brands have to bring their ideas to life, to earn and keep that attention, have never been bigger, richer, or more connected. Being able to set the right objectives and measure outcomes will help businesses plan for new contexts and create experiences that provide choice, personalisation, interactivity and hyper-relevance.

  • The writer is the vice-president of South-east Asia and emerging markets, at Facebook.