Survey: Developing Countries Embrace Texting and Social Networking

December 26, 2011

12:30 pm

A Vietnamese entrepreneur I interviewed recently said:

“Developing countries with big populations have lots of opportunities: China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam. You can make a lot of money from collecting dimes and cents from a lot of people.”

But where are those people? According to a December 20 Pew Research Center survey, they’re on cell phones and social networks. The study, conducted in the first half of 2011, asked respondents from 21 countries about phone and Internet use. Among the findings:

Texting is widespread in both wealthy nations and the developing world. In fact, it is most common among cell phone owners in two of the poorest nations surveyed: Indonesia and Kenya.

People in lower income nations who have online access use social networking at rates that are as high, or higher, than those found in affluent countries.

Here are some highlights, by the numbers:

  • 55% of Indonesians own a cell phone, and 96% of cell phone owners text.
  • A whopping 74% of Kenyans own a cell phone, and 90% of cell phone owners text.
  • 93% of Indians have no Internet – but of those who do, five-sixths are on social networks.
  • 93% of Chinese people own a cell phone, and 32% of Chinese – over 400 million people – use social networks.*

By comparison, 85% of Americans own a cell phone (less than China), 67% of cell phone owners text (less than Indonesia and Kenya), and 50% of Americans use social networks.

That’s all to say that developing countries with big populations are already communicating with cell phones, and beginning to hop on social networks. A global strategy – for companies big and small – is not only a smart idea to avoid being left behind, but can be a moneymaker, too.

*Figures come from a survey of over 25,000 respondents, but I’ve generalized across entire populations. Face-to-face interviews were conducted in Indonesia, Kenya, India, and China to avoid the selection bias of using the telephone. 

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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