The social media habits of young people in South-East Asia

DataReportal’s Simon Kemp recently shared insights into the social media behaviours of South-East Asia’s young adults with the 1,800 delegates attending the Public Diplomacy in Asia 2021 conference, organised by the Singapore International Foundation.

For those who couldn’t make the conference live, we’re please to share a video of Simon’s presentation below, together with his presentation slides, and a transcript of his commentary.


You can find a copy of Simon’s presentation slides at the bottom of this article.

Digital Youth in South-East Asia

Hello folks, and thanks very much for joining us today.

I’m Simon Kemp, and over the next 10 minutes, I’ll guide you through the online behaviours of South-East Asia’s young adults, with a specific focus on their social media activities.

All of the stats that I’ll be sharing with you today come from the ongoing Global Digital Reports series that I produce on behalf of We Are Social and Hootsuite.

These reports offer in-depth insights into digital behaviours across more than 230 countries and territories around the world, exploring how people of all ages use the internet, social media, mobile devices, and ecommerce.

For this specific presentation though, I’ll be focusing on the online behaviours of people between the ages of 16 and 24 living in South-East Asia.

We’ll start off with a quick look at the global ‘state of digital’ for context, before going on to look at the specific behaviours and preferences of South-East Asia’s young adults.

But if you want to dig deeper into similar data for other ages and other countries, you’ll be pleased to hear that you can find free reports for every single country in the world on our website,

And if you have any questions about the content I’m presenting today, please feel free to contact me on social media; you’ll find me on LinkedIn and Twitter as ‘eskimon’.

But with that, let’s dive straight into the content, starting with the latest global ‘state of digital’.


1. The global ‘state of digital’

Global internet use

Our recent Digital 2021 April Global Statshot Report reveals that global internet adoption has just passed the 60 percent mark, meaning that 6 in every 10 people alive on Earth today now use the internet.

A total of 4.72 billion people are now online, which means that the global internet penetration rate has doubled in less than 10 years.

And the number of internet users is still growing, too.

Our latest research indicates that the global total has increased by more than 7½ percent over the past year, with 332 million people coming online for the first time in the past 12 months.

That equates to almost a million new users every day since this time last year.

Global social media use

However, the number of people using social media is growing even faster.

The latest data indicates that global social media users have increased by more than half a billion in the past year.

On average, that means the global total is increasing at a rate of 16½ new users every single second.

There are 4.33 billion social media users around the world today, equating to more than 55 percent of the world’s total population.

The impressive headlines aren’t limited to user numbers though; people are also spending ever more time using connected technologies.

Time spent using the internet

The latest data from GWI shows that the typical global internet user now spends an average of almost 7 hours per day online, which means that humanity will spend a combined total of 12 trillion hours using the internet in 2021 alone.

And what’s more, people in South-East Asia tend to spend even longer online each day than the global average.

In GWI’s ongoing study of digital behaviours across 47 of the world’s top economies, the Philippines consistently comes out top in terms of time spent using the internet.

Filipinos say they spend an average of almost 11 hours online each day, which is almost 60 percent more than the global average.

Meanwhile, Malaysians spend an average of more than 9 hours a day online, with Indonesians and Thais not far behind.

Only Vietnam falls below the global average, but Vietnamese people still spend an average of 6 hours and 47 minutes online each day.

Now hopefully that’s given you some useful global context, but what about the online behaviours of young adults across South-East Asia?

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the data to find out.


2. The media habits of South-East Asia’s young adults

Across South-East Asia, people aged 16 to 24 spend roughly 60 percent of their waking lives online.

Data from GWI shows that people in this age group spend an average of more than 10 hours per day using internet-connected devices, which means they spend close to 3 full days using the internet every week.

Young women across the region say that they spend even longer online than their male peers, with the typical female internet user in this cohort saying that she spends nearly 10½ hours online each day.

To put these numbers in context, it’s worth highlighting that young adults in South-East Asia now spend 4 times as much time using the internet as they spend watching television – and that includes time spent watching streaming platforms like Netflix.

And even more tellingly, young adults across the region say that they now spend more than an hour longer using social media each day than they spend watching television.

So, given that social media plays such an important role in the lives of young adults across South-East Asia, let’s take a closer look at their social media behaviours and preferences.

3. Social media use by South-East Asia’s young adults

Research from GWI shows that 99.6 percent of South-East Asian internet users between the ages of 16 and 24 use social media every month, making it the number one online activity for this demographic – even ahead of using search engines.

And in fact, social media activities now account for almost a quarter of this age group’s waking life, assuming that the typical person sleeps for between 7 and 8 hours a day.

South-East Asia’s young adults also use a wide variety of social media platforms, averaging roughly 7½ platforms per month, compared to a global average of 6.3 platforms for users across all age groups.

Meanwhile, that average rises to more than 8 platforms per month for young adults in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore.

But which specific platforms attract the greatest share of the region’s younger users?

Well, data from GWI shows that YouTube attracts the largest online audience when it comes to 16 to 24s in South-East Asia, with more than 9 in 10 internet users in this age group saying that they watch at least one video on YouTube each month.

There’s still plenty of debate about whether YouTube qualifies as a ‘social’ medium though, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions there.

Facebook isn’t far behind YouTube though, with almost 88 percent of internet users aged 16 to 24 across South-East Asia’s larger economies saying that they use the platform each month.

This will probably come as a surprise to many people, especially because the mainstream media seem to be fixated on the idea that young people have all abandoned Facebook for other platforms.

However, plenty of other platforms do attract large numbers of young adults, and Instagram attracts almost as many 16 to 24s as Facebook does across those larger South-East Asian economies.

But it’s also interesting to note that Twitter attracts almost as many people in this cohort as TikTok does, which again tells quite a different story compared to the one we often see in the news.

I was also quite surprised to discover that Facebook Messenger is the most popular messaging platform for South-East Asia’s young adults, well ahead of both WhatsApp and Telegram.

And I think the key takeaway here is to make sure you don’t rely too heavily on media headlines to inform your social media strategy.

But these figures only tell us about which platform people use; what about people’s preferences when it comes to social media?


4. The favourite social media platforms of South-East Asia’s young adults

Well, once again, the data holds some surprises.

In research conducted by GWI just a few weeks ago, more than a quarter of internet users aged 16 to 24 across South-East Asia said that Facebook is their favourite social media platform, ranking it higher than any other platform.

Instagram ranked second at 21 percent, but – in contrast to the user numbers that I shared in the previous section – WhatsApp ranked third, with just over 15 percent.

But perhaps most surprisingly here, TikTok only ranked fourth, with barely 1 in 9 young adults across South-East Asia saying that the short video service is their favourite social platform.

Note that GWI doesn’t include YouTube in its social media questions, which explains why it doesn’t appear in these rankings.

But you’ll remember that the typical young adult in South-East Asia uses an average of 7½ platforms each month, which means that the audiences of most of these platforms see considerable overlaps.

This is one of the topics that we explore in our ongoing series of Global Digital Reports, but the findings for South-East Asia’s young adults are particularly insightful.

GWI’s latest data reveals that – when it comes to South East Asia’s young adults – you can reach almost all of the users of a particular social media platform on at least one other platform.

For example, you can reach 100 percent of South-East Asia’s Facebook users aged 16 to 24 on at least one other social media platform, and the same is true for the users of Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.

For this group of platforms, only YouTube can claim any ‘unique’ users amongst this demographic, but even then, that unique audience only accounts for 2 in every 1,000 users.

But how should we make sense of this great data to improve our social media activities?

5. Reaching and engaging South-East Asia’s young adults on social media

Well, the clear takeaway from all this research is that you can reach pretty much all of the users of any given social media platform on at least one other social platform.

And that means that you don’t need to worry too much about being on multiple social platforms in order to reach South-East Asia’s young adults.

Instead, you can focus your efforts on 1 or 2 of the larger platforms, safe in the knowledge that you’ll still have the opportunity to reach the majority of the region’s younger internet users.

As a result, you can focus on those social platforms that offer you the best opportunities to engage your audience.

Some things to think about here include:

  • The content options that each platform offers, such as video formats, or the ability to include hyperlinks if you want to link to off-platform content;

  • The kinds of context in which you’re hoping to engage people, such as the times and places in their lives when they might use each of these platforms, and their likely emotional and mental states when they’re using them;

  • How easy it is for people to interact with you and your content, and to engage with the broader community that each platform attracts;

  • And lastly, how much it might cost you to promote your content on each platform, if you’re considering using paid media. 


Wrapping up

That’s all I’ve got time for in today’s presentation, but remember that you can dig into loads more data like this – whenever you like, and all for free – over on

We’ll also get a chance to explore some of the topics I’ve covered in more detail during the upcoming panel discussion, but just in case I don’t get a chance to answer your specific question, please feel free to ask me questions on social media too – you’ll find me on LinkedIn and Twitter as ‘eskimon’ [please feel free to add your questions in the comments section below this post too].

But with that, thanks very much for joining me today – I hope you found this session useful, and I look forward to seeing you again sometime soon, somewhere across the internet.

About the author
Simon is DataReportal’s chief analyst, and CEO of Kepios.
Click here to see all of Simon’s articles, read his bio, and connect with him on social media.