Twitter in Cambodia?

“No one uses Twitter in Cambodia,” is a phrase often repeated when discussing the relative values of the different social media channels for entrepreneurs and startups. But is it true?

Geeks in Cambodia, Twitter users ourselves @geeksincambodia, decided to look into the current Twitter landscape in Cambodia, some of the global trends for the platform, and see what role Twitter might have in the country now and in the future.

At present, top Twitter accounts are often political or linked to news publications, which is similar to Facebook. However, as you can see, with only 220,000 followers, VOA Khmer’s page — the top Cambodian page — is lagging behind the more than 10 million page ‘likes’ that the most popular Facebook page, that of Prime Minister Hun Sen (who doesn’t have an official Twitter account).

twittercambodia (Social Bakerskers)

Despite clearly lacking the usership of Facebook, there is a small but active Twitter community — and it is growing.

For @rithythul, founder of co-working space Smallworld and most recently behind Koompi computers, Twitter offers things that Facebook doesn’t.

“The more I use Twitter, the more I see it is a tool for aggregating information. If I want to quickly research something, searching using Twitter hashtags is the best way to find information about a specific subject. For example, when learning about bitcoin or blockchain, I built my audience base using #bitcoin and #blockchain, and then met people from all over the world that use the name hashtags. It was an efficient and fast way to connect with people.”

For him, Twitter also “opens borders” in terms of access to influential thinkers, CEOs etc, who can be easily followed on the platform.

“Facebook is easy for people in the smartphone era to understand and use. People in Cambodia are interested in following visual content, so Facebook did this first and it’s one reason why it is so popular now compared to Twitter which is more text based,” he noted.

“I think as social media users in Cambodia mature, Twitter offers certain specific positives that people will start to appreciate more and more.”

A fascinating academic paper looking into user influence on Twitter found that the number of followers for a Twitter account revealed very little about the influence of the account.

“Indegree (followers) represents popularity of a user; retweets represent the content value of one’s tweets; and mentions represent the name value of a user. Hence, the top users based on the three measures have little overlap.”

“In order to gain and maintain influence, users need to keep great personal involvement,” the researchers concluded.

Bookmebus, a platform to buy transport tickets in Cambodia and to neighbouring countries, uses Twitter as part of its marketing and communications strategy, explained CEO Chea Langda.

“For BookMeBus, we use Twitter mainly for capturing the foreign travellers, international partners and investors.”

He also attributed Facebook’s greater popularity, in part, to things like Live video being more appealing to audiences in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos than content available on Twitter.

Which points to the question then — why Twitter?

The ability to tag posts with hashtags means that people across the world can see what you are saying, if they search for that term. This allows people interested in #Cambodia or #prahoc, for example, to find it without needing to follow people on Facebook or wade through answers from a search engine.

If a brand in Cambodia hopes to reach neighbouring countries with a message, or international investors, or regional journalists, a tweet with relevant hashtags then is a great tool. For startups that do have such reasons for using Twitter, the platform is valuable.

However, as Twitter usage in Cambodia has recently shown. Hashtags and messages on the platform can be manipulated by bots and targeted campaigns. In late August, Cambodian Twitter was flooded with tweets with the hashtags #ItisThaiculture and #ItisCambodianCulture. Appearing to originate in Cambodia and Thailand, these messages, many of which look to be the work of automated bots rather than real people, are being used to stoke nationalism surrounding a UNESCO effort to recognise the heritage of traditional court dancing in both countries.

Not an ideal use of the platform then, but not as serious as the use of Facebook in Myanmar to share violent messages.

As this study found when looking at Twitter “bubbles”– where messaging on certain topics remain largely within a select group, without being more widely shared with those with opposing views — Twitter users of different political views group together, sharing messaging amongst themselves, not really with those of different opinions.

twitter (Each colour is a different political grouping, from extreme left-wing in blue, to extreme right-wing in red. How U.S. politics fits bubbles, based on political affiliation — GRAPHIKA)

What all this means for Cambodia, and the country’s social media landscape, is that the importance of making messaging as accessible and neutral as possible is key. If people naturally fall into bubbles, not interacting with others groups, then while reaching your existing audience or target might be straightforward, you want to ensure your message appeals to as many people as possible!

If you are a startup or public figure trying to reach outside of Cambodia with your message, then Twitter makes sense. It makes you easier to follow, adds to your search engine footprint, and is an easy way to interact with journalists, researchers, investors and fans.

Is it true that no one uses Twitter in Cambodia? No. But it is true that it is very much underused by citizens and companies alike, and this needs to change. Twitter is a valuable addition to the Digital Marketing and community management tools for companies, and it is a waste not to take advantage of this.

At Geeks, we look forward to seeing how (and if) Twitter usages does indeed grow as more people see its value, and how this will help to shape the local startup scene as it becomes more accessible to audiences outside Cambodia.