Why The Hell Was Panasonic Gobel Trending on Twitter? Blame Indonesia

Your first question is probably what the hell is a “Gobel” and will it rival Foursquare?  Not quite. It’s Panasonic’s subsidiary in Indonesia and it was also a top trending topic on Twitter this morning, along with RCTI and Putra Nababan. All three are Indonesian (RCTI is an Indonesian television station and Putra Nababan is a popular TV host on RCTI) and all are connected to the apparently very popular 13th annual Panasonic Gobel Awards (celebrates TV and broadcasting achievements)— essentially Indonesia’s version of the Emmys. At last count, the number of tweets on “Panasonic Gobel” exceeded 4,500, according to Google. So why do we care?

Well if you’re a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur or a corporation you should care a lot. Because it illustrates the incredible power of the Indonesian internet consumer, or rather their consumer in general. Indonesia is undergoing a period of growth (it grew 4.5% last year during the global financial crisis) but has largely flown under the radar— despite housing more than 230 million people and being the fourth most populated country in the world. Of course, Indonesia is still struggling with high unemployment and poverty but like China and India it has a growing middle class that is spending more time on the internet, especially on social media sites like Twitter. To put this power in perspective: For a few hours this morning, Panasonic’s name was on the homepage of every Twitter user that logged on.

Think this event is just some anomaly? Here’s more evidence of Indonesia’s presence on Twitter: Google Trends shows that Indonesia is Twitter’s fourth largest source of traffic, behind US, Japan, Brazil.

Panasonic has been increasing its footprint in the region. This month, the company announced plans to relocate factories in Japan and Vietnam to Indonesia later this year. While its coup on Twitter was unexpected, I’m sure Panasonic executives are exploring (or will soon start aggressively exploring) new ways to reach the region’s consumer through social media. So far, they don’t quite get it. I manged to talk to a few Panasonic PR reps in the US and Malaysia this morning and even Panasonic seemed surprised by their reach and not fully aware of what the Panasonic Gobel show was.  Their response was a mix of “wow” (“It’s doing what on Twitter?”…”Oh, I need to join Twitter.”) and “what?” (all three representatives I talked to were either completely unaware of the show or needed to dig around to get the basic information).

Full disclosure: I am part Indonesian and I covered the region a few years ago as a freelance writer for the NY Times. You can color me biased, but I think the proof is in the tweet.