Despite facing economic setbacks due to policy mistakes during the pandemic, which led to a shrinking economy for two consecutive years and slow growth projections for 2023-2025, Sri Lanka continues to experience a rapid increase in internet usage, outpacing all of its regional peers.
Over the past six years, the number of internet users in Sri Lanka has more than tripled, reaching nearly 40% of the population. This growth is fueled by a robust mobile-first internet economy, which is promoting a variety of innovative applications. Furthermore, the country has seen a significant influx of investment, driven by these trends. According to a report by UNCTAD, digital investment in Sri Lanka is outpacing that of China, India, and the broader Asia region, including both emerging and developed markets.
Although major social media platforms have experienced numerous blockages in the past, we do not anticipate long-term restrictions on communication channels in the country in the near future. However, it is likely that a reform is on the horizon for the media landscape, particularly online, which will impose additional regulatory burdens on social media companies.
In terms of social media usage in Sri Lanka, it is still in its early stages, lagging behind regional neighbors like India due to less developed infrastructure. Prior to the crisis in 2022, telecommunications companies were on track to expand their 4G network coverage as they prepared to phase out 3G and launch 5G. However, one year later, the 5G initiative has yet to be launched and is now expected to be delayed for an additional year.
Nonetheless, the lack of infrastructure is not preventing companies from implementing their initiatives. Most leading retailers have already established a strong presence in the online space. Cargills, the largest retailer, operates 500 stores in the country and operate Cargills Online, the largest non-platform e-commerce in the country, also actively engages on all relevant social media platforms. One study focusing on Cargills’ social media usage even found that digital marketing efforts have significantly strengthened sales across their brick-and-mortar stores.
Throughout 2022, on average there are about 8.4 million active social media users in Sri Lanka on a monthly basis with an annual growth rate of 3.8 % in 2021-22 . This represents about 38.1 % of the total population. These social media users on average spend about hours on social media and each on average have accounts on platforms.
The social media market in Sri Lanka remains in its early stages of development, primarily due to low internet penetration. Nonetheless, social media usage is already widespread among those who have internet access.
A survey by the Asia Pacific Institute of Digital Marketing revealed that 90% of Sri Lankan internet users access news and information through Facebook, while 85% use YouTube. These percentages are higher than those for traditional news sources such as TV (74%), radio (34%), and newspapers (24%).
As the platform with the largest user base, Facebook plays a crucial role in social engagement among citizens. In 2018, the Sri Lankan government temporarily blocked Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Viber in an attempt to mitigate ethnic tensions within the country. Authorities argued that these platforms were being used to provoke violence against the Muslim minority. After riots broke out in the Kandy district, resulting in two deaths and considerable property damage, the government declared a state of emergency.
The block was subsequently lifted, and Facebook established new policies and a specialist team (HRIA) to remove misinformation that could incite violence. Two years later, Meta released a statement highlighting their positive contributions to human rights in Sri Lanka as the largest social media platform. In 2022, major social media platforms were blocked once again when the government declared a state of emergency and imposed curfews to counter widespread protests over the economic crisis. Although the services were quickly restored, the incident added uncertainty to the future of social media platforms in the country.
With the latest data published in January 2023, we can see that at the growth rate of 0.89%, there is now around 7.69 million Facebook users in Sri Lanka . With male users account for around 61.64% and female users account for around 38.36%.
With the latest data published in January 2023, we can see that at the growth rate of 1%, there is now around 1.51 million Instagram users in Sri Lanka . With male users account for around 63.69% and female users account for around 36.31%.
With the latest data published in January 2023, we can see that at the growth rate of 1.13x, there is now around 1.72 million LinkedIn users in Sri Lanka.
Our CR team is dedicated to keeping a pulse on the ever-evolving demographics and behavior of consumers globally. We stay informed on the latest trends and developments across major economies to ensure that we are providing the most up-to-date insights for our clients