By Jeremy Wagstaff and Chief Technology Correspondent
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Nestle, purveyor of the decades-old KitKat snack, has launched an app it says addresses a growing problem among young social media users - giving them a break from the stress of posting updates by doing it for them.
The software, Social Break, automatically sends random updates to users' Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. It will be officially launched in Singapore later this week and is free to download from kitkat.com.sg/socialbreak.
While the application is a tongue-in-cheek marketing gimmick, the developers behind the software, ad agency JWT, say it also highlights a serious problem among younger users, especially in Asia: growing stress about time spent maintaining a presence on social networks.
JWT surveyed 900 19-26 year olds in China, Singapore and the United States and found that more than half considered it too time-consuming to keep up with all their social media commitments and conceded that the time they spent on such sites had a negative impact on their job or studies.
JWT says that their survey shows that young people feel under increasing pressure to maintain their social media connections, responding to friends' requests to comment on or "like" their posts, photographs or other updates.
Nearly two thirds of Chinese surveyed said they felt pressure to be in constant contact on social media, with 58 percent saying their social media obligations caused them stress.
"Social media used to be fun. It shouldn't be an obligation, it shouldn't be another life we have to maintain," says Valerie Cheng, executive creative director of JWT's Singapore, which was hired by Nestle to develop the app.
Asia is home to some of the biggest social media populations in the world. Socialbakers, a service which monitors usage, lists Indonesia, India and the Philippines among the top 10 countries on Facebook.
Nearly 57 percent of Singapore's population is on Facebook. A survey published by consultants McKinsey last month found that China has by far the world's most active social media population, with 91 percent of respondents saying they visited a social media site in the previous six months, compared with 30 percent in Japan and 67 percent in the United States.
Users of the KitKat app can enter account details for Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and then choose how frequently they want the software to send updates.
It will then respond to items where the user has been tagged with one of eight random messages. LinkedIn will occasionally forward links posted by other users, while Twitter will respond randomly to messages from other users.
"We found that the reason young people need breaks is because of their social media responsibilities, but that's exactly what they do when they're on a break," said Lydia Daly, JWT planning director. "It's a vicious circle."
JWT acknowledged the app may not find favor with Facebook.
JWT says that if the Social Break app is a success they hope to adapt it to work on China's homegrown social networks and, in the long run, introduce elements of artificial intelligence into automated responses.
For now, said Daly, the most important thing was to avoid causing offence or embarrassment with inappropriate responses, such as posting something flippant to news that a friend's grandfather had died.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)