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Overcoming cultural differences in social networking

November 28, 2007

To most people that follow Internet trends and the many ways this powerful media is developing itself, there isn't any doubt anymore that Web 2.0 is here to stay. When the 'Net started to become really popular between 1993 and 1995, it was more of a one-way communication link, a bit like television in the old days. In 2007 alone, we've seen an important growth in the number of social networking Web sites, thanks to Internet properties such as Facebook, MySpace and even YouTube. Although some of these sites are finding a certain success in Europe, there is still some room for additional growth. One of the obstacles affecting the rate of growth are the cultural differences of some countries.

Recently, Web research firm JupiterResearch explored this issue in its latest European Content & Programming Survey entitled "Social Networking Across Europe: Using Localization to Drive Growth in the Web 2.0 Environment".

Overall, one of the greatest challenge for these North American-based social networks in increasing their European market presence is compensating for the large cultural differences between North Americans and Europeans.

JupiterResearch is trying to determine the differences in social networking activity across Europe. Also, the research firm is working to identify:

  • Varying user characteristics
  • Which factors drive adoption across Europe
  • How increasing localization strategies affects stakeholders
  • The impact social networking will have on the media landscape
  • How media companies should respond to markets across Europe

Jupiter's twenty-eight page report analyzed just how localized sites such as Facebook and MySpace have helped drive European adoption of social networking sites, and how the trend toward user personalization will ultimately lead to the demise of existing providers' applications and content.

Nick Thomas, lead analyst of the JupiterResearch report says "there's room for growth in some of the European markets we are following where the disadvantage to U.K. markets is that US-based social networks haven't been adapted much to U.K. users."

"However, in order to grow across Europe, US-based social networks need to offer localization which MySpace is rolling out," added Thomas.

Among its key findings, JupiterResearch discovered that regular European social networking use varies significantly from country to country, ranging anywhere from 10 percent in Germany to 21 percent in the United Kingdom.

Additionally, Jupiter's report found that the overall adoption is higher in the UK than it is in the US, in which 18 percent of Internet users visit sites at least weekly. Meanwhile, social networking in Europe has reached a mass demographic of ages 15 to 24, accounting for a staggering 32.1 percent of those surveyed.

Based on these findings, JupiterResearch concluded that young online consumers will increasingly use these social networking sites as their primary online portals. Users will also increasingly personalize social networking profile pages.

Additionally, the report suggests that stakeholders in social network sites need to integrate and localize content to engage European social networking users, including the use of new site features that aren't currently found on either Facebook or MySpace.

Thomas said "the key change is the tendency towards users personalizing their pages. So the main trend is about social media rather than social networking. That kind of behavior will impact Web 2.0 users all across Europe."

Ultimately, social networks are catering more to the differing markets in Europe, optimizing content for each territory to reflect not only the language, but also local tastes, habits and, to a lesser extent, traditions.

The overall impact will be two-fold: adding social networking elements to sites will strengthen relationships with users, while deconstructing content for other sites will broaden reach to new customers from social networks.

Thomas added "the growth comes down to appealing to local users. The question is whether the U.S. social sites can adapt to the local market to compete more effectively. The cultural variations are quite significant. For example, the education system is quite different in Germany than it is in the U.S."

Jupiter's survey also reveals that just 29.8 percent of social sites offer fully localized versions, but estimates that 70 percent of European users have access to localized social networks.

Over the next year, it will be interesting to see how these trends continue to evolve and the impact they will have on Web 2.0 users, not just in the U.K. but especially in the U.S. and Canada. Certainly, market participants and the various segment players will be watching this space carefully.

Overall, the concept behind Web 2.0 is a fairly simple one, and it can be resumed by saying this: Use the power of the Internet to:

  • Bring people together
  • Create content
  • Share expertise
  • Discuss various interests
  • Provide social interaction

Various people have a broad range of topics they wish to share. Offer them a place to express themselves and a rich community of users they can identify with.

Web 2.0 is open source content at its best, and over the past four to five years, open source has worked extremely well in the field of software development. Social networks built around a common goal can be very powerful.

Marketing for social sites has one great advantage and that's Web 2.0 technology makes it very easy to measure and quantify results almost immediately. Through various conversion-tracking services, Internet traffic can be readily analyzed to easily determine how many visitors actually do what marketers want them to do:

  • Read about a product
  • Order a product
  • Subscribe to a newsletter
  • Other user-initiated actions

Web 2.0 experts advise experimenting to determine which method or combination of methods better suit a specific audience. With the right approach, a company can take advantage of Web 2.0's incredible reach and the many opportunities it offers.

New marketing opportunities will be created to those that are willing to experiment and "test the waters".

Source: Jupiter Research

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