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Sitting in a Barnes & Noble recently, I came across a fascinating article in Harvard Business Review analyzing social Web use around the world from a societal and cultural perspective. While the broad overview analysis offered was mostly typical of many recent “state of social media” reporters we have seen recently, what truly caught my attention was the implication this analysis has from a PR and marketing perspective:
When thinking of social media, we need to vastly expand our horizons.
I’ll get into some of the important statistics and analysis later, but the points that had the biggest impact on me were the fact that as communicators in what is now a truly global media market, we can no longer think of how a social engagement campaign, or how our Twitter, Facebook and blogging efforts, are impacting key audiences only in the U.S. or UK. The global spread and admiration for the social Web means we are quickly becoming global communicators in a world that has many, many cultural differences in how it uses and engages with companies, brands, friends and family within the social Web.
Not surprisingly, Asian countries showed the highest growth potential and engagement within the social Web, with more than 45% of Asian Internet users blogging. On the other hand, South Korean Internet users view social sites as a game, rather than a connecting point between friends and family, while Japanese users are more reserved with their social Web use, staying within only one or two social sites and only connecting with close, real-life friends and family.
In English-speaking countries, the analysis found that North American, European and Australian social Web users are mostly homogenized, with their social Web practices similar across nations and cultures. What is particularly striking is the finding that North American and Western European social Web users are predominantly set in their ways and habits within social networks, and the researchers found few indicators those habits will change any time soon.
In contrast, the analysis showed that social Web users in Asian, and particularly BRIC, countries are still in somewhat of a loose, ill-defined state of social media consumption, engagement and use. While Asians are the most socially active, they also use standard social features (which many of us American marketers long thought were already figured out) in vastly different ways than other cultures. For example, the analysis found that Asian Web users are fervent bloggers, with more than 45% regularly blogging, but the audience they blog for is completely different an American blogger’s audience. Asian bloggers write primarily for close friends and family, the study found, with no more than 10-12 readers per blog.
To me, all of this is both incredibly energizing and also a bit alarming. As marketers, we are quickly reaching a point where discussing our marketing and social media efforts for a regional or national campaign—while still very important—will soon give way to the realization that we will need to factor in cultural differences to how we communicate and engage within the social Web. I touched upon this briefly before in my post “Know Thy Audience,” and it seems even more pressing now for all of us to begin thinking more globally with our social media efforts as the gap between communicating to one cultural audience and another shrinks and we come closer to having the goal of effectively communicating to many global audiences across multiple mediums.
Have you noticed any of the global social Web use differences noted in the HBR article? Share some of your effective global social media strategies for our readers.
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