Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Are There Cultural Differences in Social Media Use?

Universal McCann recently released its Wave 3 study of Internet use trends in various countries around the globe. It should be required reading for all marketers. Here are their summaries of major findings

AdWeek headlined its report by saying that US users are laggards in social media creation. That’s what the stats say on the surface, but there are more fundamental issues that need to be probed. Remember the Forrester ladder on which a majority of US users were Inactives or Spectators when it came to social media? The issue is whether we’ll stay where we are or climb the ladder. I think at least some of us will move up into more active segments, but the UMC study suggests that there are major cultural differences.

The AdWeek report quotes UMC executives as follows:

"By and large, in the U.S. we're a country of voyeurs," said David Cohen, U.S. director of digital communications at Universal McCann, which conducted the study. "We love to watch and consume content created by others, but there's a fairly small group that are doing that creation -- unlike China, which is a country of creators."

Tom Smith, a research manager for the EMEA region at UM, said the gulf exists because blogs play a different role in the societies. In China, for instance, blogs tend to be about daily life rather than current affairs.

Why the differences? I’m not a China expert, but I do know that many families are separated by work requirements. The report finds that most blogging globally is about personal and family activities—your own family or your friends, and that fits the situation in China. The third largest blog content category globally is news and current affairs, and that has to be difficult in China.

I suggest that there are political differences as well as cultural differences that affect participation in and content development for all types of social media. Finally, there are platform differences across regions and countries. Is that the result of first-mover advantage in different countries or is it platforms that are better suited to conditions in individual areas? Marketers should ask.

Social media is truly a global phenomenon, but its use and development is going to be different in various markets. Marketers beware!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where the divide lies or why, but I can tell you that Dutch online "consumers" are very similar to US online consumers. Blogs are read, but the comments are more often than not from other active bloggers.

On the other hand, Hyves, a Dutch social networking site, is extremely popular - mainly among young people - and all kinds of users use it actively.

In short, I wonder if this is a western society phenomenon rather than a US phenomenon.