Tuesday, 21 February 2012

What is Glocial Media?

I started running sessions on Social Media and its impact on business in 2006.  I would often use the byline for the sessions “It is not just Facebook and Twitter…” which even today seem to be the only platforms large parts of the business world have heard of. Even some of the post-graduate students I teach now are still ‘offline’ when it comes to social media.  Some of the students, however, are far ahead of the curve and are harnessing social media to create new business ideas.

However, just as social media is another country to many people, social media in another country can be completely different.  Most English-speakers will think only of platforms from the USA when they think of social media… the ubiquitous  FacebookTwitter and YouTube.  Whilst those platforms do have international reach and dominate the global social media netscape, individual countries and regions often use them in different ways or have their own platforms that have proven far more popular with the native population.

Students from the Masters in Digital Marketing at Hult International Business School gave a presentation during Social Media Week in London at 01Zero-One in Soho, in the heart of London on just that.  The presentation, entitled “Views from inside: Social Media from around the globe” gave a whistle-stop tour of ten countries and how social media has been used there.

Fernando Martinez (@fermart19) kicked off talking about Colombia and how Groupon enjoyed first-mover advantage for a year, at most, before two clones were produced by the large media organisations in Colombia who had direct and easy access to the local businesses.  He also explained how Colombia has a very high level of creative digital talent, to the extent that a lot of web design for the USA is outsourced there.  In summary, there is a lot of competition and with a young and tech-savvy population, only good products and services will survive there.

Staying in Latin America, Larissa Sabino Erbacher explained how Brazil, with over three times the population of the UK, uses social media as it behaves offline, to be friendly and communicative.  E-commerce and business networks are growing, but the vast majority of social media use is ‘traditional’ social networking through Orkut (Google’s first foray into social networking before Google+) which accounts for 60% of Orkut’s total traffic.

From Brazil, the talk took us to Germany where Jennifer Bahr (@jenny_bahr) over 35 million people are registered on social networks, with 96% of the 14-29 age group on a network.  Over the half of the German inhabitants are online and 90% of them belong to the group relevant for advertisement between 19-49.  Whilst Facebook and Twitter are the most popular platforms in Germany, three related networks appealing to different age-groups and are by invitation only: ‘SchülerVZ’ is for school kids, StudiVZ is for students and MeinVZ is for professionals.  Wer-kennt-wenn connects people by geography whilst if you want to do business in Germany, you cannot rely on LinkedIn alone: XING is the German equivalent to LinkedIn and is three times more popular.  With over 22% of Germans accessing the internet on a mobile phone, it is little wonder that ad-spend for mobile has doubled at the same time as TV advertising has fallen.

It is hardly surprising that Germany, the richest country in Europe, uses social media differently to Greece… hanging on to solvency by its fiscal fingertips.  Ioanna Koliou (@IoannaKoliou) explained Greece doesn’t really have local social networks apart from zoo.gr, with 33% of the population on Facebook and LinkedIn seeing a surge in popularity thanks to the growing unemployment rate.  A key role of social networks in Greece, however, is for protest.  The “Bring them Back”  campaign aims to apply pressure on the British Museum to have the Elgin Marbles returned to their home, not helped by the recent theft by armed robbers of ancient artefacts from Greek museums).  The online campaign incorporated a YouTube video that went viral in Greece.  The global economic crisis has hit Greece harder than most and Facebook is being used to organise protests against the austerity measures and, to those who are tired of Greece’s image on the global stage, Peter Economides  has tried to ‘Rebrand Greece’  using social media.

Moving across the Mediterranean, Africa is the 2nd most connected region by mobile subscriptions and Egypt has the second largest internet usage in Africa.... (Nigeria is the first).  Yasmeen Marie (@Yasmeen_Marie) showed how social media in Egypt became an international issue when a Facebook group was set up to protest on 25 January which went viral. There was no specific intention to create a revolution, but when the government tried to stop the 25 Jan meetings, people got behind the movement, with over 2 million people at one of the protests in Tahrir Square.  When the authorities blocked internet access, Google and Twitter provided a service called ‘Speak-to-Tweet’ where users could call an international number and dictate a message. The messages would be tagged #egypt and were available to those in Egypt by dialling the same numbers or going to  twitter.com/speak2tweet.  An interesting example of how an online phenomenon was able to transfer offline to overcome censorship.

Russians” meanwhile “are the most engaged users of social media in the world, spending an average of 9.8 hours on social networks. This is almost double the global standard.”  Stacey Boguslavskaya (@Social_Net_Pro) explained, however, micro-blogging (such as Twitter) is not popular and Russians are not keen on location based services. The big winners in Russia are local social networks such as: vkontakte.ru and odnoklassniki.ru; perhaps partially due to the weather encouraging people to stay at home and connect online.  Russians prefer to use local platforms, so there is huge potential for entrepreneurs who can create Russian versions of Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Yelp, Quora, Kickstarter or Pinterest. Finally, Russians have an average of 1.5 mobile phones, but only 11% of them are smartphones.

India, in contrast, has far lower mobile penetration with only 5% of the total  population. But with a population of 1.2 billion people, that equates to 61 million people or almost the entire UK population.  India is, according to Priyanka Ganguli (@priyaganguli) , a country where change is a constant.  What is popular today will be old hat tomorrow… Hi5 was the leading social network before giving up its place to Orkut. That in turn gave way to Facebook, but Twitter is now more popular.  What matters is how trendy the site or platform is and how connected it is – whether one’s own network has made the move or not.  Another issue to think about is how the government in India is implementing monitoring and censorship of social media.

From the biggest country in the world to one of the smallest, Angela Cheong (@angelacfw) explained how Singapore has a household broadband penetration of 104% and 70% of the 5.1 million population have smartphones – the highest in the world.  The smartphone is fundamental to accessing the internet in Singapore with mainstream Western sites such as Facebook, Blogspot, Twitter and LinkedIn dominating social media behaviour.  Corporate use, however, has not matched that of individuals, with only 30% of organisations using micro-blogs, 40% using social networks and 50% using video sharing – and when they use social media, they do not always understand how. An example shown by Angela was how SMRT, the main train company, failed to respond with information when a train was stuck underground with thousands of commuters on board, in the stifling darkness. The company ignored its Facebook account to feed information to the general public and only set up a Twitter account several days later after a series of further mechanical failures.  They tried to make a big deal of not fining a passenger who broke a window on the train to let in air – with a resulting public backlash to the mere suggestion that the passenger could be fined having a far worse effect on their public reputation.  A study has shown that local brands can achieve the same level of recognition as major brands like LV, Adidas and Gucci with a good social media strategy.

Taiwan could not, however, be more different to Singapore.  In Taiwan, Facebook penetration has grown by 7000% in Taiwan in the two years since a Chinese language version was launched – essential for any platform hoping to launch in Taiwan – but still tends to be the preserve of good looking young people who like posting photos of themselves.  Michelle Chen (Pin-Hsien Chen @pinshian) explained that ‘normal’ people tend to prefer the anonymity offered both through not needing to post photos nor use real names on Bulletin Board Systems (BBS).  The two largest BBS in Taiwan are PTT and PTT2 with 1.5 million registered users and around 10% of total internet users in Taiwan.  The boards focus on specific topics, such that there is even one on ‘gossip’ which is used by journalists as a pseudo Wikileaks. To show the importance of BBS in the minds of the Taiwanese, it is worth mentioning that they had a film, á la ‘The Social Network’:

Finally, the Philippines is not, as  Aaron Joshua Barroso (@mraaronjoshua) explained, just about eating dog, nurses and caregivers.  The event was nothing if not informative and I, for one, did not imagine the Philippines to have a population of 94 million people spread over 7000 islands.  The internet penetration is not that high at 30%, but there is an 80% reach of mobile phones and the country is the SMS leader with over 2 billion text messages sent every day – an average of 26 texts per person per day.  Most people going online to watch videos, blog and engage with global networks such as Facebook, Friendster and Multiply, but it does have home-grown clones such as PicLyf and Churp Churp for photo sharing and microblogging.

So what does this mean for the future of social media?  Facebook is all-dominant and there is no micro-blogging service to rival Twitter.  There are, however, still very large regional clones of the social networking platforms that are more popular – an important point to remember when trying to reach audiences in those regions.  Mobile is, as has been pointed out often, huge in some countries – meaning digital marketing must think of the platform of distribution and not assume everyone will have a large computer screen to view the content.  Finally, social media is about people connecting with people – for socialising, dating, gaming, recruitment or revolution.  People will find a way to connect regardless of the channels. If the internet breaks, they will go mobile. If technology breaks, they will go back to offline methods. They will connect, however, and will look favourably on those that facilitate those connections.

And what is 'Glocial Media'?   A term I thought sums up the trichotomy of social media today: it must be global, local and social.   

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