Guest post by Justin Parks – He’s Northern Irish and a big time advocate of social media stuff and making sure its done right. Loves a pint of the black stuff from time to time and tends to swear a lot. You have been warned! He hangs out on twitter and on his social media blog Justinparks.com.
There is no question that social media is hitting the mainstream. It is evolving into a major part of the Internet, developing hordes of devoted users and advocates who are raising their hands in the air and creating virtual Mexican waves* with their ability of share information almost completely unrestricted around the world and its all good. Thing is, people aren’t doing the Mexican wave the world over…yet. Welcome to Europe.
(*note – cultural point one.)
Brian kindly pointed this out this idiomatic difference. You know that thing in a stadium where some people stand up and throw their hands in the air and the next row does it and so on until it comes back on itself? In the USA its called a “Doing the Wave,” while in Europe it’s called a “Mexican Wave.” Mexico is way closer to the States than Europe. Go figure.
Back to the point.
The USA and Europe are different. We all know this but it tends to be overlooked somewhat mostly because of assumption more than anything else. We simply assume that things are the same when, if we take a second, we realise that they are very different, and being aware of these differences can make the process of making connections and engaging that much simpler.
People from New York are different from folks in California and Texas and even from Washington DC. Americans know this instinctively and react accordingly to accounting for gender, race, home base (the country, the city, the mountains or the beach), age and eduction. Differences aside, all are Americans and regional differences in culture or outlook are still relatively small compared to Europe.
Over the last few years social media has surged forward and upward with the USA adopting, adapting and developing the tools, etiquette, formalities and understanding as you require it and basically taking it through the initial teething problems associated with any new invention or technology, probably helped along by the very same reason in the previous paragraph. Now its hitting Europe.
Now lets take a second and think about Europe. It’s different. Very Different to the States and the differences are obvious. First and foremost there is a huge language barrier. That’s a no-brainer right there – language has split Europe up and actually curtails social media as each country and community created are heavily influenced by their own mother tongue. This also causes fragmentation in the general consensus of the web and where we all “hang out”.
Have a look at this short list of social networking sites in Europe.
Take Facebook as an example. While it has dominated across the majority of Europe it still misses out in Germany, Russia, The Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal and Austria as the most popular social networking platform.
While this is kind of understandable from Russia’s perspective due to culture as much as language, the one that stands out for me is Ireland, a modern, established and in the majority English speaking nation but one which has not “jumped on the bandwagon” making it somewhat of an exception especially when its closest neighbour, the UK is the top user of that very same platform.
Lets think about cultural differences then. Its just so damn complicated that we to some the whole thing will be like talking to aliens and, far be it for a beer drinking Irish man who’s kissed the blarney stone to fall into stereotypes but the only way to address it without writing a 63 part novel is, yep, you guessed it..by looking at stereotypes.
Getting us out of the way first, (us is “the Irish”) we tend to swear a lot on twitter, and in most other forms of social media and we are the Mayor of most of the pubs in the world on FourSquare, even if we haven’t been there in person we still somehow manage it.
The British are a diverse lot who cant really be nailed with any single stereotype today but tend to frequent the major social English speaking social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Bebo scores high here as well.
The French don’t tend to hang around on English speaking social networks (non!) and congregate on their own French built and run sites like SkyRock (the 6th largest social network in the world).
The Germans mainly hang out on XING and “make business” in efficient and straightforward ways as this social stuff is a waste of time when there is work to be done or if they are feeling a little frisky they head over to Yigg.de… dont ask, I have no idea what it means.
The Dutch are spending most of their time on Hyving and the Swedish, Norwegians and Danish all tend to stick together and will frequent places like Playahead while the Polish are familiar with Nasza-klasa.pl (you can try saying it, I sure as hell can’t).
The Spanish enjoy staying in touch in a relaxed and not so pressurized way via the Tuenti network that’s still invite only or via their own version of Digg, Meneame and the Italians decided that they didn’t like the blue bird on twitter and prefer to play about on Meemi (which is, as far as I can tell, a complete rip off from Twitter anyway but well, who’s bothered really).
Are you guys in the USA starting to get the picture now? It’s not so cut and dry is it? I’m jealous really, that in the USA the barriers to speak to anyone else in the country are so low even across thousands of miles – but not here!
Take it from some one who grew up in a society (ever heard of Ulster and “The Troubles”?) that was divided by colour (favourite colour not race), religion, sport, politics, education, history and language and is used to the nuances and differences between towns and villages not more than 3 miles apart, this type of cross culturalism is second nature to me.
Finally, we have to start thinking about even further afield, to countries outside the “west”. China has a massive social networking community on Qzone, Brazil favors Orkut and even Iran is incredibly active online with its social networking community Cloob.
How do you approach it and how will you react when something strikes you as “not normal” in the social media realm simply because it’s foreign. Is it just “not normal” to you? How are we going to reach across these divides in the future to take full advantage of the web and the potential for interconnectivity, if in fact we can ever achieve it.
The reason for this post is to have a rather fleeting consideration at the little things about social media when the physical restrictions are removed and we all get “more connected” between the USA and Europe and indeed the rest of the world. What cultural differences will we realise and how will we react to them, how will we engage across cultures and how will we appreciate and understand others point of view and ideals and what can we learn from them.
I didn’t intend this post to be scientific, but rather more observational and reflective as a means to consider social media in Europe in comparison to the USA and what it means. I hope it has provoked something for you to consider.