Beyond Twitter, Facebook: Social media use in BRIC markets


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Some of the world's largest emerging markets loyal to homegrown social sites In the US, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and now Google+ dominate discussion when it comes to social media marketing among advertisers and media professionals. This is also true throughout most of the world, including Western Europe, Latin America and much of Asia-Pacific. But there are still some countries where native social networks are among the most important online destinations.

Russia and China have two of the largest online populations in the world, 62 and 530 million in 2011, respectively, and together account for more than half of the total internet users in BRIC. And their populations have an undeniable interest in social activity on the web.

UM, formerly Universal McCann, found that 79.3% of internet users in Russia managed a social network profile in 2010. In China, more than 68% did the same. But each country has its own unique social networks that leave Facebook and Twitter on the sidelines.

comScore data indicates, for example, that Facebook had an 18.8% reach among internet users in Russia in December 2010, compared to an 83.4% reach for the total social networking category. According to Synovate, the market research arm of Aegis Group, Vkontakte (VK), a local social network similar to Facebook, and dating site Odnaklassniki lead the pack instead.

Facebook has struggled for a foothold in the country because of language and cultural barriers and the native networks' first-mover advantage. Users' main social media activities in Russia are communication and information-sharing, according to Liudmila Novichenkova, marketing communications director for Synovate in Russia. “They view the internet as the most valuable source of information, including word-of-mouth through social media where their friends or others with similar interests can share information with each other,” wrote Novichenkova on the company's blog.

China has its own unique social media landscape, with protection for domestic players provided by a government sanctioned firewall. It is dominated by bulletin board systems (BBS), microblogs (e.g., Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo) and social networks (e.g., Renren, Kaixin001) built around gaming and chatting. As an added enticement for brands, social media users in China actively engage them online. Netpop Research found in January that 92% of broadband users in China had followed at least one brand on social media, with a majority (62%) following 11 brands or more.

Microblogging has attracted the lion's share of brand attention because of its broad appeal and conversational nature. "Microblogs are a fairly new but hot tool in China. Most brands have just recently started their microblog and we are all experimenting with the potential," said Anne Wu, Estée Lauder's public relations manager when recently interviewed by China Daily.

Brands have to take local cues in order to succeed in these diverse and growing online social spaces. A recent paper from HP's Social Computing Lab found that Sina Weibo differs from Twitter in many ways. After analysing trending topics and millions of tweets, they found that Weibo users focused on entertainment like daily jokes, videos and music, whereas Twitter's most popular uses were news and information oriented. Crucial details and insight like these can help a brand reach and expand its base of local customers online%u2014and build on it in the future.


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