Social Media Usage Across Cultures


With globalization, we have seen an increase in usage of social media everywhere. Having the ability to reach people worldwide has so many advantages and opportunities. It adds a whole new level to how business can be conducted.

According to Nielsen research (January of 2010), global consumers spent more than five and half hours per month on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter in December of 2009, an 82% increase from the same time last year.

However there are great differences on how people use social media in different countries. For example, Brazilians are the top social media users worldwide according to another global survey by Nielsen (June of 2010). People in Brazil communicate mainly in Portuguese. The social network made by Google, Orkut, has been adopted by 50% of Brazilian Internet users but is not very popular in the United States.

For global marketers and people who want to develop both local and international networks, it is important to determine how people from different countries interact through social media.

There are five main driving factors that determine the choice of platforms and content:

1. Purposes of using social media

2. How open the culture is to share information online (privacy and security)

3. Online purchasing behavior

4. Languages other than English being used

5. Number and types of social media users among total population

Global Usage Of Social Media

The following points are the summary and analysis of the results of large global consumer surveys on social media conducted from 2009 to 2010 (Please see sources at the end of the article).

I-Regional and country trends on purpose and ways of using social media

1. Asia-Pacific region: Social media usage has seen unprecedented growth in Asia-Pacific in the past year and is now one of the most critical trends in the online sector; online product reviews are the third most trusted source of information when making purchase decisions, behind family and friends. Japan is the first Asian Twitter nation, and second worldwide after the United States, with 18% of messages worldwide according to a “geolocation” study of tweets by Semiocast.

China: Staying in touch with a friend is the most frequent use of social media.

Japan: People mainly use social media to research products to buy. Japanese people have the smallest appetite for Facebook with 3% of users on it. The most popular Japanese platform is Ameba. It is visited by 38% of Japanese people online. Blogging is very popular in Japan.

South Korea: Staying up to date on news and events is the most popular. South Korea is in the top ten markets in the world when it comes to Internet population. Naver is attracting 95% of the Korean Internet population.

India: Researching for work topped the social media usage motivation. Seventy percent of social media users in India identifies Orkut as their preferred social media website.

Australia: Staying in touch with friends is the most common activity. Australia leads the world in social media engagement, with the highest global average for time spent per month engaging with social media, averaging over seven hours per month. LinkedIn has seen one of the fastest growth trends among social media websites in Australia, with unique audience numbers increasing by 99% from July of 2009 to May of 2010.

2. Europe: Facebook’s reach is the widest in Italy, (69%) followed by UK(66%), Spain(57%), and France (57%).

UK: Researching product purchases

France: Staying in touch with friends is the main motivation.

The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Russia: Staying current on news and events leads the way.

3. Americas:

Brazil’s motivation to use social media is unique and focused on “researching how to do things.”

The United States ranked researching products to buy as the number one motivation of social media activity. Watching video online is surprisingly low in the United States compared with other regions.


II-Global Trends On Business and Personal Use

Based on the aggregate data from all of the countries, the results show that 85% of respondents use social media for business and 97% use it for personal matters.

The top three reasons for using social media for personal use are:

  1. Connecting with friends and family
  2. Reading social media content
  3. Connecting with like-minded people

The top three reasons for using social media for business are:

  1. Building networks for business contacts
  2. Reading social media content
  3. Highlighting personal and professional expertise on social media

Other leading reasons included job searches, identifying potential leads, and finding information on products and services.

III-Languages spoken on Social Media

Facebook reached 500 million users around the world and it is a good indicator of the trends on languages used with social media.

Facebook’s #1 language is English, with over 52% of the website’s total user base accessing the site in that language. Spanish is second with a usage rate of around 15% of the total user base. After Spanish, the drop off is much sharper, French is third.

Source: Article: Facebook Top 10 Languages and who is using them

Consumers’ behavior is changing very fast on social media. Here’s a look at growth rates for Facebook’s Top 10 languages:

From Article: Top languages Portuguese Arabic and Spanish lead-growth

Conclusion: On Social media, “One-Size-Fits All” content and ethnocentric (mainly United States) communication strategies are no longer sustainable. To become truly global or even just to adapt to global forces that are shaping the world’s economy, the most important factor for developers, advertisers, and marketers is not how large the global audience is but to know how to reach users in established and fast-growing markets through localization strategies, including writing content with cultural sensitivity and customizing to the online behavior of target audiences at country levels and languages.

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Anne Egros

Professional Expat Coach

Anne Egros, Professional Coach, Provides Global Business, Career, and Expat Life Coaching Services For International Executives and Managers. Pharmaceutical Doctor (Pharm D) with 20 years of international experience as business manager in Fortune 500 Companies. Anne worked as an expat for 20 years: US, Japan, Europe, APAC region. Fluent English, native French speaker.

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