Given the increasingly global world of commerce in which we live, business owners still take a highly ethnocentric approach to social media. While it is estimated that 76% of businesses use social network sites to promote their business, a very small number use social networks that are popular outside their own nation of origin. That is because, in some cases, businesses are not capable of fulfilling orders internationally. But businesses who provide services that can be purchased internationally should make an effort to establish an international social media presence that can be maintained on various social networks that see heavy usage in other countries.
Because Facebook is banned in China, a number of regional sites have cropped up to fight for market share.
Literally translated to mean “New Wave Microblog,” Sina Weibo is a Chinese migroblogging website (akin to Twitter) in use by over 30% of Chinese Internet Users. Reported to have 368 million registered users in mid-2012, users post over 100 million messages every day. It’s heavily adopted by businesses: 5,000 businesses and 2,700 media organizations in China use Sina Weibo.
Unique Properties: Sina Weibo is heavily used by celebrities and popular figures: the top 100 users had over 485 million followers combined, an average of one million followers each. If you get big on Sina Weibo, you get -very- big.
Cons: Sina Weibo cooperates with the Chinese Government’s policy of internet censorship. Sina Weibo blacklists some keywords and the site does not support URL shortening services which can mask the identity of a site. Sina Weibo is estimated to employ 1,000 people specifically to monitor the massive influx of posts in compliance with censorship regulations.
Opportunities for Businesses: The most evident opportunity is to partner with one of Sina Weibo’s most popular celebrities on an endorsement deal, which easily allows a business to reach tens of millions of fans throughout the network. Advertising and media agencies with a presence in China, like MediaCom, can help implement a strategy like this.
Literally translated as “Everyone’s Website,” Renren is a Chinese remake of Facebook. With 160 million registered users and a total of 31 million active users monthly, Renren is one of the most popular Chinese social networks.
Unique Properties: On Renren, users earn “points” for activities like logging in, posting status messages, commenting, and receiving comments. As users earn points, their “level” on the site increases, which unlocks special emoticons, profile skins, and the ability to “go invisible” and view other users’ profiles without their knowledge. Renren also has a virtual currency, much like Facebook’s, which allows users to send gifts, exchange for social gaming perks, and advertise.
Opportunities for Businesses: To us, Renren seems to be an opportunity much like Facebook. Set up a profile for your business and begin interacting with customers and fans to generate engagement.
Douban is another large Chinese social network, with 53 million registered users as of 2001.
Cons: Douban exercises censorship in line with the Chinese Government’s policies. All content passed through Douban is censored. Experts are unsure whether or not Douban may be banned by the Chinese Government in 2013.
Unique Properties: Douban provides an online music, movie, and book database that users can utilize as a recommendation engine. It serves ratings and reviews for both registered and unregistered users. Douban has a high index among intellectuals discussing social issues.
Opportunities for Businesses: Particularly if your business is in the content industry, Douban provides an opportunity to reach new minds and start discussions about your content. It’s a must-have social network for music, book, or film publishers.
A fast-growing social network with 597 million users and 150 million active users monthly, Qzone is typically used as a blogging and diary platform, much like LiveJournal.
Unique Properties: Part of the high loyalty of the platform is due to the popularity of the instant messaging tool, QQ, provided to users. Unfortunately, this is a one-to-one messaging platform, so opportunities for businesses to reach many users via the instant message tool are limited.
Opportunities for Businesses: If one could divise a way to build a loyal following, it would be a ripe opportunity to send customized instant messages to followers by the popular QQ tool.
Ranking as the 13th most popular website in China, Kaixin is a social network that cannot be ignored.
Unique Properties: Kaixin001 offers a 1G online storage platform in addition to Facebook-like qualities. Be careful not to confuse Kaixin001 with other platforms named Kaixin in China, of which there are about a dozen, including some social networks that are imitations of the original.
Opportunities for Businesses: Unsure. Kaixin001 is more of a user-focused platform than a business-focused platform. They offer Apps, like online storage, social bookmarking, music, and quizzes that provide functionality. At the time of this writing, I’m not seeing a way to get involved heavily as a business, but that could change with new features. With the userbase that Kaixin001 has, it’s worth watching.
Russians have the highest social media usage rates in the world, averaging 9.8 hours per month, about twice the global average.
An overt Facebook clone, Vkontakte offers many of the same features as Facebook and absolutely trounces Facebook’s market share in the country, with 54% of the Russian online population spending 20 minutes per day on average, compared with Facebook’s 24.7% market share and only 3 minutes a day on average.
Unique Properties: Since Vkontakte allows users to post streaming music or movies, this could explain why the social network is such an outlier when it comes to average time spent per day. Many users are passively using Vkontakte as a media distribution platform rather than actively engaging with the site. At any rate, media consumption means opportunities for advertising.
Opportunities for Businesses: We see two clear ways to establish a presence on Vkontakte. First, the obvious, businesses can set up a page for fans and make friends. Second, the high use of content means that, if your target audience closely aligns with Vkontakte’s user base, you could make some good advertising purchases here.
With more than 45 million registered users and 10 million daily unique users, Odnoklassniki is a very popular social network in Russia. The name itself means “classmates,” a good indicator of the type of user they primarily service.
Unique Properties: Odnoklassniki has a a unique demographic, primarily men under the age of 35 with post-graduate educations earning less than $30,000 a year. The site ranks highly in former Soviet Bloc countries like Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.
Opportunities for Businesses: Limited. Since Facebook and Vkontakte have become more popular, Odnoklassniki’s declining market share hearkens back to MySpace a la 2003. Buyer beware before investing time or effort into building a presence here.
Hugely popular in Brazil, with 59.1% of Orkut’s users hailing from the country, Orkut provides a discussion platform with over 33 million active users.
Cons: Orkut is very prone to viruses. At least four major worms have propogated through Orkot in the last six years.
Unique Properties: Orkut is primarily a discussion and chatting site where users can create discussions (similar to Quora) that can be responded to by any user on the site.
Opportunities for Businesses: The discussion platform is great for customer engagement. We recommend that businesses that have customers in Brazil, India, and Japan establish an Orkut profile and begin creating customer-centric discussions.
Taringa, an Argentinian social networking site primarily concerned with link sharing, think Digg with profiles, is one of the largest social networking sites in Latin America.
Unique Properties: On Taringa, users are ranked according to the sum of their past contributions. Users increase their rank by receiving the equivalent of Likes on links that they submit. Users who consistently post content that is accepted by the community will be promoted through the ranks. The higher a user’s rank, the more Likes the user is able to give in a day.
Opportunities for Business: Establishing a profile and promoting links of companies and blogs that you support, as well as submitting your own links, can be a great source of inbound traffic.
With reports of more than 20 million registered users, Sonico is a large social networking website in Latin America. On Sonico, users can add friends, manage their personal profile, upload photos and videos, organize events, or play games.
Opportunities for Business: Since Sonico is functionally a clone of Facebook, we recommend establishing a profile and promoting similar types of content to increase engagment and drive traffic back to your site.
Netlog has over 94 million registered users and is popular throughout Europe as well as parts of the Middle East and Asia.
Unique Properties: Because Netlog’s demographic includes people from all over the world, the team at Netlog has established an intense localization algorithm that prioritizes results that are geotargeted and personalized for each member’s profile. This means that user searches typically return individuals local and within the same age range as the user searching.
Opportunities for Businesses: Best used as a personal networking site, Netlog provides few opportunities to market a brand but many opportunities for traditional sales tactics. Start meeting and greeting, tell people what you’re doing and why they need to hire you or purchase services from your business.
XING is a professional social network, competing primarily with LinkedIn and European platform Viadeo. 90% of all pageviews on the XING platform come from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
Opportunities for Businesses: Limited. XING has a very rigid no-spam policy, so it’s best used passively simply by setting up a profile and connecting with other users.
Hi5 is a social gaming platform owned by Tagged, a popular social gaming platform in America.
Unique Properties: Hi5 hosts cloned versions of many of the most popular Facebook games, and the main form of interaction on the site is playing games. This means that if your target audience is young and has a high proclivity to play online games, you might have an opportunity here.
Opportunities for Business: The best way to use the Hi5 social network is to buy advertising. Since most of the time users spend on the site is not viewing other users’ profiles or viewing status updates, your attempts to sell your product or service will be in vain. Instead, you can purchase homepage takeovers, skins, and branded virtual gifts. With the right budget and spending levels, you’ll be able to purchase in-game branded items that will help to support an integrated campaign.
Japan is the only country in the world where Twitter receives more hits than Facebook.
Japan’s most popular social network with 2 million page views per day, registration on mixi is strictly controlled and requires the validation of a Japanese cellular phone number. Unfortunately, this puts the site out of reach of most Americans.
Opportunities for Businesses: Celebrities are very popular on mixi. The right way to attack this market is to partner with a media buying agency with connections to talent in the Japanese market and hire celebrity endorsers for your product.
The most popular South Korean social networking platform, Cyworld has about 16 million monthly visitors. Unfortunately, this number is falling as its users convert to Facebook and Twitter. It is unlikely, but possible, that Cyworld will continue to shed users. Cyworld is very ingrained in South Korean culture: the term “cyholic” has entered the popular lexicon.
Unique Properties: In Cyworld, users can create avatars and apartments for themselves, rendered in a 2D isometric world, similar to The Sims.
Opportunities for Businesses: This would be an excellent opportunity for the right brand to purchase advertising in the form of branded clothes, accessories, or furniture that users could place on their avatar or in their virtual home. On Cyworld, members can form “clubs” and decorate the club space in the same way that they can their own home, providing another opportunity for branded placement. Celebrities are also popular on Cyworld, providing an opportunity for brand endorsement.
With a billion people and counting, India is expected to become the largest Facebook market in the world by 2015.
Roughly translated to “iBuild,” ibibo is a social networking service with about 4 million users, roughly 3% of the total Indian Internet population. By contrast, Facebook has about 63 million users in India. Ibibo is absolutely a supporting platform for reaching the Indian market: Facebook clearly dominates the region.
Honorable Mention: Orkut
Orkut was covered in detail in the Latin America section, but it also has a strong following among Indians.
Share your favorite social networking sites in the comments below.