Meteoric Growth in Social Networking – “It’s a Small World after All,” or Is It?

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Today’s guest blog post is from someone I met Windmill Networking on LinkedIn: my new friend from Holland Rudolf Kriens (it is coincidental yet fitting that Rudolf comes from the land of the windmill!).  Rudolf Kriens is an engineering management advisor, educator & keynote speaker. His specialty is streamlining of clients’ product development processes. Rudolf’s career spans both industry and academia, and combines deep industry knowledge with expertise in a wide range of technology domains. He has over 25 years experience in managing applied research, innovation, and new product development. Rudolf’s professional interest in networked collaboration dates back to the mid 1990’s when he pioneered collaborative engineering and virtual teams. His current interests in social networking lie in social media marketing of professional services and in enterprise social networking systems.  Feel free to connect with Rudolf on LinkedIn.

Network of Dutch windmills from the 1740s in Kinderdijk

You can’t have missed all the recent stories on how social networking usage is exploding [1]. Did you know …

Linkedin (50 million members) welcomes a new member every second of the day?

Facebook (300+ million users) ranks as top social networking site in the majority of European countries?

During peak times on Twitter (as after Michael Jackson’s death) tweets exceeded 5000 per second?

Fact is that two-thirds of the global internet population now visit social networks. An estimated 800 million users will start using their mobile devices for social network access. The question is: will this massive scale of worldwide connectedness create a Web 2.0 version of Marshall McLuhan’s [2] “Global Village?”

If this was only a matter of technology the answer would be a definite “yes.” Enter the world of cross-cultural communication!

Apart from technology social media is also all about people and process. I guess it is safe to say there’s no lack of people who are connecting via social networks. Critical mass has been surpassed in a short period and by a very large margin. Process – in the sense of how people connect and communicate in this new world – seems to be the deciding factor how social media networks will evolve in the long run. Will a convergence occur towards a rather small number of unified and globally dominating networks? Or will we progress towards a situation of glocalization [3] with a myriad of localized network communities and societies?

The way individuals connect and participate in social networks depends on variables such as gender, age, and country. Most of us will be able to relate to this on basis of anecdotal evidence. As an example: the Dutch are eager to join LinkedIn in very large numbers [4]. However, once there, they seem to be reluctant to complete their profiles and to join or start discussions in LinkedIn groups, even if of local origin.

Forrester Research has defined six different types of social media engagement [5]. They go by the names of Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners, Spectators, and Inactives. Following Forrester’s profiling scheme and research the Dutch in the above example could be classified as Joiners. Joiners connect and maintain profiles in social networks. Italians and Japanese classify as Creators. They write blog posts and upload videos. Germans consume social content including blogs, and user-generated video, and are therefore considered to be Spectators. Participation in Asia and the USA is high, while European adoption rates are lagging. Unsurprisingly, age does matter: members of the Baby Boomer Generation [6}, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z show different social network participation.

In social media engagement the most striking differences occur between individual countries. In this context Geert Hofstede’s [7] research on cultures and their value systems is considered to be relevant. Based on his studies for IBM in the 1960’s Hofstede developed a “Framework for Assessing Culture.” His framework relates to culture averages, not to individual persons. It defines five dimensions of culture: low vs. high power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, low vs. high uncertainty avoidance, and long vs. short term orientation. Country rankings with Hofstede’s framework are published on various websites [8] and confirm the well-known stereotypes. The USA ranks high in Individualism, a mark of a society with individualistic and self-reliant people. Power distance is low for the Netherlands. Masculinity is high in Germany. East Asian countries share Long term orientation. How social media systems belonging to all these different cultures will interact is a question of rising importance. How should we cope with the inevitable misunderstandings and incompatibilities at the cultural interfaces?

And what about the future social media landscape? The era in which social media and cultures can be treated as independent systems has clearly come to an end. The extent in which Twitter exerted its influence on political events has shown this. The Anglo-sphere will continue to dominate the social media arena, but will probably have to allow adaptations. The recent announcement of ICANN that it will start the introduction of web addresses with non-Latin (i.e. Asian and Arabic) characters is a tell-tale sign of change to come.

For me personally, one of the most exciting subjects will be the introduction of enterprise social media systems, in particular within the product development and engineering disciplines.

Fully inline with this post I expect readers to have different views. So let’s hear it.

_____________________

Notes:

1) Jeremiah Owyang gives a nice collection of social media statistics with updates in his blog post “A Collection of Social Network Stats for 2009.” < Social Media Stats « Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang | Social Media, Web Marketing >

2) Marshall McLuhan’s insights made the concept of a global village, interconnected by an electronic nervous system, part of our popular culture well before it actually happened. < Marshall McLuhan Foresees Global Village >

3) Glocalization – The individual, group, or community which “thinks globally and acts locally.”

4) Jeff Weiner – The Netherlands has the highest rate of adoption per capita outside the U.S., at 30%.< The LinkedIn Blog » Blog Archive LinkedIn: 50 million professionals worldwide « >

5) Forrester’s Social Technographics® classifies consumers into six overlapping levels of participation < http://www.forrester.com/Groundswell/profile_tool.html >

6) Participation of the Baby Boomers with more than 60 percent actively consuming social network content is higher than expected. < How to Reach Baby Boomers with Social Media >

7) Geert Hofstede’s website < Geert Hofstede about himself! >

8) See e.g. < Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions > and < Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions >

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Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

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Comments

  1. says

    Great article. Not to sound cliche, but social media is indeed the way of the future. Right now it may just seem a tool, but it is slowly seeping more and more into our daily lives, perhaps one day inseperable.

  2. rudolfkriens says

    Thanks for the comment.

    I am convinced social media will be a growing part of our lives: in our personal lives, in our lives as consumers, and finally in our corporate lives too.

    What shape this “social media society” will eventually take remains to be seen. At present, there is a multitude of separate networks, more or less built around languages a/o cultural domains. See e.g. statistics published by Vincenzo Cosenza < http://bit.ly/6qdyA7 >.

    Open question is if social media will converge to a limited number of huge networks (belonging to the Anglosphere, the Francosphere, or large professional groups), or that the networks will continue to diverge in numbers and become a reflection of a multi-faceted world.

    - Rudolf

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