In June, 2010, when the Internet World Stats report published the "Top 20 Countries With Highest Number of Internet Users," it was not a surprise that China, the US, Japan, India and Brazil would take the top spots. According to the data, the highest percentage of Internet users are China with 21.4%, the USA with 12.2%, Japan with 5.0%, India with 4.1% and Brazil with 3.9%.
When the UN published their 'population' results comparing Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to these top countries, Facebook's 500 million users ranked number three, under China and India - far exceeding the other two social networks.
In the US, marketers' obvious choices have been Facebook and Twitter to the greatest extent over the course of the last year. However, if a brand is trying to reach markets overseas, should they rely solely on these homegrown networks, or should they broaden their scope to employ social media strategists and technicians to connect them to the networks popular in the top Internet usage countries?
This approach is not only important for brands that are currently doing business in China, Japan, India or Brazil, but also for those that want to branch out and target some of these markets to expand their business.
in starting an international social media strategy, even before exploring which social networks are most suitable for a brand's demographics is to understand the culture, behaviors and etiquette inherent in these countries to communicate properly. Translation services should be examined to determine the nuances of language, so that campaigns are translated in ways that are not foreign to users within these nations. Ensuring that the messages and status updates are understood and trusted by local users is key.
A grasp of censorship and state control issues in countries such as China need to be understood fully. Prohibited words, sensitive political issues and acceptable topics should be reviewed and curtailed in one's communication. Google is a critical example of an Internet company that has tried to pushed the boundaries of censorship in China and has been chastised and rebuked several times recently (for more on this topic, see my previous post, "Google Is No Secretary of State When It Comes To Diplomacy In China.")
As far as networks to consider, Christian Arno, founder and managing director of Lingo24 has provided and excellent snapshot of the popular social networks by usage numbers and demographics.
Christian Arno's Social Network Breakdowns in China,Japan,Brazil and India
Omitted from Arno's report is Sina's microblogging site called Weibo (pronounced 'way-bore'), which is China's answer to Twitter. Since its launch in August 2009, the service has gained more than 20 million registered users and according to a report in The Economist, in a nationwide survey more than 45 percent of the Chinese under 40 said they were frequent Weibo users.
China's Baidu, while a search engine and not a social network has recently released its "Box Computing Open Platform" that allows third-party apps like games, e-Books and other software to launch directly on the search engine, so that users don't need to stray for the site by accessing Facebook or one of the other social networks to interact with these applications (for more on this topic see my previous post, titled "Baidu Advances From Student to Search Engine Sensei"). Twitter's recent re-design, in my opinion was actually influenced by Baidu's BCOP enhancement. See "Twitter Redesign May Be Taking Lessons From Chinese Search Engine Baidu."
And for more on the growth of social media in Southeast Asia, also see "Social Media's Southeast Asia Growing Faster Than U.S."