Over the past few years, and the past year especially, nearly everyone we know has learned to “tweet”, “like”, and “pin” things (for those of you who haven’t discovered pinning, visit pinterest.com and cancel your plans for the rest of the day).  Social media has already had a significant impact on the way businesses in the U.S. (and other regions, but I’ll get to that later) market to customers.  Companies can make tweets about new products long before they are ever advertised, post on Facebook and generate buzz, or attract customers with contests by asking visitors to “like” their company’s page.  And the best part is that it’s all for FREE!

The Facts:

While adoption of these kinds of social media sites (with the exception of Pinterest) in the U.S. is no longer “new”, in emerging regions things are just getting started.  Over the past year, there have been significant studies investigating social media use in countries like Brazil, Russia, and China, most of which indicate that social media adoption in these regions is skyrocketing.

Brazil – While emerging regions generally have a wider variety of popular social networking sites than we have in the U.S., many of the ones favored in the U.S. are also favored in places like Brazil, where Facebook recently overtook local networking site orkut in terms of users.  Similarly, Brazil recently surpassed Japan as the second most represented country on Twitter, though Japanese users ranked higher with regard to activity.
br_alexa_traffic The above Alexa traffic charts show the steady decline in the traffic rank and time spent on orkut, once Brazil’s largest social network, over the past two years.  Facebook and Twitter are excluded from the charts because they cannot be narrowed to a regional URL and would have skewed the results.

Russia – The most popular social media sites in Russia include vKontakte (a site that is comparable to Facebook down to the color scheme and layout), Facebook, Odnoklassniki (a more basic and photo-centric social network), MoiMir (a social network that is integrated with mail.ru), Twitter, and LiveJournal.  vKontakte remains the market leader in the country, followed by Odnoklassniki.  Facebook however, continues to gain ground in the region against the two larger players, which is helpful for U.S. companies marketing to this region.

Twitter also recently teamed up with the Russia’s Yandex search engine to allow users to view Twitter posts in their search results, giving companies that Tweet information greater visibility to users that prefer the Yandex service.
ru_alexa_charts The Alexa traffic charts demonstrate a relatively thin margin between the average time spent on vKontakte, Odnoklassniki, and recently-launched social site, Futubra, per day.  Facebook and Twitter were again excluded because they cannot be narrowed to a regional URL and MoiMir is grouped in with mail.ru, which would skew the results.

China – Micro-blogging is taking China by storm.  Nearly half of the country’s internet users are participating in these types of services, including China’s Weibo micro-blogging site, at which the number of visitors demonstrated a four-fold increase to nearly 250 million people last year.

china sites

While this growth is likely partially attributable to the government’s ban on Facebook in the country, the Chinese social media market remains rife with alternatives that continue to battle for the largest share of the market, including popular networks Youku (comparable to YouTube), Renren (social network), Tudou (video site), Weibo, and Baidu (web service platform).
ch_alexa_charts The Alexa site traffic charts demonstrate that internet users spend the most amount of time per day on Weibo, which is not surprising as micro-blogging sites generally require more user interaction, while Baidu has the greatest traffic rank, which is likely attributable to its wide variety of web applications.

The Possibilities…

These kinds of statistics present an enormous potential for companies looking for new ways to bring their products and brand across borders.
facebook_map The potential to be seen on a social networking site like Facebook, Twitter, or other comparable site is exponential.  Personally, if a friend posts something that I find interesting, I follow it…and it costs the company nothing!  Rarely do I see something on TV or in a print advertisement that makes me run to the computer to find more information (because the first thing I do when I see something interesting is search for it or visit the website), but I follow links on Facebook because I am already on a computer and its convenient!  In fact, I tend to follow more links for things that I’m even mildly interested in when I’m browsing my news feed on Facebook BECAUSE it’s convenient.  Additionally, companies receive further benefits (still for free) when people share, retweet, post, or pin something they liked from another friend’s page, thereby exposing that company/product to a theoretically new audience (assuming that person doesn’t have the exact same group of friends).

A company’s social media marketing relationship is also a two-way street.  Not only can companies market themselves to consumers, but they can collect information about what consumers like, which can help them better tailor their products to a specific market.  Should a site like Pinterest explode in emerging regions the way it has in the U.S. (where it is currently the 16th most popular site*), companies can see exactly what kinds of things that people in their region are interested in by what they pin to their pinboards, which are segmented by category.  Similarly, entering a contest held by a company on Facebook often requires the user to allow that company to access their profile…meaning much of their demographic information and usage habits can be collected.

Platforms Aplenty

Just in the past two months, I have written about three new (or future) social sites in Brazil, Russia, and China, demonstrating that there is no shortage of these types of sites on which to market.  In Brazil, ecommerce website Submarino unveiled its new integrated social media platform, the Submarino Digital Club, which aggregates social media content onto a variety of devices and encourages social interaction.

submarino digital club

Similarly, in Russia, Mail.ru launched Futubra, a micro-blogging site that the company hopes will one day rival the likes of Twitter.  In the first 24 hours of its launch, Futubra had already gained 17,000 users, though it still has some catching up to do to reach its competitor.

Finally, China’s Alibaba Group is reportedly working on its own social network, “Laiwang”, which it has compared to Google+, while Baidu (a local search engine) is in the midst of creating a mobile operating system and Android-based application platform.



Internet usage continues to grow in emerging countries, which is largely fueled by the growing popularity of social networking.  We have come to an age where it’s hard not to be a part of social networking, and the companies that can respond to this shift are likely to be more successful than those that fail to acknowledge or act on it.  Social media will be KEY for global expansion in the future.  From 2012 through 2016, Bricdata believes that there is going to be a gradual increase in the proportion of marketing budgets delegated to social media.

However, companies will need to target sites in emerging regions differently.  Just as the demographics of the people that use Twitter will vary from those that use Facebook or Pinterest, different types of users in Brazil, Russia, and China are drawn to different social networks.  It should also be noted that these regions are likely to respond differently to marketing efforts via online social media sites, and users in some regions might not be so keen on the idea.  According to a TNS Digital Life study (which is worth checking out), as reported by Latin Link, 53 percent of Brazilians would rather not be marketed to through social media, but 48 percent nevertheless view social media sites as a place to buy products, which results in a split audience.  However, this will be true for any market and finding a balance will be the key to reaching consumers that are open to the idea and not bombarding those that oppose it.

*According to March 2, 2012 Alexa traffic data, Pinterest is the 92th most popular site in Brazil and 641th most popular site in China (compared to 94th and 650th on March 1, 2012)

See also:

Brazil Grows to Second Largest Country Represented on Twitter 03/01/2012

Twitter Teams up with Yandex for Searchable Twitter Posts 03/01/2012

Alternative Social Media Sites Fill the Facebook Gap in China 03/01/2012

Brazil Social Network Users Favor Facebook 01/27/2012

Internet Use and Micro-Blogging Increases in China 01/27/2012

Emerging Markets Lead in Social Media Content Creation 01/27/2012

Submarino Launches Digital Club for Integrated Social Media Experience 01/27/2012

Micro-Blogging Site Futubra Launches in Russia 01/27/2012

Alibaba Group Developing Social Network 12/22/2011

Social Networking Drives Internet Use in Brazil 11/16/2011