By Seval Dogan (Marketing Specialist – D/A/CH Region) and Kai Prager (Senior Media Relations Specialist – Europe)
There are more and more discussions occurring in Germany that social media is losing its popularity. A recent article published by emarketer even argues that Facebook is dying.
This claim was based on a survey conducted by Faktenkontor, which found that the percentage of social media users visiting sites like Twitter, Xing, Facebook and so on had dropped over the past year. The survey was widely distributed in the German and European markets and cited heavily by online media, including sites like t3n.de and onlinemarketing.de. The assertion eventually triggered a viral-like reaction on the internet with thousands of social media shares. It seems the article convinced plenty of users, confirming what some already suspected, that the future of social media and Facebook was gloomy.
It is our impression, however, that this is just a symptom of social media entering a new phase in its development, and certainly not one of a slow death. On the contrary, it seems that social media in Germany is expanding and becoming more diverse and dispersed. Users tend to subscribe to other social media sites as they gain popularity, dividing their time on various networks. Among those are Pinterest and Instagram that are increasingly gaining more users. Visual communication is rising as people are inclined to share pictures on the go. We continue to see new user behaviors emerge as people try out ‘fresh’ approaches to social media.
Not many people remember that in 2005 there was a German language network resembling Facebook called StudiVZ, founded by Essan Dahriani and Dennis Behmann inside a flat in Berlin. Up until 2009, there were up to 15 million German-speaking users on that platform, making it the leading social media site in Germany. But Facebook eventually conquered the German market. The advantage of Facebook over StudiVZ seemed obvious, as it enabled users to socialize internationally due to its multiple language features. Until recently, Facebook’s dominance on the German market remained almost unchallenged. This changedwhen other social media sites appeared and successfully managed to gain footholds in the market. An increasing number of sources now claim that user activity on Facebook has dropped, and as a result, less content is posted. This supports some people’s opinion that the site may be slowly dying. Contrary to this notion, Facebook is still the leading social media site in Germany, ranking number one with around 22 Million users and 635 Million visits last December. This number is not surprising. In a globalizing digital world, it is rather unlikely that people would go back to regional social media platforms. Even if user activity may have declined, Facebook should not be seen as an indicator of the attitude towards social media in general. Instead a new trend is becoming visible as users are dividing their time between different sites.
There is a Russian joke that says: “Twitter can’t be popular in Germany, because 140 characters are basically two words in German.” There are certainly enough short words to compose tweets in German, but when you read that only 10% of Germans use Twitter, it makes you think there might be some truth to that joke. Personal usage is as low as 64%, according to recent studies. It appears at this point the social network is mainly used by journalists, communication specialists and others interested in sharing and discovering information, or looking for alternative news sources for a variety of issues and interests. Many German social media users often find Twitter confusing, with all the little text snippets that seem somewhat disconnected. They, therefore, prefer networks that allow longer texts or focus more on visuals. As many people always carry a mobile device that can take pictures, the power of the image is on the rise and leads to a growing popularity of networks that put visuals in the foreground.
Like nearly everywhere else in the world, the number of users of the small photo-sharing app is constantly growing in Germany as well. Some recent stats claim that Instagram has more users now than Twitter. For many, the pictures shared on Instagram are more accessible than textual based networks, because you can easily snap a photo with your smartphone and upload it to the platform, and one photo is not tied to another as noted above with tweets.
Some assume that less activity on a social media site does lead to its collapse. Google+ is a good example that this is not necessarily the case. The number of users has grown but not the time spent on the platform (out of 15 million users, around 3.1 million were active on Google+ in2014). With more than 40 million visits in December 2014, Google+ remains one of the most visited social media sites after Facebook. A growing number of companies integrate Google+ into their social media marketing plan, and it seems to be an ongoing trend in Germany. The German car manufacturer BMW, for instance, currently has more than 2.5 million followers on its international profile page and over 120,000 followers on its German profile. For German companies that want to position themselves internationally, Google+ can be a beneficial tool. Considering that Google+ is an integral part of Google itself, users can improve their search rankings and overall visibility on Google through regularly updated content on Google+.
Similar to Instagram, Pinterest is avirtual pin board that puts the image in the foreground. Unlike Instagram, which focuses on user-generated content, most Pinterest users pin pictures they find on the net, which Pinterest links back to the original source, making it a key driver of inbound traffic for media outlets and company websites alike. The usage in Germany has almost doubled in the last year. In contrast to most other networks, Pinterest users don’t really follow other users, but their pin boards, which new users sometimes find hard to understand. This allows the user to follow items and themes of interest to them, not just branded content which may include elements not relevant to the pin user.
Xing – the German equivalent of LinkedIn – is the leading platform for business professionals here in Germany. Xing continues to be more popular in Germany than its principal competitor LinkedIn. According to the network’s Q3 2014 report, there are currently around eight million German-speaking users, and the number seems to be growing. In comparison, based on a recent observation by the FAZ, LinkedIn has significantly fewer users but is growing more quickly than Xing in the German-speaking region. These two are the most popular business-focused social media networks, and whilst the battle is ongoing between them, more and more businesses feel the need to sign up for one or the other. Businesses that want to build their brand reputation, stay competitive and operate in the international market create profiles on both Xing and LinkedIn.
So, is social media in Germany dying? Absolutely not. Many social networks like Odnoklassniki and VKontakte, Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn are continuing to expand and increase user growth within this key market. It is true that some of the big international networks are seeing fewer logins and less activity but alternatives continue to attract more and more Germans (as recent statistics show) to join in. Social media has not peaked in Germany, but there might be a shift to new or alternative networks. It is not a dying species, but one that is growing ever more diverse.
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