The changing face of European social media and its effects on online gaming.

AS MOST OF you are probably aware, social networks are currently the fastest growing form of online media. Speak to any marketer and they will tell you it is the most effective form of inbound marketing out there. However, the opportunities for business are still largely misunderstood.

Many businesses have flooded-in to the social sphere wildly, without proper strategies in place and become lost and disillusioned when they don’t get the sort of ROI that they were expecting. Social media is not the silver bullet that many marketers would have you believe but used strategically to drive key business objectives, it can be an incredibly powerful tool.

Businesses looking to create a social media policy to engage with their customer base in Europe face a veritable smorgasbord of different platforms to choose from and it’s difficult to know which ones will still be around in a year’s time.

In Europe, the market leader is the US social networking juggernaut Facebook, having usurped most of the locally-based networks over the past two to three years. With over 200 million users it is now the number one choice of social network for 15 out of 18 European markets, with only Poland, Russia and Latvia holding out against the US site’s irresistible force.

Mike Shaw, comScore’s director of marketing solutions, predicts that Facebook will jump ahead of Poland’s ‘Nasza-Klasa’ in user numbers within a month or two. While these markets may have held off Facebook’s dominance due to having fewer international contacts, Shaw also predicts that “in a year’s time, there won’t be a single European country, including Russia, where Facebook is not leading.”

French site ‘Skyrock’ has lost about a third of its audience to the US giant. Current figures show that around 25 to 30 percent of its users found Facebook was a better experience for what they wanted. Around 30 percent use both, and 30 percent are not interested in Facebook, staying loyal to the French network.

Skyrock is not alone in its battle against Facebook. Sites such as StudiVZ in Germany, Tuenti in Spain and Hyves in the Netherlands, were undisputed leaders in their domestic markets. Published in their home languages, the sites were limited in international expansion, but had deep roots in their home countries.

Despite fleeting popularity in the UK and US, My Space could not compete against these locally-based networks, only gaining popularity in a handful of nations, most notably Italy and the former Yugoslavia. Facebook, which in 2007 began its efforts to translate the site into local languages, made a much more concerted assault on local social networks and has enjoyed substantial successes.

In 2009, Skyrock and Facebook were equal in terms of popularity in France, but the US behemoth now far outstrips all rivals. It has 20.3 million users in France, about twice the number of Skyrock, according to comScore, the market research company.
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