Let me ask you a question: why do you use social media?
If it’s to keep up with what your friends are doing, get news and current affairs updates or simply kill time, then you’re supremely normal. These are the top three factors motivating people to engage with social media.
But what about the rest of the world? As a social media entrepreneur, I’m fascinated by the role played by different social platforms across the globe.
And it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the way people use social isn’t really shaped by the technology itself, but by culture and circumstances. Let’s take a closer look.
Who’s the most social?
Data from earlier this year reveal that the most socially connected country in the world is the Philippines, where people spend a whopping four hours and seventeen minutes on social media every day. Brazil comes in at a not-too-distant second, clocking a daily three hours and forty-three minutes of use.
Despite my earlier denial, I’m convinced that the reason Brazil and the Philippines embrace social so enthusiastically is partly technological. Both countries have a sizeable proportion of mobile-only internet users, and, as we all know, mobile makes it easy (often too easy!) to keep engaging throughout the day.
What drives social media uptake…
In both countries, Facebook and YouTube top the chart of the most popular platforms, and messaging or chat apps are prominent in the top twelve.
At first, the picture in both countries looks broadly similar. Not so surprising, since both are large and have dispersed populations. But my hunch is that what drives social media uptake in the Philippines is very different from what drives it in Brazil.
…in the Philippines?
As I learned some time ago, an astonishingly high number of overseas workers come from the Philippines: approximately one tenth of the 2015 population. It’s such a huge diaspora that their government even has an official department dedicated to its overseas citizens.
Filipinos work in international shipping, domestic service, and skilled and professional roles all over the world. Many have very little leisure time.
I’ve often been told that social media and mobile internet are not luxuries but essentials to this population; social helps them relax, and maintain close bonds with friends and family at home.
…and in Brazil?
The story behind the statistics is a little different in Brazil, and is centred on WhatsApp. We in Britain may know it as a simple cross-carrier messaging platform, but as I recently found out from a team of marketers from Curitiba, for Brazilians it’s a way of running their lives.
Fuelled by the expensive cost of text messaging, WhatsApp was embraced by the Brazilian population from its launch in 2009. Pretty soon, though, businesses and services got creative. Now, nearly every provider–from doctors through estate agents and government agencies–views WhatsApp as the primary line of communication with their clientele.
But what stops people engaging?
Take another look at the graphic showing time spent on social media in different countries, and you’ll see that last place is occupied by Japan. Despite ranking averagely for mobile internet use and enduring lengthy commutes, Japanese internet users spend a scant forty minutes each day engaging with social media.
When the Japanese population does use social, the list of preferred platforms differs from those favoured by Filipinos and Brazilians.
Sure, YouTube is still king (looks like no culture can resist the lure of cat videos), and Twitter comes second. But the most revealing platform here is Line.
Set up as a method of emergency communication after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, Line has evolved into a celebrity-endorsed, gamified social environment.
Why does Japan prefer to interact via Line rather than Facebook Messenger, even though Facebook is fairly popular?
My best guess would be because Line is a network where people can communicate privately. In Japan, it seems, social media interaction is something which happens more between real-world friends than virtual ones.
Bringing it back home
Knowing more about the way different countries use social media helps me find creative uses for social here in the UK. My research and travels inspired me to develop an app called Loose Ends, which helps busy people get together with their friends.
It’s totally okay to use social media to kill time or browse the news, but as I hope I’ve shown here, it can do so much more. And I think social gets really exciting when it helps us make the most of our offline lives.
Now we’ve seen the world through fresh eyes, let me ask a slightly different question: how will you use social media in the future?
Daniel Lewis is founder of Loose Ends App.