Why communicative participation of employees is so important for businesses

Series: Participation in the intranet, part 2

There are at least three good reasons why many companies can benefit from increased employee participation in the intranet: used properly, it leads to an increase of productivity, agility and controllability.

Productivity

After consulting firm McKinsey  had  analyzed several thousand enterprises worldwide for five years, they published a study in 2012 drawing the conclusion that knowledge workers could increase their productivity by 20 – 25 percent, if they made proper use of social software. They found that two thirds of the potential added value of social technologies resulted from improved internal communication and collaboration, leading to employee skills better finding their way to the departments where they are needed most (‘matching talent to tasks’).

It is important to note that successful participation in the intranet doesn’t only depend on technology but on quality and quantity of social interactions. While IT is necessary to facilitate the required speed and coverage of interactions, the exchange will only take place if supported by a culture of cooperation and  the willingness to participate. According to McKinsey, this willingness to participate is decisively encouraged when executives act as role models and the use of software becomes a regular part of the work process.

Agility

Participation has, however, not only the potential to increase productivity, but it can make companies much more flexible. Change management expert John P. Kotter thinks it is critical because in times of constant change hierarchically dominated management methods aren’t fast and agile enough. Hierarchical processes work well for the recurring demands of daily control of a company, but when it comes to being continually on the lookout for new solutions, they are too clumsy.

Hierarchy and network_11072015

Exhibit 1: hierarchy versus network

As a result, Kotter proposed to introduce, parallel to the traditional hierarchy, a second ‘operating system’ for companies that works like a network. While hierarchies proceed according to established rules and processes that have been optimized for the most efficient handling of known tasks, network resources can be re-assembled again and again responding to changing requirements. In a hierarchical organization, the management focuses on administration and control of the system. The management of a network, however, motivates to find new ways and  is more fault-tolerant.  In a hierarchy, communication is mainly top-down, in directives which are sent via the cascades of the organizational chart. The communication in networks on the other hand runs in dialogues that, according to requirements, may run criss-cross  through the organizaton. What matters here, is how valuable the contribution is for the new requirement, not where it comes from.

Hierarchy and network as dual operating system

Kotter’s point is not to replace hierarchies by networks, he rather wants to create a ‘dual operating system’ in which both organization models complement each other. Reliable day-to-day business and ongoing innovation should be able to coexist. The participation of employees plays a crucial role for the success of the network. To allow for rapid change, Kotter recommends  to involve as many employees as possible on a voluntary basis. Volunteers set to work with a ‘I want’ instead of ‘I must’ attitude and contribute to cost-containment to boot. In return, they want to be involved in change, not only be affected by it. To this end, it is necessary to exert a leadership style that  works with motivation and appreciation instead of delegation and budget control. According to Kotter, leaders on all levels must be involved to establish the network as legitimate part of the organization.

I consider Kotter’s approach very productive because it reflects the reality of business. Every business needs hierarchies to remain efficient and capable of making decisions, especially when it has reached a certain size. And every business needs network structures in order to adapt to the ever-changing environment. Kotter presents a model in order to mediate this conflict of objectives and illustrates the crucial role of participation for companies to cope with the constant pressure to change.

However, what Kotter describes as ‘dual operating system’ also seems to be dualistic, because network and hierarchy are working  in parallel without being truly integrated with each other. The connection between the two is primarily  based on the personal union of employees  who play a role in both systems and as a result have to settle the conflict of objectives in themselves. I believe that decision making hierarchy and networking culture can be reconciled in another way and by doing so improve the controllability of the organization.

Controllability

Increased employee participation allows for management to gain new insights into the state of things and based on that for making more informed decisions. More informed decision making improves the controllability of the organization as a whole, but it also brings a new quality to communication controlling in particular, because with participative internal media it can be measured how messages resonate in the organization.

Closed loop of internal communication

Exhibit 2: Closed loop of internal communication

Exhibit 2: Closed loop of internal communication

Traditional internal communication mainly serves as the mouthpiece of the executive board. It shapes messages dealing with the ‘targets’, the goals and plans that management want to reach with the organization. And it coordinates the distribution of these messages along the hierarchy, from top to bottom, through the cascade and traditional internal media such as the staff magazine. While this management of messages is well tested and established, internal communication so far had little opportunity to find out how they resonate in the organization.

 

With the participation opportunities enabled by social software all this has changed. Now it can be determined how much of the messages has actually come through and where there is still need for reinforcement. Horizontal networking makes opinion-shaping processes visible which were in the dark before . With employees openly cooperating on the same project or exchanging views on the same field of interest (‘peer-to-peer’), new internal publics emerge which serve as means for knowledge exchange but also show where the organization stands with its projects. Depending on the internal social media landscape, the actual state of things can directly emerge from observing the exchange or can be purposefully collected as social intelligence from the bottom up. Thus a targets-actuals comparison is facilitated that shows how far apart plan and reality are and what is needed to close the gap between the two. Through the communicative participation of employees a loop is generated that makes the internal communication significantly more controllable than it was with a silent audience.

However, participation in the intranet doesn’t work like grasssroots democracy. There are different levels of participation and formats with active influencers and more passive followers. Internal communication has to adjust to that with appropriate models of participation, and we’ll look into those over the next couple of posts in this series.

 

Why we can’t have more than 150 friends and still need more than that

Everyone’s talking about “social”: “social networks”, “social media”, “social web”, “social games”, “social apps”, social everything, increasingly culminating in the idea of “social business”. But what does it mean to be social in this context? Are you more social when you have 1,000 followers on Twitter or Facebook rather than just 100? It certainly seems that way when looking at many social media success stories.  However, can you actually be social with 1,000 or more people? Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford,  believes that the cognitive limit to the number of individuals humans can maintain social relationships with is at 150. Much to the professor’s surprise, “Dunbar’s number” has made a considerable career on the Internet, certainly helped by the popularization of his findings through Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Tipping Point” and supporters such as marketing guru Seth Godin. Still, Dunbar’s number is not yet common knowledge, and among those who know it, it’s meaning is controversial. So, I figured it’s worth looking into the concept and its possible applications for business communications.

Based on studies with primates showing that there is a correlation between the size of their social groups and the size of their brain’s neocortex, Dunbar speculated in a 1992 paper that this correlation could be extrapolated to humans and predicted a group size of approx. 150. He then compared this number with data on social group sizes in human history such as the sizes of villages, tribes or units in ancient armies and found his hypothesis confirmed (within a band of variation). In a 2002 study, he also examined the “social network size in contemporary Western society based on the exchange of Christmas cards”, and again,  the “maximum network size averaged 153.5 individuals, with a mean network size of 124.9”.

If 150 is indeed the maximum of stable inter-personal relationships humans can maintain, Dunbar’s number also explains why larger groups don’t work without additional structures such as hierarchies or laws to organize the relationships. This is what Malcolm Gladwell picked up on pointing out that organizations suffer from a sharp productivity loss when growing larger than 150 employees. As a result, companies such as Gore, the manufacturer of Gore-Tex fabrics, organized their teams in smaller groups, so that they could keep strong working relationships.

Social GroomingFinally, managing more than 150 stable relationships would not only go beyond the brain’s capacity but also take too much time. In that regard, humans face the same challenge as primates: social grooming is laborious! It has been suggested, though, that humans might be able to increase the number of relationships with the help of social media, since it makes it easier to memorize a relation’s origin and then stay in touch, even over large distances. Dunbar counters, though, that dependable relationships need in-person meetings and social media still doesn’t remove the biological constraints (see for instance this video interview Dunbar had with the Guardian). And indeed, a recent study by Gonçalves, Perra and Vespignani (August 2011) validated Dunbar’s argument. They modeled activity of 1.7 m users on Twitter over six months and found “the data in agreement with Dunbar’s result; users can entertain a maximum of 100-200 stable relationships.”

Does this mean any number of social network connections larger than 150 doesn’t make sense? Well, it depends on what you are trying to achieve.  For instance, a mobile social network company called Path limited the number of friends users can have on their network to 150 (with reference to Dunbar), since their service is built for circles of close friends. That’s understandable. However, as early as 1973, sociologist Mark Granovetter pointed out that not only those people you are closely connected with are important for your network. In fact, they might even bring less value to it, because they probably know the same people and things that you do whereas your wider network of weak ties might open up access to new information and new networks. On a larger scale, the component of weak ties supports the concept of crowdsourcing as famously crafted by James Surowiecki back in 2004: If you really want to extract the wisdom of crowds, diversity is one of the critical success factors, and you will only get it out of a wide network with weak ties.

So, from my perspective, Dunbar’s number is certainly a factor business communicators have to take into consideration. If you want to have a group of people interact and collaborate productively to get things done, the size of this group shouldn’t go beyond Dunbar’s number. Making this group larger might lead to a loss in productivity, because an increasing amount of “noise” in the system can be distracting and will increase the need for coordination and filtering. Also, large numbers of followers or “fans” shouldn’t be mistaken as a proof of social interaction that is by default allowing for stronger relationships than traditional reach. Dunbar has shown that stable interpersonal relationships can’t be managed in large numbers, unless you do it one Dunbar group at a time. IBM employees, for example, operate thousands of internal and external social media platforms creating tens of thousands strong ties inside the organization and outside-in.

Conversely, if the goal is to open up a specific business unit or the whole organization to innovation, it is necessary to go far beyond the Dunbar number and include weak ties. In fact, too many strong relationships within the crowd you are working with will threaten the diversity needed to go beyond existing approaches. Online communities in particular are threatened by the “echo chamber effect“, because once a claim is made by one participant it’s extremely easy to have it repeated by like-minded people, resulting into the reinforcement of their beliefs and possibly hindering critical discourse. Memes or myths  are being created as a result and can block the way for innovation. In addition, the echo chamber effect can be aggravated by algorithms homogenizing search results within social networks, a phenomenon Eli Pariser called the filter bubble. In fact, I sometimes do have the impression that we as business communicators do suffer from the echo chamber in our social networks, because a Dunbar group is reinforcing myths such as  the loss of control on the social web at conferences and on the web. Thanks to Dunbar and others, we can better understand these mechanisms. It is a whole different discussion how to create a wide network with weak ties allowing for diversity and then aggregate the ideas for innovation. Perhaps, a discussion for another post. This one has already been long enough!

Georg Kolb

 

Twitter is…

twitter_stockxpertcom_id34401621_jpg_2b99f135618055055f3ee33e169b89b7There has been much talk about what Twitter is, and many people also tried to define dos and don’ts for its use, be it for personal or business purposes.  I have certainly learned a lot from these efforts, in particular from those with good ideas such as Chris Brogan or those with a strong analytic sense such as Jeremiah Owyang.

It is symptomatic, though, that people talking about Twitter often have opposing views, the simple reason being that it is still emerging and can be many things to many people. So, I welcomed David Pogue’s take (which was inspired by Twitter’s co-founder Evan Williams) that Twitter is what you make it. David wrote his article from the perspective of an individual user, but I think his statement is also true for corporate applications. More about that in a minute.

What counts is that Twitter is growing fast. According to compete.com, it recently reached 14 m users in the US, that is up 76.8 % just within the last month! The Wall Street Journal stated that Twitter goes mainstream. This kind of message usually makes geeks hop off and watch out for the next train to be boarded. And, lo and behold, Steve Rubel just announced that Twitter is peaking. True or not, given that social media has become a global phenomenon, it is always prudent not to rely on the US only. In the German speaking part of the web for example, Twitter is far from going mainstream and far from peaking either. A recent estimate says that there are approx. 27,000 active users speaking German. While this might not be a big number, these people are still worth watching, because they are often highly opinionated and highly networked. Chances are that someone with hundreds of followers on Twitter also has hundreds of friends on other networks and syndicates her Twitter updates to them. Equally important, Twitter users are increasingly the first to break news. Even with “only” 27.000 active users, it’s still pretty likely that some of them will be closer to the next newsworthy event than any journalist can be. Spectacular events such as the emergency landing on the Hudson illustrated that in an impressive way.

twitter-home-pageSo, what does this mean to Corporate Communications? Let’s start by quickly recalling what Twitter actaully does: it is a web site where you can publish short messages of up to 140 characters (“tweets”). Other users can subscribe to these messages and reply to them, publicly or in private. As a result, users are observing a stream of short news from the people they follow, either on their PC or on their mobile phone.

While this is a seemingly simple service, its use for corporate purposes is not that obvious. Here are a couple of observations on what it can be or has been for others, but ultimately it will depend on you what you make it and how it adds value to your business. As far as I can see, three areas of applications have emerged:

1. Radar: What is true for all social media is in particular true for Twitter: you should watch, if and how people are talking about you, simply because it can have an impact on the reputation of your brand. Whenever there is something happening with your business, be it good or bad, Twitter might be the first source where it’s echoed, because it works so easy and fast. It is like  a newsticker sourced by the crowd. For example, when pain killer brand Motrin came out with a controversial ad targeted at moms, outraged mothers instantly vented their disapproval on Twitter. If there isn’t any mention of your brand just yet, that might change quickly, so I would recommend to make sure that it is covered by your regular social media monitoring. However, it is a different question, if and how you might want to engage with Twitter users. That depends on the results of your monitoring, but also on the profile of Twitter users relevant to your business. If you do decide to engage with them, you might want to consider the following options – or find a new way.

2. Monologue: One of the early myths of the social media community was that it is always about dialogue and conversation. Interestingly, some of the more successful business applications of Twitter work as a monologue. In fact, much of what’s happening on Twitter works as a syndicated stream of monologues. It sometimes can even be disturbing when two people start a conversation that is only relevant to them, but syndicated to all their followers. Anyway, some businesses use Twitter as a newsticker for their stakeholders. It doesn’t come as a surprise that this approach is especially relevant to news businesses such as CNN. But this also works for any business that has news to share which fit this particular format. E.g. Dell has found that for them Twitter works pretty well with sale alerts. In December last year, InternetNews reported that over a period of 18 months the computer company had made $ 1 m in revenue using Twitter to announce their special deals. The social piece in this kind of application is that Twitter users forward (“retweet”) the news to their followers. Twitter is not only about monologues, though.

3. Dialogue: Some companies have found that Twitter can work for customer service. Cable company Comcast is one example, the airline JetBlue another. For them Twitter is a source to identify complaints or questions that might cause damage to their brand, but also the platform to address them. When they respond to an issue all other customers already following them on Twitter will see the response and benefit from it or add another request. The result is a lively connection to customers that didn’t exist before. The same channel can also be used to ask customers what they think of specific offers or ideas. This kind of live search is certainly one of the most fascinating aspects of Twitter. If the inquirer has a large enough following,  the users usually respond to requests like this with incredible speed and creativity. It’s like an instant poll with real-time responses. I would have to agree with Michael Arrington that Twitter’s ability to help brands finding customer opinions and to help customers finding news on brands in real-time are enough reason for Google’s rumored interest in an acquisition.

With all that, is Twitter here to stay? I don’t know about the company, since they are still working out their business model and negotiating deals with Google or others. It currently is also magnified by a remarkable media hype that will eventually come to an end. But I do believe that social networks based on short messages do have a future: for the benefits I have outlined above and for those that are to be discovered yet, but also for the short message culture we already established across the globe. Igor Schwarzmann pointed me to this striking fact: in June 2008, there were 2.7 bn mobile phone users worldwide, 1.8 bn of them actively using SMS which means that globally there are twice as many active SMS users as there are active users of e-mail. Give them access to the Internet and they are ready for Twitter! Another way it could go is that important social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn build on the twitterlike “status updates” they already have by adding features for mobile use.  There are already some users “cheating on Twitter with Facebook” for the more integrated experience full-fledged social networks can provide.

Georg Kolb

 

The compass (navigation series, post #3)

New publics are populating new continents of influence on the Internet. On the left is a nice map of this world created by xkcd’s Randall Munroe in spring 2007. It is already outdated, though. These continents are changing so rapidly that they are pushing communicators into a new Age of Discovery. E.g. Facebook would have to be much larger, new social networks based on short messages such as Twitter or social aggregators such as FriendFeed would have to be put on the map. Navigating through this emerging world, I thought it would help to have a compass. I tried to create something simple and came up with four guiding principles for discoverers in this world of change: Map it out! Explore! Respect natives! Find India!

Map it out!

While most companies know that people are talking about them on the Internet, many don’t take the effort to listen in systematically. What is the volume, what are the issues and who are the influencers? These are the questions calling for an answer, in particular in a space that is growing and changing so fast. Yesterday, our stakeholders might have met on messaging boards, today they might meet on blogs, Facebook, Twitter or FriendFeed, and tomorrow it might be some place else. As a result, we need to track what’s going on and find the places that are most relevant to us at specific points in time. It’s the counterpart to the resonance test we are used to in the world of traditional media. However, the new publics are moving faster, and they are creating new lands of influence all the time. We need to redraw the map as we go, like in the first Age of Discovery. My previous post on this blog was dedicated to the question how social media activities can be visualised. I will have to come back to this topic talking about the growing number of social media tracking services that can help you to navigate through communities online.

Respect natives!

Other than in the first Age of Discovery, there is no way natives will surrender to colonists. Trying to exploit them for your own purpose can backfire tremendously. Just to mention one example: when Wal-Mart faked grassroots movement while they just rolled out their own astroturf, they were seriously punished with an uproar in the blogosphere, followed by negative stories in major media. Members of new publics value transparency and they build trust via relationships they develop online while discovering information, building knowledge and sharing insights and emotions with their peers. They don’t like undermining their communities of trust.

Gartner has suggested that we need a new category beyond demographics to understand the behaviour of online personas and find the right way to interact with them. They call them “Generation V”, the virtual generation. I tend to agree. By virtue of the Internet, the bonds between online personas can reach across social and geographical demographics. For example, a 2006 PEW report on generations online shows: while teens and generation Y are still leading the early adoption of social technologies, generation X and boomers are increasingly closing the gap. There is no clear cut between these age groups, just tendencies. As the populations of many important countries are aging, we will see more surprising changes in this field. So, we shouldn’t assume that there are only young male geeks populating new publics. The best way to find out about our online communities is to listen and relate to them via their relationships online, not via pre-defined marketing clusters.

Respecting natives also means respecting their privacy. In fact, I believe that privacy issues will quickly become one of the most important questions for corporate communications and marketing. While people are prepared to show more of themselves online than ever before, this doesn’t mean that they concede any kind of surveillance. They might have a wider definition of privacy, but one thing certainly hasn’t changed: they want their personal information only being used in a manner they agree with. An increasing number of power users is currently trying to answer the question how to make that sure. They are either trying to solve the problem with technical precautions on how to safeguard your privacy online, or they are trying the legal route developing frameworks like a privacy manifesto or even a bill of rights for the open social web.

Explore!

What would an Age of Discovery be without exploration? However, exploration and experimentation are not exactly the focus of traditional corporate communications. Studying corporate communications plans, you are more likely to read terms like “safeguarding” or “protecting” reputation against risks – which are indeed important tasks for communicators. We just need to understand that it is riskier to ignore or avoid new publics rather than listening to and interacting with them. Some companies such as Dell learned that the hard way. The challenge is that new publics are moving so fast, that it’s not prudent to place all your bets on one technology platform that is currently in fashion, simply because it might be a different one next year. And after all, it’s not the platform that is important, but the community we are trying to follow. In dealing with new publics we will benefit from a “beta” approach to communications. After mapping out what our communities are and what they are talking about, it makes sense to set up a variety of different communications channels to serve different purposes, to test them, tweak them and invest in the ones that work best. When new social media technologies emerge, don’t wait and let the opportunity pass by. If they are relevant to your community, give them a try. Start early and small, and tune them as you go. If it doesn’t work, pull the plug, if it works, provide more support. This kind of exploration through participation will keep your risks low, both in terms of investment and reputation.

One area of social media technologies that I believe deserves special attention is video. According to Universal McCann’s Social Media Tracker, video is the quickest growing social media platform. We have always known that pictures are more compelling than words, but they have never been easier to produce than today. You basically don’t need more than a mobile phone. People don’t care that much, if your production is not that polished, they care about the quality of content. E.g., a quick video statement of an executive spoken into the mobile phone while on the way to the office in his limo might have a much larger impact than a full blown scripted business tv production, simply because it’s more authentic, and low cost to boot! There are also many new video technologies such as Qik, Seesmic or Utterz offering new angles for video communications worth considering.

Find India!

Exploration is not an end itself, though, at least not in corporate communications. While I would encourage everyone to discover the world of new publics, that shouldn’t happen in a random fashion. E.g., creating a blog with no better reason than other companies having one already is not good enough. Think of Columbus as a role model here. It’s all about finding the sea passage to India, in other words: keep your business goals in mind! Otherwise you might get sidetracked too much. The tool you are evaluating should at least hold the promise that it will be a likely way to engage your stakeholders based on the analysis following your mapping exercises.

So, this is my little compass for the emerging world of new publics. What do you think? Will it work? What else would you put on it?

Georg Kolb

 

Social media as a global phenomenon – recent discoveries

Two years ago, media agency Universal McCann started the most extensive global survey on social media I am aware of. Since then they went through three waves, each time significantly broadening their data base:

Wave 1 – September 2006 – 7,500 Internet users – 15 countries
Wave 2 – June 2007 – 10,000 Internet users – 21 countries
Wave 3 – March 2008 – 17,000 Internet users – 29 countries
Wave 4 – scheduled for late 2008

The 80 page report on wave 3 is downloadable for free.

Here are the highlights of the study as summarised by the authors:

  • Social media is a global phenomenon happening in all markets regardless of wider economic, social and cultural development. If you are online you are using social media
  • Asian markets are leading in terms of participation, creating more content than any other region.
  • All social media platforms have grown significantly over the three Waves
    • Video clips are the quickest growing platform, up from 31 % penetration in Wave 1 to 83 % in Wave 3
  • 57 % have joined a Social Network, making it the number one platform for creating and sharing content
    • 55 % of users have uploaded photos
    • 22 % of users have uploaded videos
  • The widget economy is real
    • 23 % of social network users have installed an application
    • 18 % of bloggers have installed applications in their blog templates
  • Blogs are a mainstream media world-wide and as a collective rival any traditional media
    • 73 % have read a blog
  • The blogosphere is becoming increasingly participatory, now 184 m bloggers world-wide
    • The number one thing to blog about is personal life and family
  • China has the largest blogging community in the world with 42 m bloggers, more than the US and Western Europe combined
  • Social media impacts your brand’s reputation
    • 34 % post opinions about products and brands on their blog
    • 36 % think more positively about companies that have blogs

These findings are truly impressive. However, it’s important to put them into the right context. With 17,000 people surveyed the sample is huge, but it only represents “active Internet users” as defined by Universal McCann: people aged 16-54 who are using the Internet every day or every other day. As a result, when looking at the findings more specifically, two parameters should be considered: 1.) the Internet penetration of the respective markets, 2.) the share of the sample in the overall population aged 16-54. Thankfully both sets of numbers are provided in the report.

Also, while the usage of social media tools went up across the board, it’s interesting to see how the pace of adoption varied between the tools. Watching video clips has passed reading blogs as the most often used tool, even if the speed of it’s growth went down a bit. The latter doesn’t really come as a surprise, since the reach of video clips is now at the high level of 83 %. By contrast, downloading podcasts, creating social network profiles and subscribing to RSS feeds have all significantly accelerated their pace since the last wave, albeit on a much lower level than watching video clips (see graph “Reach over time”).

There are also interesting shifts in the development of some markets. I felt encouraged when looking at the country-by-country results, because the findings confirmed the analysis I presented in the first post on this blog: if we want to understand the development of the new publics in the world of social media, we not only need to consider the underlying technologies, but their interdependency with the economic framework and the socio-political environment. Here are just some anecdotal observations.

For instance, South Korea commands the largest broadband network on the globe, their Internet penetration (70.2 %) is among the highest. There is no doubt that this formidable technology infrastructure helped to make South Koreans the world leading blog readers (92.1 %), blog writers (71.7 %) and keen social networkers (70.3 %). However, technolgy alone doesn’t explain the level of participation in Asian markets. E.g. China’s internet infrastructure is not as developed, with 12.3 % the penetration is among the lowest on the planet, and users are being observed and censored. And yet the Chinese are on rank 3 as blog readers (88.1 %) and writers (70.3 %) and significantly above the global average (58.8 %) as social networkers (64 %). By comparison, the Dutch enjoy the highest internet penetration of all markets surveyed by Universal McCann, but they are below average (70.2 %) as blog readers (67.7 %) and way off as blog writers (27.1 %), then again their participation in social networks (61.4 %) is above the global average (58.8 %). So, there certainly is a correlation between the socio-political environment and the adoption of specific social media patterns. You can’t explain this with technology only.

Another layer of complexity is added by changes of country patterns over time. Just check out my fellow countrymen, the Germans! They used to be notorious blogging laggards, but finally they seem to take the Autobahn. Within less than a year, the share of active Internet users in Germany reading blogs more than tripled (see red circles), the share of German blog writers more than quadrupled (purple circles). No such development can be found in France which used to be the by far leading blogging nation in Europe. As a matter of fact, in terms of blog readership France is now matched by both Italy and Spain, and in terms of blog writers, Spain has taken a 10 % lead over France. Given all these differences and the rapid pace of the development, we need to map things out again and again as we go. It is a new Age of Discovery indeed.

There are many more insights to be found in Universal McCann’s global social media tracker, but I will close with one final observation. People are looking for places where they can unite all the things they are doing on the Internet and share it with their friends. For many users this place is currently their social network. However, social networks will only be able to keep this privileged position, if they become open enough for users to share whatever they created and whereever they created it. Otherwise people will find other places for their social ecosystem. Early adopters are already exploring social aggregators like FriendFeed that allow to present all their own and their friends’ content in one view. More discoveries to be expected!

Georg Kolb