We all got used to the hockey-stick growth of Facebook worldwide. However, the global figures don’t tell the whole story. What is interesting to me is the impact of global social networks will make on fragmented European markets and incumbent social media service providers. For those who do business on a country level here in Europe the key question is: to what extent the local copy/paste innovators will be affected by the global player entering their backyard? You might want to look at my previous article Will Big Fish In a Small Pond Survive? discussing LinkedIn facing Xing in Germany (check out the comments as well for insight from Russia and Poland). Yesterday TechCrunch published interesting figures from France regarding performance of Facebook vs. local competitors that shed some more light on this. The graph below shows total French uniques for popular social networks. Original source for the figures from comScore is here.
The story behind this picture is that in February 2008 Facebook launched localized French user interface. I would humbly say that this supports my argument that indeed there is a real language barrier to the expansion of global social media players in Europe. Believe it or not, in Europe it is not that everybody speaks English and particularily France is a good example of that. Second thought: there is an untapped potential in the European markets for the global players despite the fact that in every country there is one or more strong incumbents offering similar services.
The good news for the local service providers is that their users apparently are not eager to ditch their existing profiles and connections right away, which should be expected anyway. It is more likely that they choose to maintain yet another profile. But with this growth of Facebook I wouldn’t expect many new users joining local alternatives (are you cash-positive, guys?).
Who is going to win this battle for the local markets? I will rephrase my question from my recent post: If you wanted to integrate your local (say: French) product in some way with social networking service and if you had to pick one – would you now bet on Facebook or on Skyrock?
With these numbers I would dare to go a step further and suggest some hints: If something grows globally, then – language barrier removed – it has a good chance to grow in your local market. MySpace for instance is flat pretty much everywhere, so it is not enough to be “global” and speak the local language. After some time (I guess, there must be some connection between global and local dynamics) it is likely that most of the population actively using social media is there, although it might not be their primary host for online identity and social graph. These might be the arguments for going with the big guys.