We recently added a poll to the expatforum.com website to investigate which social networking sites expats used in various countries around the world. While some of the results will be fairly predictable for many people there are a couple of interesting observations which perhaps indicate the future direction of the sector.
The sector itself has become something of an integral tool for the expat community offering the chance to communicate with friends and family who may well be thousands of miles away. However, it also offers the opportunity to communicate with fellow expats who have experience which can be invaluable in a new life.
The results are as follows: –
Facebook (59.75% of the vote)
It will come as no surprise to learn that Facebook is by far and away the most popular social networking website on the Internet today. It is head and shoulders above any other service available at this point in time and the company itself was recently floated on the American stock market with a pricetag in excess of $100 billion. However, despite the fact that Facebook is a name that many of us recognise it is a company which was only launched back in February 2004. So what does Facebook have to offer?
The very fact that Facebook has in excess of 900 million global accounts means it is by far and away the most popular social networking website today. It is in effect your very own online diary allowing you to ask questions, post comments, answer questions and indeed post photographs and links which your friends and family may find useful. Perhaps the biggest success of Facebook has been the company’s ability to move with the times, offer customers what they need and effectively stay one step ahead of the competition. In many ways it is the modern day Google of the social networking arena and we only need to look at the power and influence Google has today to see the potential.
In years gone by it has been Google which has led the way in a variety of different online arenas but with regards to the social networking arena it is most certainly Facebook which leads and the rest follow. The gap between Facebook and its nearest competitor is absolutely enormous and the company has a war chest of billions of dollars to invest in the future.
Google plus (11.88%)
Many people will be surprised to learn that Google plus is now the second most popular social networking website used by expats around the world. In effect it brings together the vast array of Google services such as Google profiles, circles, hangouts and sparks to name but a few. The surprising thing about Google plus is the fact that it was only released back in June 2011 as something of a “field test” and was immediately suspended due to excessive demand. The service was then reintroduced in September 2011 and has gone on from strength to strength.
In many ways it is based around the Facebook principle of social networking allowing users to interact with each other, swap messages, answer questions, swap photographs, etc. At this point in time the company is signing up in excess of 600,000 new users a day for Google plus and is expected to have in the region of 400 million active accounts by the end of 2012. This is a phenomenal rate of growth and while it will be difficult to maintain in the medium term we only need to look at the influence and power the company has in the search engine industry to see the potential. If Google can continue to successfully translate search engine customers to its Google plus operation then very quickly it will begin to challenge Facebook for the number of basic accounts. However, this is where the differences begin to show.
Official data suggest that Google plus customers spend on average 3.3 min per month using the service while Facebook customers spend on average 7.5 hours per month online. This is a massive difference in usage and will obviously translate to a massive difference in income. However, on the upside there is no doubt that there is further scope for improvement of the Google plus offering and if it can come anywhere near the average 7.5 hours which Facebook customers spend online per month online then it will certainly be up there with the best.
The popularity of LinkedIn may well surprise many people because this is a social networking website which was launched back in May 2003 for the professional arena. In simple terms it was launched as a business to business social network to allow members to discuss job opportunities, advertise their wares and ask specific questions of the expert members. Despite the fact that the business has only been around for a relatively short period of time it already has in excess of 150 million registered users in more than 200 different countries and is now an integral part of the professional employment market.
While there may well be limited use for some general surfers there is a particular interest for the expat market with the ability to talk to members in a foreign land about job opportunities, specific job markets and specific questions. If you’re moving overseas to begin a new life then it is imperative that you know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for, the opportunities and perhaps you may need to adjust your approach. Whether the news is good news or the news is bad news you would rather know this before landing and receiving something of a shock!
One drawback in recent weeks regarding LinkedIn was the fact that the company was hacked by a Russian crime gang who managed to steal 6.4 million passwords relating to LinkedIn members. The company has advised all members to change their passwords as soon as possible and while this is obviously a disappointment in the short term, LinkedIn is not the only social networking website to be hacked. Indeed it may well prompt many people to think about the type and depth of information which they are willing to share on their social networking accounts.
Again, some people may be surprised to learn that forums are still very popular as a means of social interaction and social networking despite the fact that many experts have time and time again announced the “death” of forums. Forums do offer a very different type of social interaction and social networking which is nowhere near the pace or the speed of the likes of Facebook. However, a simple search of Google will show you that there are millions upon millions of forums on the Internet covering any subject and any niche market you can think of. Whatever your question, thee will be somebody there to answer it!
This is perhaps the main attraction of the expat community, the ability to ask questions of people who have been there, done it and have the T-shirt. No matter where about in the world you are looking to move to, whether this is for employment or personal reasons, you will have questions about the local culture, local way of life, job market, etc. You can research every single article on the Internet and you may well get different answers but asking a specific question on an expat forum is literally worth its weight in gold. You will also then be able to ask specific details and further information which should put your mind at rest or at least point you in the right direction.
It is also worth noting that all comments and questions on various forums are indexed on search engine such as Google so in many instances the question which you are about to ask may well already have been answered. Forums also offer the opportunity to ask everyday questions about events which are happening or may happen in the future.
It was interesting to see that Twitter was number five in the list of most popular social networking websites although in reality it does vary across-the-board with a number of third placed positions for some countries while in others such as Egypt it received no votes. Even though Twitter is not the most popular social networking website available at the moment it is one which continues to attract media attention on a regular basis. But why?
There are many people who believe that Twitter played an integral part in the so-called “Arab Spring” which saw a number of groups around the world unite against undemocratic and aggressive regimes across the globe. Perhaps the most telling action of late was the decision by the Egyptian government to effectively ban Twitter during the uprising having suggested that the service was being used by protesters to arrange demonstrations and communicate their concerns with the outside world. Whether or not you agree with freedom of speech or a balance between freedom of speech and abuse of speech, there is no doubt that Twitter certainly upset many governments around the world as did a number of other social networking websites.
Twitter itself offers a different type of service to the likes of Facebook with a short sharp message service which allows you to pass messages, pass links, pass photographs and also private mail people. You are able to follow individuals with a similar interest or be followed by individuals who are interested in your content although sometimes Twitter pages can become cluttered and difficult to digest at a glance. However, there is no doubt that Twitter has a major part to play in the social networking arena and will continue to grow in the future.
MSN live (1.42%)
The ongoing demise of Microsoft’s social networking service is very difficult to take in when you bear in mind the relative strength of the company just a few years ago. The MSN live social networking operation includes a number of older services such as Windows live, Hotmail, etc which have been rebranded time and time again in an apparent attempt to restart the company’s social network offering. However, it has to be said that to date it has been nothing short of a disaster and many experts believe that Microsoft has missed this particular boat and any significant investment in the short to medium term would attract a limited return.
It is ironic when you look back just a few years ago to see the relative strengths of Microsoft and Google and where they are today. For some reason Microsoft has delayed time and time again investment in an array of online opportunities such as the social networking sector. It has now come to a point where investors have grown wary and inpatient and many believe that the company is literally going backwards rather than going forward. The gap between the likes of MSN live and Facebook, Google plus, etc continues to grow and there is little the company can do without a major investment.
When you bear in mind the fact that Facebook recently acquired a potential competitor of the future in a multibillion-dollar deal this perfectly reflects the firepower which the major social networking sites now have. Microsoft is not in a position to spend billions of dollars on its social networking operation and this will severely dent not only the company’s image and influence but also its profit potential for the future. The last few years have been nothing short of a disaster for MSN live and it is difficult to see where the company goes from here.
There were some other interesting comments with regards to the social networking websites with the likes of Pinterest, Koora, Instagram,Bebo and Tumblr amongst some of the other social options mentioned by forum members.
It is interesting to take a look back at the social networking arena just a few years ago because while Facebook is now head and shoulders above anybody in the sector this was not always the case. Indeed the likes of MySpace and Bebo were the more prominent social networking websites a decade ago although now they are but a former shadow of themselves although still active and available. In many ways this perfectly illustrates the ongoing problems of the social networking arena where you can be very fashionable one-day and out of fashion the next day. It is the ability to stay one step ahead of your customers, one step ahead of the competition and to effectively adapt to the times which will dictate whether you are successful.
When you bear in mind that Facebook itself has in excess of 900 million worldwide accounts we can only estimate the influence and power which the social networking arena has across the globe. However, with this power and influence comes responsibility for both the companies involved and users which we all need to be aware of. We will now take a look at some of the major issues which have arisen in recent times and how these could impact individuals.
Time and time again we come across individuals on various social networking websites who are more than happy to post very private and confidential information in the public domain. The law-enforcement agencies around the world have warned for many years now that too much information is readily available and this could potentially put individuals at risk of harm. Criminal gangs have for some time now been using Internet, and in particular social networking websites, to gather information on individuals and their movements. Be very careful what you post on your account!
It seems that every day there are further instances of identity theft which is recognised by the police as one of the major growth areas for the criminal fraternity. While much of the information they use is available via public official records the ever-growing popularity of social networking websites has in many ways played into their hands. Some information, as we mentioned above, is very private and very confidential and in the wrong hands can be used to the detriment of the individual. By obtaining a profile of an individual, criminals can in many cases apply for credit cards, loans, etc in the name of the individuals who will be left with major liabilities. Again, be very careful what information you share on your public social networking account!
The subject of fake profiles is something else which has been discussed time and time again by an array of governments and companies around the world. However, such is the size and the power of the Internet that it is almost impossible to verify every single profile on every single social networking website therefore there are some risks associated with joining particular groups and befriending particular individuals. One of the main drawbacks of the Internet is the fact that you are never 100% certain who you are talking to despite the fact that the profile in question may fit the bill of your friend. Again, you need to be very careful who you talk to, what kind of information you exchange and indeed respect your own safety.
When you bear in mind that Facebook has in excess of 900 million active accounts on a worldwide basis and is only one of a number of social networking websites around the world, we can only estimate the influence and power this particular arena has. It has become a very popular tool of choice for the expat community because it allows members to remain in contact with friends and family who may well be thousands of miles away. This in itself is worth its weight in gold especially if you need someone to talk to, you need some advice or indeed you need to see a friendly face.
However, there are drawbacks with the social networking sector which need to be appreciated and addressed to maintain your safety and your sanity going forward. Be very careful about the level of information and the depth of information which you make public on your social networking accounts.