Social media usage in Portugal is growing and it is recognized by organizations as a useful communications tool, particularly amongst consumer brands. Although, the government has invested heavily in schools IT infrastructure, it is yet to embrace social media as part of its overall communications strategy and there remains great potential for the government or political parties to fully utilize social media. Similarly, there are cases of media outlets engaged in social media activity, although these are the exception, rather than the rule. The 16-24 year old age group is leading the digital movement in Portugal; it is this group which has benefited most from the unprecedented level of government investment However, it is important to recognize their predecessors, the 25-34 year old age group are also heavy users of the Internet.
Finland has a high level of Internet penetration and usage in comparison to other European nations. However, whilst the technology and capability exists to facilitate for a vibrant social media landscape, the conservative Finnish national character in conjunction with online security fears can be seen to be restricting this potential growth. In line with most European nations it is the younger age groups, namely 15-24 year olds who are most active online in Finland, whilst people who live by themselves are also active online participants. Most people access the Internet at home, however educational establishments are also common locations and many schools, colleges and universities are well equipped with IT facilities and Internet access. Men typically use the Internet as an information resource, whilst women and younger people use it as a communication tool.
Norway boasts an active online community with high Internet penetration rates in comparison to the rest of Europe. In addition, access rates are high and spread fairly evenly across demographic groups, age ranges and locations. A range of social media activities are popular, including blogging and content sharing, however social networking is the most prominent activity, with Norwegian Facebook users now exceeding 2 million. A large number of Norwegian companies have an active social media presence with Facebook and Twitter the platforms of choice. Whilst, usage is high, few companies at present measure or evaluate social media and there is a reluctance to divert resources for this purpose. Social media is emerging as a defining behavior of Internet usage in Norway, and the government has been keen to harness social media as a potential engagement and consultation tool. The government is also in the process of designing an innovative electronic voting system to increase voter turnout, which is hoped to be trialled in 2011. The government clearly appreciates the value of a digitally inclusive society and has set an ambitious target of supplying broadband connectivity to the entire country. In order to aid digital inclusivity the Government also ensures the text on public websites is suitable for older and weak sighted people. In keeping with most of Norwegian society, politicians, journalists and NGOs are all increasingly using social media as a communications tool.
Internet penetration and usage in Romania is still relatively underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of Europe, with availability and usage limited mainly to Bucharest, the capital city. As a result, social media usage is also generally focused around Bucharest. As well as geographical limits for Internet activity, social demographics play a large part in determining Internet usage; with professionally-employed, university educated citizens representing by far the largest community active online. Amongst Internet users, social media use is growing in popularity; particularly social networking sites, blogging, photo and video sharing, and microblogging. Businesses are beginning to identify opportunities to use social media as part of their communications strategies. The government and state services have been slower to adopt social media, although individual politicians are experimenting with the media for campaigning purposes. While Romanian is widely used, English is the common language for conversation via social media in Romania. Politics is a very popular topic of conversation amongst Romanian Internet users, particularly given recent levels of political uncertainty. Concern currently exists that the lack of regulation over the Internet, combined with the real-time nature of the medium is devaluing the quality of content being consumed by the public. Although Internet use is low compared to the rest of Europe, social media are establishing a relevancy to Romanian society as a means to connect; share and debate and we can expect their use to grow.
Strategic use of social media by the Italian government is minimal, but there is evidence of limited use by political parties, particularly politicians who are leveraging their Facebook profiles to engage with voters. Commercial employment of social media and digital communications is limited in Italy although global brands are beginning to demonstrate some level of engagement with consumers through different social media platforms, primarily Facebook which is often used to generate conversation around specific products. Smaller businesses are expected to emulate this kind of social media engagement over the coming months.
The social media landscape in Belgium has grown considerably over the last few years and Belgians appear to be increasingly proactive in their social media endeavors as Internet access is obtainable from many electronic sources. All generations, young and old have familiarized themselves with the cell phone, iphone, Blackberry and Netbook usage in order to access social media sites while on the move. The rise in Internet access via mobile devices has created an abundance of new social media users.
The Internet and social media are in early stages of development in Belarus. The lack of infrastructure and the cost of access mean that the online community is characterized by affluent, educated middle classes from the metropolitan areas of the country (especially Minsk). Internet in Belarus has not yet achieved the penetration necessary to be socially representative. Despite the accessibility challenges, social media are still proving popular, particularly amongst younger demographics. Online information sources and especially social media, promise an impartiality that is often lacking in Belarusian mass media channels, which many consider to be overly influenced by the national government. From a political point of view, this has meant that opposition parties have been swifter to experiment with online engagement to gain public support, although their use of social media as strategic tool for campaigning is still relatively experimental.
Latvia, one of the three Baltic states, has a diverse population totaling 2.3 million – 59% Latvians, 29% Russian nationals and 3.8% Belo Russians amongst other ethnic groups. The media industry reflects this and is divided into Latvian or Russian language outlets and broadcasters. Internet penetration in the country currently stands at 59% which is just below the EU average (60%). However, significant growth centered particularly around the capital Riga and amongst Latvia’s youth demographic shows the signs of increasingly widespread digital inclusion and Internet literacy. Social media is still in the early stages of development, focused primarily on local social networks such as Draugiem, although globally popular platforms including Twitter and Facebook are growing in Latvian members. Commercial engagement with social media reflects this growing trend and is led primarily by telecommunication companies such as IZZI and Lattlecom. The Latvian government is also beginning to embrace social media as part of its communications strategy although its current presence is largely passive with an emphasis on broadcast rather than engagement.
The Internet and social media are in a relatively advanced stage of development in France. Penetration rates are higher than the European average, although France is still trailing behind the European leaders in terms of social media sophistication. Social media is very popular amongst French Internet users, with six social media sites in the top 20 most visited websites in France. Social networking and video-sharing are the most popular social media activities in France. Blogging, on the other hand, is comparatively less engaged with indicating the behavior of the French online is more fast-paced with less emphasis on long form communication. French Internet users tend to use the French language in online communication and social media. As a result, micro-blogging platform Twitter has grown in popularity since a French version was introduced.
Improvements in infrastructure and access in Hungary over the last decade have encouraged considerable increases in Internet access and with that, an exploration of social media. Currently, Internet access is just below the EU average but is heavily focused around Budapest and other large cities, while the rural population remains largely digitally excluded. That said, government-backed initiatives to improve access in rural areas are ongoing. Internet access is also greater amongst those with a higher education and / or employed in the service industries. In turn, a gender divide is also apparent in Hungary’s Internet access as a result of lower levels of employment amongst women. The 15-24 age group and students are leading the digital movement in Hungary, aided by government initiatives which have focused on providing IT education and equipment to schools. It is this demographic that is largely responsible for the popularity of social networking, primarily conducted on local platforms in the Hungarian language, although membership of the global platform Facebook is growing and highlights a desire to be part of the global social media conversation.