(U//FOUO) U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Italy

The following report is part of a series of Social Media Landscape guides produced by the U.S. Department of State for its U.S.- European Media Hub which is described as connecting “European audiences with U.S. policymakers and perspectives.” The Media Hub, which is located in Brussels, Belgium, is part of the International Media Engagement Office of the U.S. Department of State.  The report was produced in January 2010.  See also:

U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Hungary
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: France
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Spain
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Belarus
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Latvia
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Belgium
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Romania
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Norway

For USG Official Use Only

Social Media Landscape: Italy

I.      Executive Summary

  • Italian use of social media is sophisticated in comparison to other countries throughout Europe.
  • Half of Italy’s population is online and the majority of people access the Internet from home.
  • Italian is the main language used to communicate online, although English is also used in specific circumstances.
  • There is very little use of social media by the Italian government with political parties perceiving it as an ineffective way of engaging with voters

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.

Italy has the fourth largest blog population in the world according to Technorati, and it is estimated 8-10 million Internet users read blogs regularly. Bloggers are active offline, attending regularly organized meet up groups to discuss their interests and blogging.

II.              Access

  • Internet penetration is below the European average despite the higher than average number of users. This is due to greater levels of accessibility in northern Italy
  • The greatest Internet access occurs in the home using PCs, although access via smart phones is on the rise amongst the young professional demographic
  • A significantly higher proportion of men regularly access the Internet compared to women (64.7% vs. 57.9%)

Italy has one of the highest numbers of Internet users in the European Union. 48.6% (30,026,400 people) surf the Net at least once a month and 42 million people own a mobile phone (av. 1.6 handsets per person). This level of penetration is however, below the average of North-European countries and there is great potential for improvement particularly in terms of infrastructure and connectivity.

Penetration is evenly distributed throughout the country, despite Southern Italy being below the national average, reaching only 37% penetration.

Access remains predominantly via PC desktops, laptops and netbooks (93.4%) although Italy’s mobile Internet market is growing rapidly with 7.6% of the online population accessing the Web from their phones.

In the past, mobile Internet figures have dipped as a result of poor service. More recently, Nielsen Online has calculated 13% of cell phone users in Italy (6.6 million people) accessed the Internet via a cell phone at least once in a month in the first quarter of 2009.

When Internet access is divided according to gender, 64.7% of the online population is male and 57.9% are female. Access to the Internet from home and/or work is available to 57.7% of the population, mainly in the 18-34 demographic (69.7%). 19% access the Internet from the office or at work, comprising 22.4% men, 15.6% women, in the 35-54 age group (28.6% of total online population). The most active online demographic are in the professional categories such as managers and university lecturers (85%), followed by entrepreneurs and professionals (64.8%), office workers and teachers (60.3%). Gender employment figures can be linked to levels of Internet access.[1]

Immigrant communities in Italy represent 6.5% of the total Italian population, which amounts to 3,891,295 people. One of the most established of these is the Romanian community, which makes up 24.5% of the total immigrant population. The remainder comprises Moroccans, who account for 12% of the population and Chinese, Indians and Bangladeshis who account for 18.6%.

III.            Activity

  • Brands have limited presence in the social media sphere, with campaigns focusing on specific products rather than brand identity
  • Social networking is highly developed with 37% of Internet users visiting a social network every day, and 30% once a week
  • Use of Twitter is in the early stages of development, however there is significant evidence of the Italian media is using the platform to share news articles In terms of activity, the larger Italian cities are the most active online, reporting an average online population of 67.7%.

The South of Italy and the islands of the south coast are the least active online, with only half of the population participating in conversation online. The regions of the North East and North West both have Internet penetration levels of over 65% and this is reflected in the amount of social media participation.

The most visited site in 2009 was MSN Windows Live Messenger, indicating the popularity of instant online communication through such services. The second most visited site was Virgilio, an Italian news site. This web page features political and worldwide news, as well as entertainment and sports based news. The main search engine used by the online population is Google.it.

Immigrant groups in Italy appear to be exploiting the community building benefits of the Internet and social media as a means for connecting people from all around the country. For example, Moroccan nationals in Italy have a dedicated bi-lingual forum page and a small presence on Facebook. The Chinese-Italian community has a web portal called Tutto Cina (All About China) which focuses ‘On the relationship between Italy and China’. ‘Stranieri in Italia’ (Foreigners in Italy) is the web portal dedicated to migrants, collecting and publishing all the news related to the different communities. The portal offers the opportunity to comment on the topical news and to participate in conversation on different topics.  http://www.stranieriinitalia.it/comunita.html

Social media platforms

As the Italian population becomes increasingly established and comfortable online, so does their attitude towards social media participation. 37% of the online population use a social network every day; 30% use social media once a week, and 27% once a month: only 6% of those online do not interact in social media. Participation in social media in Italy can also be linked to the growing popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

The most prevalent social media site is Facebook, with 12 million users. Unlike other countries in the EU Facebook is not considered to be solely a teenage and young adults’ phenomenon. The 30-45 ‘middle aged’ demographic can also be found to be participating in Facebook social media-related activity, and are making Facebook an increasingly transversal tool used to connect with friends and share experiences.

The other popular social networking site which promotes connections across Europe, Netlog, is used by 3.5million people in Italy but is considered to be more popular amongst teenagers and as yet, does not currently attract participation by a wider Italian demographic.

According to BlogITalia, nearly 40,000 people in Italy write a blog. Technorati reports that Italy is ranked 4th worldwide for the number of published blog posts: it appears that writing a blog has become an Italian national phenomenon, with blog writing a particularly prevalent pastime in the north of Italy.   It is estimated that between 8-10 million people in Italy read blogs.

In Italy there are several informal meetings held where bloggers can meet and network. These meetings include BarCamp and BlogFest (www.blogfest.it), ameeting for bloggers which takes place annually in Riva del Garda and awards prizes to the best Italians blogs. Telecom Italia started the ‘Venice Sessions’ in November, which are meetings with web entrepreneurs and journalists.

Italian bloggers are Italy-centric, self-motivated and often activists on the Web. Many of them collaborate with newspapers and magazines. When approaching bloggers, organizations should be encouraged to monitor content and conversations to learn what bloggers are interested in writing about: the organization should be convinced that their message will fit within the blogger’s focus and remit before beginning a dialogue with them

News media

Newspapers and magazines use social media to interact with readers.  In particular, the journalists of   the Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso (L’Espresso Editorial Group) all have widely-read and influential blogs, as do those of La Reppublica.  Another well known and important newspaper journalist with a blog is Luca De Biase from Il Sole24Ore. De Biase’s blog is also listed in the top ten Italian blogs.

Twitter now has more than 4,000 classified users including many journalists such as Marco Pratellesi from Corriere.it, Riccardo Luna from Wired Italy, Anna Masera from La Stampa web, Michele Lupi from GQ and Alessandro Gilioli from L’Espresso.

IV.          Organizational Use

  • Government use of social media is limited, with communication taking place through traditional websites (Web 1.0) rather than emerging Web 2.0 platforms
  • Newspapers are perceived as the most effective way to connect with and influence voters

Political Parties on the Web:

Il Popolo Della Liberta http://www.ilpopolodellaliberta.it/

Partito Democratico http://www.partitodemocratico.it/gw/producer/producer.aspx?t=/prehome.htm

Lega Nord http://www.leganord.org

Italia Dei Lavori http://www.italiadeivalori.it/

UDC http://www.udc-italia.it

Twitter is used by businesses to promote offers and increasingly to create a more long-term dialogue with consumers

Italian businesses are becoming increasingly accustomed to using social media as part of their marketing and communications. Micromedia forms such as Twitter are still very much in embryonic use, although institutions are becoming ostensibly more familiar with the tools. Several well known Italian businesses now have Twitter accounts, these include: Italia, Alfa Romeo and Fiat.

Several brands are establishing groups on Facebook that are linked to brand specific products or initiatives, including  Gucci, and Barilla. Depending on how globally recognized these brands are, Facebook pages are created both in Italian and English.

At present Italian businesses are using established social media platforms, primarily Facebook to create a corporate presence online, rather than investing in stand-alone corporate blog.

Government, political parties and NGOs

At the present time, the Italian government’s attempts at social media communication are not particularly effective. Although each political party and several politicians have some form of online presence, such as http://www.ilpopolodellaliberta.it/ or http://www.partitodemocratico.it or http://www.antoniodipietro.it/, and some politicians, such as Renato Brunetta have personal pages on Facebook, the level of engagement around these is not considerable. These sites are rarely used to canvass voters’ opinions or introduce electoral issues.

The limited use of digital communication is in part due to research carried out during the electoral campaign for the European elections in which polls evidenced that 69.3% of voters gathered information through the news and opinions of broadcast TV news, and not through online sources. As a result, the Italian government’s investment in online communications is negligible compared to that in TV and print which remain the platforms of choice for influencing voter behavior.

Newspapers are considered to be the third most influential way to reach out to the public by the Italian government. According to Census statistics, newspapers can be seen to influence 25.4% of voters; news TV channels  6.6% of voters, and 5.5% of voters are influenced by radio programs.

Interestingly, non-media relationships; those between friends and relatives, are the most important for influencing voter behavior in Italy (19%) mainly for the youngest demographic (18-29 years old) residing in southern Italy. The use of material issued by political parties (leaflets, posters, etc.) has been used to gather information and has influenced 10.9% of voters.

For these reasons, the Italian Government currently perceives the Internet as an ineffective platform for political communication. During the electoral campaign, only 2.3% of adults used the websites of political parties to find information, and only 2.1% visited blogs, discussion forums and Facebook groups. However, usage was greater among students with 7.5% of them using the parties’ websites.

Despite the lack of voter outreach and interaction online, Italy’s political system is discussed in great depth online; President Silvio Berlusconi’s private life and behavior are a common topic of conversation. As a result, Berlusconi is in an open polemic with the editorial group Gruppo L’Espresso who own influential Italian newspapers such as la Republicca. The group is also responsible for a range of popular magazines and employ several high profile journalists.

V.             Legal & Ethical

  • There is no official regulatory system or governing body for digital content in place
  • Every digital project requesting data from users must guarantee that their information will be secure  and follow a set of laws managing the use and sharing of data for promotional purposes
  • Transparency and honesty from brands and organizations engaging with bloggers is a key factor in running a successful digital campaign

In February 2009, the Italian parliament started to discuss a new law which proposed to regulate Internet activity in order to avoid any kind of crime related activity taking place or being facilitated online. This proposal has evoked a significant response within the social media space, inducing high levels of complaints on blogs, websites and media associated with left-wing parties. Beppe Grillo, one of the most influential bloggers in Italy, has repeatedly amplified this criticism.

The Italian online population is largely opposed to the implementation of this regulation. The law could result in legislation that may potentially hold the owners of blogs accountable for comments left by readers in the same way that newspapers or media houses are. Left-wing political parties consider the new law a breach of freedom of expression.

Concerns regarding freedom of expression and the volume of complaints about the proposed legislation have forced the Italian government to postpone a first draft of the law.

In May 2009 the Italian Government approved article 55 of law 733 focusing on safety: article 55 specifies that any incitement to commit crime or the condoning of a criminal act on the web will be repressed – practically this means that the offending post or comment will be removed and the author may be prosecuted.

There has recently been an issue over Italian racism with the emergence of two anti-migrant Facebook group pages: Ban Romanians, with over 7,000 fans and We hate Romanians, which has 622 fans. Facebook were forced to take measures against the groups, removing both from the platform.

VI.          Local factors affecting social media

  • The main language used  to communicate in social media is Italian
  • Italy’s high level of immigration has meant that there has been a growth in the number of multilingual websites aimed at the new communities
  • Religion, crime and sexuality are taboo subjects in Italian culture and must be treated with respect online, as a result brands do not address these subjects in their campaigns

In Italy, transparency is the key factor in developing a successful digital campaign. Disguising the intentions of a campaign can spoil relationships with consumers and bloggers alike, and may have negative repercussions in legal terms. Italy follows the international legal framework when considering personal data protection.

Every digital project requesting information from users must guarantee their data will be kept private and not share it with third parties. Every digital campaign must be aimed at people of over 18 years old. If the campaign includes material and participation aimed at minors, it must always ensure parental consent has been secured.

Italy is characterized by several cultural differences and traditions at regional and local level. To engage with or attempt to make light of these issues could be perceived as risky behavior. Outreach to bloggers should, for example, show awareness of and sensitivity towards organized crime-related issues: such as those regarding the Mafia and the Camorra. Italy is also particularly sensitive to religious matters, and sexual references are not encouraged.

Guidelines for engaging with social media

There are no government bodies or laws in place to regulate social media in Italy, there are however set of accepted guidelines which organizations and individuals are expected to adhere to:

–       Commitment to Integrity: Honesty, Disclosure & Identity

Always be who you say you are. Although you may find social media participants can sometimes be hostile towards organizations, you should never try to conceal your identity in order to build a better relationship. Social media is highly attuned to seek out deception and is fundamentally against this on all levels.

–       Commitment to Community: Responsiveness, Generosity, Helpfulness & Collaboration

Remember to take part but also give back. In order to influence social media you must become a respected member of the community. This involves listening and responding as well as talking.

–       Commitment to opinion: Respectfulness, Equality & Freedom of speech

Respect the views of others even if they don’t agree with yours or those of your organization. Social media provide forums in which groups can convene to hold open conversations. Organizations should be careful to avoid destabilizing or alienating communities by attempting to impose views, or limiting the scope of conversation. Aim to assert influence rather than control and take advantage of the open nature of conversation to learn more about your audiences and how to engage them.

VII.        Principal data sources

–                  Internet World Stats: http://www.Internetworldstats.com/stats4.htm

–                  I Stat: www.istat.it

–                  Technorati: http://technorati.com/

–                  Audiweb Nielsen Online

–                  Nextplora, 2008: http://www.nextplora.com/

–                  Audiweb A/W Trends 2009 http://www.audiweb.it/

–                  Universal McCann: http://www.universalmccann.com/

–                  Nielsen Online: http://en-us.nielsen.com/

–                  Alexa: http://www.alexa.com/

–                  International Telecommunications Union: http://www.itu.int/en/pages/default.aspx

–                  Google: http://www.google.com

–                  GfK Group: http://www.gfk.com/

–                  Aquabenecomune www.acquabenecomune.org

For USG Official Use Only

[1] http://www.nationmaster.com/red/country/it-italy/lab-labor&all=1

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