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

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: Belgium
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Italy
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Romania
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Norway

For USG Official Use Only

Social Media Landscape: Latvia

Latvia at a glance

  • Social media in Latvia is concentrated around the capital Riga
  • Twitter is very popular and a high number of Latvian companies have opened Twitter  accounts to engage with customers
  • Women are dominant in the social media space particularly in lifestyle and family forums
  • Internet use is directly linked to education

I.                 Executive Summary

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.

As with Belarus, where Russian is also widely spoken, Latvia must fight to keep its Latvian specific social media portals alive and or it is likely to become consumed by Russian media.

I.                 Access

  • Poor infrastructure in rural Latvia means access and innovation is focused around Riga and other major cities
  • Technology penetration is relatively low with mobile Internet access falling considerably behind Western Europe
  • The biggest increase in Internet access is amongst the 50-59 age group

Internet Access: 58% of all households

  • 1 adult – 24.4%
  • 1 adult with children – 70.1%
  • 2 adults – 45.1%
  • 2 adults with children – 79.8%
  • 3 and more adults – 77.3%
  • 3 and more adults with children – 82.1%

Internet penetration in Latvia currently stands at 59% representing around 1 million people in total. However, rapid growth can be seen particularly in the capital city, Riga which has seen a 10% increase in access to the Internet since spring 2009. Participation in social media is directly correlated to Internet access and signal quality. The least active region is Lagtale which also has the lowest cell phone penetration.

Whilst the social media movement and adoption of digital technologies is being led by the student and young professional communities (92% of total Internet users are between 15-19 years) in Latvia, the biggest increase in regular users is amongst the 50-59 age group which now accounts for 44% of total Internet users. Access amongst the 60+ population accounts for just 12% of the total a figure that’s comparable to neighboring Poland and typical of eastern European growth markets.

Education and occupation are also key drivers in Internet access in Latvia with students (95%), professional people (86%) and business people (91%) having the greatest access. In addition, high unemployment appears to impact Internet access levels and reflects in the large proportion of home access (86%) as opposed to at the workplace (34%).

At home At work At school On the move At friends At library
86 % (91% in Riga, 84% beside Riga) 34 % (43% in Riga, 30% beside Riga) 12 % (9% in Riga, 14% beside Riga) N/A 19% (18% in Riga, 20% beside Riga) 9% (6% in Riga, 11% beside Riga)

In terms of digital technology, the PC still dominates while only 14.5% of total Internet use is via laptops and 0.5% via smartphones. Despite having 91% cell phone penetration, going online via cell phones and handheld devices accounts for only 0.5% of total Internet access in the country.  84% of Internet users having never used a handheld device to access the Internet but of those that do use mobile Internet regularly (approximately 5%) the 20-29 age demographic dominates at 44% of total mobile Internet use. Only 26% of 15-19 years olds have used WAP services on their phones.

II.              Activity

  • Draugiem.lv is the most visited site in Latvia although Twitter.com is increasingly becoming the platform of choice for businesses and organizations
  • Women are prominent in social media in Latvia, particularly in forums
  • Local social media platforms remain the most popular although Facebook and Twitter are growing in members

Social media have grown significantly over the past couple of years and now employ a range of platforms and channels to communicate and stay in touch online.  Although email remains the largest share of the pie (77%), social networking is undertaken by 71% of the total Internet population, primarily in order to share photos, video and chat. Local social networks still have the highest memberships although Facebook’s global popularity is rapidly spreading to Latvia and is favored by women under 30 years, who often use it to keep in touch with people they have met while travelling or living abroad.

Six popular Latvian blogs/forums:

1.    www.onkulis.com – Blog detailing Latvian events and news.

2.    www.krizdabz.lv – Technology Blog (Internet, Social media, Apple, Google, hardware and software)

3.    www.laacz.lv – Lifestyle Blog (Music, Games, Technology)

4.    www.pods.lv – Technology (visited by IT specialists)

5.    www.arturs.jaffa.lv – Blog about social networks, marketing, Internet, different campaigns (Author works in media agency and organizes Tweetups and blogger events/conferences)

6.    www.notepad.lv – IT forum about new advances in telecommunication, hardware and software, Internet, and other technical issues.

The most popular social media domain in Latvia is draugiem.lv which is used in over ten countries worldwide. The site began life as a photo sharing platform but quickly developed to include applications for groups, music, videos and blogs (In Latvia these are called diaries). 87% of all Latvian Internet users are members of draugiem.lv which makes it the most widely visited site in Latvia. Draugiem.lv is used mostly by women between the ages of 10 and 24 for communication purposes in a similar format to Facebook.

Interestingly, women are very prominent in the social media space in Latvia congregating predominantly in both draugiem.lv and the forum mamman.lv, which is used to discuss all topics related to children and motherhood. Likewise, Calis.lv, Latvia’s oldest and largest forum is dominated by female contributors who account for a substantial 70%.

Social media as campaign tool:

The “Adults for Children’s Hospital” (“Lielie bērnu slimnīcai” www.lielie.lv) campaign was started in Twitter in response to one Tweet which highlighted a shortage of thermometers in a Latvian children’s hospital. In just 24 hours, the Twitter community had rallied around the cause with individuals coming forward to donate time, money and skills to the campaign. Work that would have taken days and weeks, including setting up a website and campaign materials took just hours as a result of the immediacy of Twitter. Since then, fundraising events have been held donations of medical equipment collected and many other events are being planned. Importantly the profile of the charity is maintained through its website and strong social media presence

Blogging platform and social network Tribine.lv, is the most widely used and fosters as a social network which fosters citizen journalism – a social platform on which Latvians can express their views and opinions on issues via blogging and uploading video content.

In terms of micromedia, Twitter has made a significant impact on the Latvian social media landscape following the “Miracle on the Hudson” photo which was posted first on Twitter by a Latvian national living in New York. This episode created a media storm in Latvia stimulating a keen interest in the platform which is now the main social media platform used by Latvian companies, institutions and media to communicate corporate and consumer messages.

Social media is increasingly being used to communicate marketing messages, answer customer queries and to promote brands in Latvia. Lattelecom , the leading provider of electronic communications services in Latvia, uses Twitter to communicate with their customers and most of its senior employees have their own Twitter accounts. The increased availability of social media sites and forums means many companies are now hiring social media specialists to monitor online conversations about the brand, particularly in forums.

Social media as customer service solution:

IZZI had some problems with their technology and a negative conversation about the brand appeared online. Instead of responding to the negative commentary which was becoming widespread on Twitter in particular, the company blamed the customers’ modems. The Latvian Daily news programme Panorama became involved and built a case against IZZI which showcased their poor customer service. Following the news coverage, IZZI decided to proactively engage with the Twitter community to talk candidly about its customer service and how it could improve.

The IZZI Twitter account then became the first example of customer services operated via social media. In addition, IZZI also has a Facebook fan page although it is currently under utilized and consequently only has 15 fans.

The importance of listening and engaging with social media came to the fore after the Latvian telecommunications company IZZI experienced difficulties with their technology but did not respond to negative comments on blogs and Twitter. The Latvian daily news show, Panorama became involved and the situation escalated. IZZI finally reacted by creating a Twitter account and starting to monitor the online conversation.

The Latvian Government has a substantial online presence. Government departments use social media sites to communicate events; provide links to press releases and general information. Four Government Departments have dedicated Twitter accounts; Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Regional Development and Local Government. Many other Governmental institutions also use Twitter including the Cabinet of Ministers and Riga Municipal Police.   Tweets are predominantly focused on the political and professional agenda of the organization and include links to press releases, videos and comments. Significantly, these Twitter accounts do not publish personal views or proactively engage with followers. The Latvian government and parliament typically use social media to inform Latvian citizens of upcoming events and promote their political agenda or message.

The Latvian parliament Saeima is also active in social media employing a range of channels including Twitter, which broadcasts news from the Latvian parliament, as well as an active YouTube channel that hosts videos of official meetings, interviews and public events. Saeima also has a Flickr account that contains images from parliamentary events including meetings and interviews. Whilst, Saeima’s accounts are updated frequently, much of the content is the broadcasting of news and press releases with little engagement.

Most notably, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and Minister of the Interior Linda Murniece have personal twitter accounts, demonstrating the perceived value of the platform. Tweets usually include themes of their political and professional agenda and they seem to shy away from publishing personal views.

In Latvia, the lines between traditional media and social media have become blurred. Twitter, is by far the most popular medium for media outlets and journalists to communicate online. The national news agency LETA has a Twitter account which publishes links to all news including photos and sports. All the main daily papers including Diena, Latvifas Avize and NRA and the national TV channels have Twitter profiles to publish links to their material. The media’s engagement with Twitter has been well-received in Latvia as many cannot afford to subscribe to newspapers or journals.

III.            Organizational use

  • Communities of Latvians living abroad are active online using websites and social media to keep in touch with friends, family and news from home
  • The Latvian government is investing in computer skills and Internet literacy
  • Despite being small in numbers, the blogging community in Latvia is proactive and regularly organizes offline meet ups

Since a large number of Latvian nationals live abroad there are a number of web pages dedicated to providing useful information to these communities whilst they are abroad. Latvians Online is the biggest global site for information about Latvia.

In response to the high levels of unemployment in Latvia, there is a big focus on job opportunities both at home and abroad. Latviesi has been created as a work and study portal, aggregating temporary and permanent opportunities both in Latvia and abroad. Examples of Latvian ex pat communities using the Internet and social media to share information can also be found. In particular, the large Latvian community living in Ireland has created LBI, a tool to keep the Latvians living in Ireland, many of whom who live in isolated parts of the community, up to date about events scheduled in Dublin. Similarly, Latvians living in the United States can access information via the American Latvian Association.

Latvian Bloggers

While only 18% of the total population read or contribute to blogs there is a small but active blogger community in Latvia which regularly holds meet ups. Often, these events are informal affairs held in pubs, although last year, the Latvian national newspaper, “Diena” held a conference entitled “Are bloggers the 5th power?” Latvia’s most well known and respected bloggers, Arturs Mednis, Kristaps Skutelis, Juris Kaza and PR and advertising expert Zigurds Zakis all attended to discuss the role and nature of social media in Latvia and provided insight into their particular expertise. This kind of social media event signifies Latvia’s progress towards a more widespread recognition and adoption of new media.

Another example which highlights the growing prominence of digital and social media in Latvia is the annual GovCamp conference. The sister of American BarCamp events, GovCamp is designed to discuss opportunities to employ new technology and social media in government and public sector organizations.

Similarly, Stockholm School of Economics in Riga hosted an event called BridgeVamp where IT specialists (bloggers & new media experts) presented social media opportunities to those working in NGOs. Currently there is limited use of social media by NGOs in Latvia and even large global organizations such as Greenpeace and NATO do not have a presence in Latvian social media. One NGO, the EU Maja (European Union) provides information about EU issues in Latvia via Twitter account, although this is generally just used to re-post links from their home page.

Social Media Education

To support the rapid growth of new media and technology the Latvian government has pledged to put Internet literacy, online safety and computer skills on the education agenda both in schools and in adult learning. Online safety is a key concern and in December 2008, an agreement was signed with the European Commission to co-fund an initiative called Net-Safe Latvia. The objective of the programme is to show the potential threats of the Internet (racism, theft, data abuse and pedophilia) and to provide a tool for the public to report any crimes that they witness online.

Latvia is committed to getting its population up to speed an all the major technological advances and to shorten the digital divide between all ages. The programme is called “Information Society Development Gudelines 2006-2013” and in the long term it aims to:

  • Expand broadband Internet access throughout Latvia using of public funding and commercial donations;
  • To engage all pockets of society and to show them the wide range of uses the Internet and social media sites can have for them, regardless of their current level of digital expertise;
  • To update current broadband infrastructure in schools and to ensure that all school students are provided with the necessary skills to use social media tools;
  • Update state administration through the use of e-services;
  • To update and develop all information and communication technology used in commercial activity.

IV.          Legal and ethical

  • Latvian law does recognize illegality in social media although no specific regulation currently exists
  • Internet security is a key concern in Latvia

While there are no specific guidelines or procedures governing the use of digital content in Latvia, each Internet portal and social media site has their own terms and conditions which must be adhered to. Latvia is in the process of publishing guidelines which will provide legal and ethical procedures to regulate digital advertising but these have yet to be accepted. If passed, these will fall under the Latvian Advertising Association Ethical Code.

In addition, Latvia has also joined the Cybercrime Convention which contains provisions on child pornography and breaches of copyright law. Information distribution restrictions are prescribed in The Latvian Administrative Violations Code, Criminal Law, Copyright Law and the Freedom of Information Act. Translated laws can be found here: http://www.ttc.lv/advantagecms/LV/tulkojumi/meklet_dokumentus.html.

There have been a number of minor incidents whereby those using social media have been reprimanded. One such case involved the blogger “Combatant Citizen” who was investigated by state police over posts they suspected to be enforced political propaganda published under the bloggers name. However no case was pursued.

There have also been a limited number of cases where by people have lost their jobs over the use of social media. There was a rumor circulated amongst bloggers that the employee of a Latvian telecommunications company lost their job after spreading company information over Twitter. Another woman was dismissed from her job in a public sector institution after participating in a video interview for a website. While she did not divulge company information, the management was unimpressed that she had done so without the permission or knowledge of her employer.

V.        Top searched themes:

  • Employment & Education 33%
  • Hobbies, Entertainment 25%
  • Books, music 20%
  • Auto 18%
  • Beauty and health 17%
  • Sport 16%
  • Economics 15%
  • Tourism 12%
  • Real estate 12 %

VI.          Local factors affecting digital content

  • Social media is growing both in numbers and sophistication of use in Latvia
  • The large number of Russian speakers, particularly around tech savvy Riga is likely to influence the development of platforms and the prominence of the Latvian language in the social media conversation
  • Social media is often politicized in Latvia and this should be considered before engaging with bloggers

There has been a dramatic increase in the use of social media. In 2008, 31% of all Internet users uploaded photos, videos and shared personal information on social media sites. This figure jumped to over half (54%) in 2009. Facebook and Twitter membership are also on the increase; Facebook now has over 61,000 registered Latvian users compared with 45,000 users in the summer of 2008. However, social media are still evolving in Latvia and local nuances of engagement are still developing.

Latvia’s large number of Russian speakers (41%), particularly in Riga (58%) is likely to have an effect on the social media landscape in the coming years as Latvian and Russian language media race to “go digital”. Local Latvian nuances may well become consumed by a broader Russian behaviour online as Latvians engage with the wider online conversation.

While there are no specific guidelines for contacting social media users in Latvia, you would be well advised to carefully vet anything that you send to a blogger as anything that can be misinterpreted will be. The themes that will cause offence are anything to do with the Latvian/Russian relationship, their history and homosexuality, which is a subject that provokes strong debate and comment.

As previously mentioned, Latvians are skeptical of any political commentary that is overly positive. Latvians generally assume that any comments or blog posts that are favorable to a particular party of ministry must stem from that party. Religion is generally not a contentious issue and only stimulates discussions in extreme cases – an example of which involved the death of a young girl whose Jehovah’s Witness mother refused a blood transfusion.

While there isn’t any one event that dominated the social media space over the last 12 months, a case whereby a pizzeria’s customer contact details were published over the Internet (including full name, address and door code) provoked much discussion in traditional and social media over Internet security.

Overall Latvians are content consumers rather than content creators. There are a number of everyday bloggers who are active in the political and social space and they appear in all areas of social media. Technology is one of the most talked about themes in Latvian social media. The most popular bloggers in this subject area are Juris Kaza, Krizdabz, Arturs Mednis and Laacz. Forums related to motherhood, children and family such as Mammam and Calis are also very popular.

VII.        Principal Data Sources

–                    Central Statistical Bureau: http://www.csb.gov.lv/

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

–                    TNS:  http://www.tns.lv/?lang=en

–                    http://www.ttc.lv/advantagecms/LV/aktualitates/index.html

–                    Latvia social media platforms (as listed)

For USG Official Use Only

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