Businesses around the world are increasingly using social media to engage current and potential customers, find partners and collaborators, identify top talent, drive traffic to their websites, and effectively market their products and services. Broadly defined, social media consists of online communication channels that allow users to share digital content in various formats, including text, photographs, audio and video. Some of the most famous social media websites are Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Wikipedia and Twitter. Other sites that are becoming increasingly popular include Reddit, Digg, Ecademy, StumbleUpon, Xing, Newsvine, Monster, and CareerBuilder.com.

In a report published earlier this year called Social Media Adoption in 2011, global research and advisory firm Forrester provide a number of interesting data points that reveal how consumers and companies are using social media platforms. According to the report, 86 percent of US adults that access the internet use social media, while 79 percent of online European adults do the same. In addition, the Forrester report places social media consumers into seven categories: (1) creators, who publish blogs or upload their own videos; (2) conversationalists, who post updates on social networking sites; (3) critics, who post reviews of products and services; (4) collectors, who use RSS feeds or add tags to web pages; (5) joiners, who maintain and visit social network profiles; (6) spectators, who read blogs or watch user-generated videos; and (7) inactive consumers.

Interestingly, in its study Forester found that consumers in so-called “emerging markets” are the most active social media users in the world. This finding has been corroborated by other research firms such as KPMG, which recently carried out a social media study involving 1800 business managers and 2000 employers in 10 countries. In its research, KPMG found that China led all surveyed countries in the percentage of companies using social media (82 percent), followed by the United States (71 percent), India (70 percent), Brazil (68 percent) and Canada (51 percent). Thus, three of the top five countries for social media use among businesses were emerging markets.

A number of other research entities have focused on social media trends in developing countries. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), for instance, recently published a social media study entitled The social shopper: Harnessing the disruptive influence of social media. In line with the studies conducted by Forrester and KPMG, the EIU report (which surveyed 179 business executives) found that 56 percent of respondents in Asia-Pacific used social media to engage with customers, while 55 percent did the same in Latin America. By comparison, this number was 53 percent for Western Europe.

The consultancy Oxford Business Group has also conducted several studies highlighting the growing importance of social media within the business environments of emerging markets. In assessing the media and advertising landscape in Jordan in The Report: Jordan 2011, the firm argued that a “substantial effort” had been made by the local tourism industry to use social media to attract more visitors to the country’s hotels, restaurants and famous sites.

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