Cultural Norms and Social Technology Adoption: A Discussion in Paris

Last night the Parisian Twitter community met up at LaCantine, a coworking space. If you attended, you can find those folks Twitter handles on the initial blog post and follow your neighbors. Fredric took pictures, and blogged his thoughts from the event in French (and now English) about the conversation, I used Google translate and get the gist of his post. I hope the community will self-organize tweetups, I find once or twice a quarter to be plenty to really help solidify an online community.

Although the community has come together for Barcamps, Blogger Dinners, and the very successful Twestival (I met the founder Sandrine Plasseraud last night) was created here, this was one of the first true Parisian tweetups. I asked the room how many of them knew others, and only a handful knew at least 50% of the room, which had about 40 folks there.

Questions about privacy
I kicked off a conversation about the Future of the Social Web, which triggered a discussion for folks. Later, as we enjoyed drinks, I recall more questions from the French attendees about privacy. “What privacy concerns should we worry about in the future of the social web?”. Some even suggested new business models will emerge that will offer to hide and remove your social footprint. In my past days as a web marketing manager, I recall bumping up against privacy concerns in some European countries where cookies were highly discouraged.

Web infrastructure growing –yet social adoption is low
Later, I learned that the city of Paris offers a form of Wifi hotspots in public for people to use, (although folks in Twitter are telling me the experience is spotty) so the infrastructure is already setup. Yet despite this, the adoption rates of social technologies are significantly lower here in France. Creators are 13%, Critics are 23%, Collectors are 7%, Joiners are a mere 9%, big jump with 54% are spectators but Inactives are 42%, meaning that 58% cannot be reached by social technologies. If you want a description for those terms, start with this handy guide.

Back to the topic on hand; How cultural norms impact social technology adoption. The fact is, that French have internet infrastructure, knowledge of how to use social tools, and a government that’s not resisting the social web. Yet the adoption rates, according to the numbers, are much lower.

Question: How are cultural beliefs, like privacy, going to impact social adoption
So despite the infrastructure being intact in Paris, the technographics numbers indicate the usage of social technologies is lower. I’d love to hear from any French and anyone else for that matter, about how culture impacts the adoption of social technologies, what are the factors that encourage people to use –or not use — social technologies.

  • Gabint

    Well, I think there are various reasons that explains have this lower rate of adoption, but I first think to these two ones :

    1) Most of social media tools are developped in the United State (I don’t say ALL) and as consequence are for english speakers. And French people are generally not very happy with any other language than French… ‘-( In the same it reduces our capacity to exchange with people from other countries on social networks.

    2) I think we’re less curious than “Anglo Saxon” people. French people are naturaly more reluctant to change and adopt new stuffs takes more time.

    But obviously I know that not all the French think like that and there are plenty of French invested in social media and in the Internet more generaly. Those you meet in the Cantine are a part of them (this place is so cool by the way).

  • Hi from Germany. I guess privacy matters here in Germany at least as much as in other European countries like France. On the one hand we have a very strong discussion on how to save data from governmental or economic use. On the other hand people are massively joining social networks and since 3 years or so people use their real name adding loads of data incl. address, mobile telephone, date of birth etc. Somehow this changed about 3 years ago. We have one social network (The Url means “Who knows whom”), which is about the strongest in Germany. It has no business purpose and is not limited to a niche like students or pupil. People of all ages join and in some areas (the origin is a small town of about 50.000 people) up to 80 or 90 percent of a village joined. I guess privacy will never matter as much as before. This won’t turn.

  • Torsten, Gabint

    Thanks for this. I just looked at the Technographics of Germany, and while not a tremendously larger jump, it is higher than France, 17% are joiners.

    The topic last night came up about localized social networks may appear, gaining adoption over big social networks, that are in localized language and perhaps even dialect.

  • Hi Jeremiah, how are you since yesterday ?

    About privacy and the era of social context. A lot of french people indeed worry about their internet privacy.

    At this time, they don’t manage very well the social media and don’t understand that generating content on social media (often private content), means everyone can potentially watch/read it, like on television or newspaper (even worse since with Google or others search engines, it’s there for ever).

    But now the french internet users are feeling the backdraft: they’ve heard about a lot of stories of fired people due to photos or status on facebook that were inappropriate in a professional context…And they do worry about it.

    As a consequence, a lot of people have return to “privacy look”on their FB accounts (it was not the case at the beginning),and more and more people do control theirs cookies (browser like firefox are more and more accurate about it). There is a learning curve about users generated content and now french people begin to understand all the aftermaths of theirs posts.

    So with that kind of learning curve, I’m not quit sure that personnal information will not be used as simply as you said yesterday, for commercial purposes.

    So social media adoption yes, faster with the Y generation, but not in a blind way, in a quite personnally controlled way.

  • Tough question Jeremiah!

    I am not, by far, a social history expert, but I mainly see three inter-related factors which could explain French reluctance to adopt social media.

    – French are not great travelers, a feature we share for instance with Italia. A lot of familial and friendly relationships take part locally, and the need for keeping in touch and sharing online is much less developed than in countries where people tie friendships knots around the country or the world.

    – There is in France a long tradition of thought and mind production valuation. Across past centuries, France as well known to protect artists and French intellectuals were among those who helped the world “spread the word”. This leaded us to grow a feeling of self-importance and to vote laws which protect efficiently intellectual production. The dark side of it is that our culture is now more about self-indulgence than about sharing. Hence the recent insanely restrictive Hadopi law.

    – France, as a nation, doesn’t mean a lot to most French people. We lack pride of our country, which leads us to act with a very low sense of community, cultivating our sense of individuality and moving us away from community-based interaction. A feature we share, for example, with India, where social media adoption is also very low.

    Language, also, is of course a barrier, as French people tend to favor French language communities, like Japanese for instance, except that Japanese dense social tissue and national pride pushed them easily into Mixi.

    I am not sure if local models is the way the social web should evolve. There is also a generational divide there, as a look to the way my daughter acts online suggests. In a few yars, most of these barriers will vanish, provided a governmental withdrawal doesn’t strike back. France needs, first, a major national rebranding!
    Not to say that the conversation will be global. The way consumers interact with brands is utterly local and cultural, and I strongly believe in geo-contextual conversation.

    Sorry for being so wordy!

  • Hi Jeremiah, I am an American who has lived in Germany for 20 years. While it seems that the ball of social media adoption is finally starting to role here, from the data I’ve observed, also Technographics, it has been slower. Germans in general are simply more guarded about their private lives. I remember when coming to Germany the joke was, don’t expect anyone at your new office to invite you over to dinner before the 1st year. My hunch is also that there is a collective historical memory of the 1930’s and the Nazi regime, when the government made it a point to pry into people’s personal lives and divergence from governmental mandates could mean imprisonment or worse. This collective memory is less pronounced among younger Germans, but as we’ve seen in the US, the biggest gains of social media adaption are now among older people. Within that segment, it may just not happen as fast in Germany as it is in the States.

  • david

    Hi, I’m french and appreciate your open question about adoption of social technologies in France.

    – As generalities, many fench people don’t want to be in touch with technologies. Adults (40+) think that Internet looks difficult to use and also it’s a waste of time. So, it’s a big barrier to go on social networks. Email is enough.

    – About privacy, French People don’t really be friend with the neighbour. Everyone have his own life and it’s fine like this. For example, many top bloggers who tweet prefer to make it private…

    – just a few talks about twitter on traditional media. If a popular TV guy create a twitter account as Oprah did, just only the little twitter community will talk about it.

    – Most of top blogs in France copy/paste infos from the web and there’s no added value. In fact, the word “blog” have a negative content >> for nerd and individualist. So, people prefer to sondier traditional media which switch online.

    – We are french and we want to speak in French.

    – Facebook became very popular in France. Most of people know it but they don’t need other applications.

    I’m French, proud about my language and my nation //

  • Hi Jeremiah, Interesting post as always. Perhaps a little more specifically than cultural norms, I have a hypothesis that the social capital derived from trust impacts social media adoption rates and patterns. I am rereading Francis Fukuyama’s excellent 1995 book called Trust. In the book Fukuyama describes low-trust and high-trust societies. France, Italy and China are considered low-trust societies while the U.S. and Japan, for example, have similar trust profiles. We know that communities will not form without some base level of trust. We might imagine in the social media context the concept of reciprocal trust is important. I plan to study this much further, but would be very interested in your views on social capital built through trust as a way to think about the cultural implications of social media adoption and usage. Thanks!

  • Keith Wemm

    Interesting question. I am surprised in general the Europeans are not engaging in social networking more. Language seems to be the main road block in my mind. Using Twitter, for example, I have noticed that there are a lot of people from the UK using it. One wonders if Twitter had a translation function if that tool, in particular, would be more widely used. Where did you get your updated numbers regarding Creators, Critics, etc., if I may ask?

  • Paul Richard

    While I think privacy does play a part I think it may be more the culture of acceptance. How much of a society is on the move and how much stays in the same area they were born? Even in the US I think you will see differences of adoption based on that statistic. I know when we moved to the Northeast my family was seen as outsiders for about 5 years. I also think some areas of the South may be that way. Here in the Western US I think people tend to move around more frequently and are more open to new contacts.

  • Maybe there are two cultural issues that can help to explain what you noticed.

    • It seems that european people are more likely to socialize in real life. “Why do I need the net while I can meet my friends in real life, have a drink with them….”. Moreover I know many people who consider their contacts are only those they know for real and using the net to enter communities and make new contacts online is pointless. For them things must start IRL. I think this issue is even stronger when you consider latin countries.

    • The second point, more specifically French I think, is an oversensitivity to privacy issues. Collection of personal datas and their use is very regulated ans their is a special commission, the CNIL (National commission for data processing and liberies) that is in charge of every database with personal datas in the country. Every database and data processing concerning private datas has to be declared and some of them (religious views, race etc…) are illegal (even for government agencies). There’s a short entry on wikipedia (in english) about it. ( Historically it’s the legacy of what was done during World War II and, remembering that, french people are now very aware of what can be done with their personal datas. The fear of big brother is really a part of the local culture.

    I hope this will help…

  • A lot of great ideas here from folks, many from my new French folks I met, thank you for all the comments, it’ll be interesting to watch this over the coming years.

  • French native and having lived in couple other countries in Europe and New Zealand, I have now in the US for almost 10 years.

    I think that social technologies are not different from regular people relationships when it comes to culture. I remember the first time I went to hang out in Denver, CO after moving the US. An American friend said: “yeah, let’s go socialize” – “to socialize” implies a construct to me, I heard this expression many times after. ‘Constructing’ relationships is not quite how things work or they may work differently or at a different pace in other cultures.

    Social technologies can also facilitate the construction of relationships and this is where culture will weigh in heavily.

  • Jeremiah,

    a lot of quite good comments were made, so I won’t repeat what has been said, but I wanted to draw a parallel between the adoption of social media and something that Bertrand pointed to

    In the US, when you fill in an online questionnaire, you’re personal data is by default public, you have to opt-out if you do not want your data to be shareable …

    In the EU, the rule is the ‘Opt in’, i.e. you have to specifically accept that your data may be used by third parties.

    What this tells us, is that by essence, Europeans tend to view their personal data to be private, while Americans are used to see it being public by default …

    Social medias tend to expose your personal data, which is something Europeans are not quite comfortable with …

    Also, due to the size of the country, Americans have families that are generally quite spread geographically, and the technologies offered by the new social tools were quite welcomed by all these people who are trying to keep in touch despite the miles that separate them … so they have accepted them faster …

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  • Hi from Germany. I guess privacy matters here in Germany at least as much as in other European countries like France. On the one hand we have a very strong discussion on how to save data from governmental or economic use. On the other hand people are massively joining social networks and since 3 years or so people use their real name adding loads of data incl. address, mobile telephone, date of birth etc. Somehow this changed about 3 years ago. We have one social network (The Url means “Who knows whom”), which is about the strongest in Germany. It has no business purpose and is not limited to a niche like students or pupil. People of all ages join and in some areas (the origin is a small town of about 50.000 people) up to 80 or 90 percent of a village joined. I guess privacy will never matter as much as before. This won't turn.

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