Facebook and its global rivals are crushing the rich mix of local social networks that grew up in the early days. Or are they?

Certainly GWI research demonstrates diminishing popularity of market-specific social networks in favour of the global alternatives. But underneath these headline figures lies a more complex story

In some markets, despite the widespread leadership of Facebook, local networks continue to hold strong positions. They’ve been able to do this by meeting the needs of specific groups of users.

One of the best examples is Nasza-Klasa, which despite the fact that Facebook dominates the social media scene in Poland, has never lost the loyalty of its core audiences for two key reasons: a strong educational base and language.

When Nasza-Klasa was first established in 2006, its main purpose was to enable Polish internet users to re-connect with their old peers from school. The network grew fast, with each school and class having its own sub-site where ex-class mates could register as students or guests.

It has since added new functions, including micro-blog ‘sledzik’, groups and Instant Messenger ‘nktalk’, thereby transforming itself into a multifunctional interaction platform of that is in direct competition with Facebook.

Given its history, it is not surprising that Nasza-Klasa still remains the number one choice for internet users with extensive education-related connections. In fact, the largest group of Nasza-Klasa users are those individuals educated to post-graduate level (60% of active users and 80% account ownership). This group is more likely to contribute content to Nasza-Klasa than Facebook via sharing photos (83%), posting comments about their daily activities (50%) and messaging with friends on one to one basis (50%).

Facebook, however, appeals more strongly to younger audiences. This group are more familiar with trends in global culture and have a greater propensity to follow global fashions, brands and celebrities easily accessible on Facebook. GWI Q4 2012 data shows that 78% of 16-24 and 81% of 25 -34 always like to try new products and 48% of 16-35 like to keep up with the latest fashions.

The language is the second important factor that helps Nasza-Klasa remain competitive. While many young Poles understand English, the dominant language of the internet, older generations often feel more comfortable using Nasza-Klasa, the only social network entirely available in Polish. GWI Q4 2012 data indicates that 72% of Poles between 40-55 and 75% in the group age of 55-64 only visit websites that are entirely in their native language.

What this means for marketers is that they cannot simply focus their efforts on the dominant social network in each market. Usage is highly differentiated and as with any communication channel, the choice of social network and form of message must always be specifically tailored to the needs and characteristics of the targeted group.

So despite the diminishing popularity of local social networks, they should not be written off. They can still represent important online channels for key audiences.

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