It's interesting that Brazil always stands out as Latin America's Internet bellwether. To a large degree, Brazil's status is a function of the fact that nearly 90 percent of its Internet users participate in some type of social media site -- in fact, Brazilians are the world's most active users of social media.
Having previously lived in Brazil for five years, I am not surprised that Brazil (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Argentina) serves as a hotbed for this kind of innovation. Brazilians and Latins in general are by nature very social.
It's only natural that, when given the opportunity to engage in enjoyable activities online, Brazilians would jump at the chance. And so they have, with the rest of Latin America not far behind. As Tomy Lorsch, the Argentine director of the Madrid-based digital consulting group Findasense, has said: "Spanish is the third language of the world, and the Latin American market is one of the fastest growing worldwide.... This expansion was inevitable."
A recent survey of 1,277 highly active Internet users from Brazil revealed some interesting trends:
- Twitter stands out as the most frequently used social media site (visited by 38.5 percent of respondents), followed by Orkut (26.9 percent), blogs (14.2 percent), email groups (3.6 percent), and Facebook (3.1 percent)
- The vast majority of respondents have signed up to a new social media site within the past three months. Twitter's adoption appears to have occurred in the past few months
- When asked why they visited social media sites, respondents stated that they visit Twitter in order to stay up to date on topics of interest; Orkut is generally used to stay in touch with friends; and YouTube is identified with entertainment
The survey was conducted by Brazilian Internet analysis firm E.life
in partnership with PR agency Porter Novelli.
Twitter's astounding figures, particularly compared to Orkut and Facebook, are surprising; however, the survey is targeted toward heavy Internet users (17 percent of respondents work at an ad/PR agency).
What is perhaps more meaningful is the speed and intensity with which Latin American Internet users adopt new Web technologies and sites. Latin Americans are also coming to rely on Spanish- and Portuguese-language social networks for the same activities that have distinguished their English-language counterparts: connecting and (reconnecting) with friends and family members; sharing news, stories, videos, and music; and playing an assortment of video games.
Could a single online social network come to dominate the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking online community, across North America, Mexico, and South America? Such a migration is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Even users loyal to existing sites can be induced to make such a switch; consider the fate of MySpace in the Facebook era.
A social networking site targeting the Latino community would serve not as a substitute for Facebook or other popular social networks, but rather as a complement to them.
What tomorrow holds for social media no one can say precisely, but if the current numbers from Brazil and other Latin American nations are any indication, there's a bright future for these kinds of sites -- a future filled with opportunities for users and site designers alike.
— John C. Abbott is the CEO of Quepasa Corp. He has over 15 years of experience in entrepreneurship.