Romanian Online Communities – A War of Social Statuses?
Seven to ten years ago, the Internet was synonymous with teenagers spending their nights on mIRC without letting their parents find out. Then, “being online” was a distinctive feature of young people, a secret weapon against “muggles” of all kinds: parents, grandparents, teachers. With the internet spreading faster and faster, the online scene has become less homogenous, breaking age barriers. Nowadays, it’s not unusual to see nephews teaching their grandparents how to “google” something or to install a webcam. But with age barriers going down, others build up, such as social statuses. A recent study performed in Romania by Daedalus Millward Brown and presented earlier this month at a social media conference, outlined the characteristics of the online networks and their users (click here for a PowerPoint presentation of the key findings in English). The study showed that Twitter, Hi5 and Facebook are the most preferred media among Romanians searching to have an online presence, and that there is a tendency to favor a network over another based on affinities and social status. The research showed that online users perceive themselves and others based on the community one belongs to. For example, Twitter users believe that they are the people that matter, being in touch with everything new. They are seen by Facebook users as “leaders”, although they are “too egocentric and focused on their personal development”, and believe that Hi5 users don’t quite understand what’s going on with Twitter. Facebook users, on the other hand, are seen by Twitter members as “ok, but not very interested in socializing”, as they see Facebook more like an illustrated personal history rather than an opportunity to share. For Hi5 users, Facebook is somehow aspirational, but with more rigid standards. Finally, Hi5, the biggest online community in Romania, consists of two categories of users: the “nostalgic”, those who created an account at the beginning of Hi5, and the “self-promoters”, those looking to promote themselves. While Facebook users are less critical towards Hi5 members, Twitter users have the tendency to look down on Hi5 users. Moreover, the study showed a connection between social values and the preference to use one network over another. Thus, Romanians see Twitter as the environment for personal development, Facebook stands for stability and a sense of belonging while Hi5 translates into self-orientation and self-promotion. While this general association of social values with online networks might be a little artificial, it is important for companies to take into consideration such affinities and values in their online PR strategies, when choosing the media to approach an audience or another. In the end, it’s not about breaking down barriers but about finding the best road to take you where you want to go.