Why is social media off to a slow start in Germany?

I came across two interesting blog posts discussing the fact that social media seems to be off to a slow start in Germany compared to the United States.  This reflects my own experience, as I find that most of the social media blogs I read (and podcasts I listen too) originate from my native land.  There are a couple of exceptions, and of course, as I am an American living in Germany, I have a certain propensity to read and listen to commentary in my mother tongue.  But still there is no doubt that compared to the number of blogs and podcasts originating State side, it’s slim pickings in good old Germany.

The post in ReadWriteWeb concerns itself mostly with a comparison between blogging and social media activity in the US and Germany.  More interesting are Felix Salmon’s 10 reasons why the blogosphere is failing to thrive in Germany.  While he writes specifically about blogs on economics, I think the points he’s identified apply to blogging in general.  These include:

  • A high degree of respect for traditional standard qualifications and sources of authority.  (As the world knows, questioning authority has not been a historical strength of the Germans — at least not during the first half of the last century.)
  • A general discomfort on the part of Germans to be seen as outsiders, as many bloggers see themselves.
  • Less inherent respect for the voice of the people or the common man, compared to America.
  • A propensity to be methodical and comprehensive in expressing a point of view, whereas the style of blogs (not to mention micro-blogs) favors the succinct, the sound byte and the spontaneous.  (Think of Wagner vs. Puccini.)

Map of Europe

When people ask me about certain typical characteristics of Germans (respect for authority, heightened sensitivity to instability, initial caution and reserve in regard to strangers), I cite one of my favorite theories.  It all goes back to the Thirty Years’ War.  This was one of the bloodiest conflicts in European history, it was played out mostly on German soil, a substantial portion of the civilian population was slaughtered, and society as a whole was shaken to its foundations.  It was a watershed event that left a deep and enduring need in the collective German psyche to maintain social stability and established institutions.

I am more optimistic than the writers of these posts about the future of blogging and social media in Germany.  By virtue of the borderless social web, younger generations of Germans are being exposed to, influenced by and participating in this new style of shared thinking and ideas.  And in so doing, perhaps they are eliminating the last vestages of an ingrained, common societal “angst” and exaggerated caution when it comes to expressing themselves spontaneously.  One hopes this will set their social media spirit free and enable them to embrace the blogosphere and podosphere with the same gusto and enthusiasm as their fellow post-generation-Xers on the other side of the Atlantic.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Why is social media off to a slow start in Germany?

  1. Norma

    Interesting viewpoint on Germans’ perceptions on authority in general!
    As a German living in America I still pretty much feel like you prescribed the Germans. I have a high respect for authority and feel ‘judged’ on a whole by what my country’s history laid on me even though I wasn’t even around during that time. I still feel (like you said) “a general discomfort on the part of Germans to be seen as outsiders”.

    I hope that the social media back home will become more open and use their voice!

    Come to think of it…are you on twitter?

  2. really interesting post, tks! Lots of sympathy for your point about Gen Y embracing the social channels in the Deutschland. i see this happening more & more…

    –ryan

  3. Hey … I’m also an American living in Germany, and intersted in social media and entrepreneurship. I currently work for Berlitz, and am planning to make a proposal to corporate to help them write a corporate blog. What is it exactly that you do?

    • Stephen Rothman

      Hi Ryan, I work for Saatchi & Saatchi advertising in the Frankfurt office. More details on “Who’s on the Soapbox” tab on this blog’s home page.

  4. Sue

    Very interesting post, Steve. I also think that language plays a huge part in willingness to participate. Although most Germans I know speak English proficiently, there’s still a fear of getting it wrong if you write something down…which is ironic, if you see the standard of English from native speakers on something like YouTube…
    There is also a feeling, if you set up something in the German language, that you’re being exclusive and shutting out those who don’t speak German.

  5. Pingback: Germany. Why we struggle with 2.0. | davaidavai.com

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