Tweeting and social media: an international perspective

It has become official that social media has a “meaning”, and it has imbedded very much into our everyday lives.

On 25 August, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has announced that it will add “tweet” and  “social media”, in addition to more than 150 other new words.

According to the Dictionary, Tweet (listed as both a noun and verb) is defined as:

1. a chirp note.

2. a post made on the Twitter online message service.

The definition of “social media”, which the dictionary lists as being used for the first time in 2004, reads:

Forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).

However, this is of course just the beginning, and by large, only a western definition. Although at Merriam-Webster, they now feel that the meaning of the word had ‘stabilized’ enough to include them in the dictionary, we are at a time when we are still not quite sure about what tweeting means to our lives. And just like any cultural phenomenon, its meaning, its usage, its adoption rate by the public and its public image are all different in different culture.

As a communication tool, different culture also has a slightly different point of view and hence perception towards what’s acceptable.

In the Middle East, the dramatic events of the Arab Spring and the recent scandal that brought down Congressman Anthony Weiner, tweet is a word that has been part of the story. And had certainly gained international recognition. Tweeting is becoming a widely acceptable form of personal expression. At a seminar during this year’s Cannes Advertising Festival in June, Ama Salama, the Egyptian filmmaker who took part in the Egyptian protests said: “Some corporations are using the same brainwashing techniques that those government used to sell their bureaucracy and propaganda, social media is going to get them because we shall tweet about it and write about it. That s the power of the people.”

In the UK, after the London riot, Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that the Government was trying to establish how to stop the internet being a tool for troublemakers to organize disruption. Social media, all of a sudden, had been blamed for being a disruptive tool. Although it has been reported that the government already appears to be rowing back on Cameron’s initial suggestion, it did cast a shadow in the medium which should actually can be a very useful intelligence assets.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, remain positive about this. In the lecture he had given at the Edinburgh International Television Festival on 26 August 2011, when asked about his opinion on Cameron’s proposal, he said: “I think it’s a mistake. It is a mistake to look into the mirror and try to break the mirror. Whatever the problem was [that caused the riots] the internet is a reflection of that problem. If you have a problem, use the internet to understand what the problem is.”

Meanwhile in Germany, Facebook was being challenged in August to disable its new photo-tagging software. The German government said that they were concerned that Facebook’s facial recognition feature amounted to the unauthorized collection of data on individuals. Johannes Caspar, the data protection supervisor in Hamburg, who has been aggressive in investigating the online practices of companies like Google and Apple, also warned that the feature could violate European privacy laws. The case is still under review.

In China, “tweet” remains only the meaning of a tweety bird, and the platform, together with other imported social media platforms like facebook, are still being blocked. Artist Ai Wei Wei started blogging in 2006 (he was among the few ‘celebrity bloggers’ who were actually invited by to promote their new platform), by 2009, the blog was started to be censored and its entire contents deleted from cyberspace. However, if you think that the tight control on social media is limiting its growth as a medium is wrong. In fact it had been reported that social media is more popular in China than UK. China also has a thriving ecosystem based around dozens of networks with home-grown platforms such as QZone, Baidu and 51.

One tweet different reactions – it’s important to know what social media actually means in your culture; no matter whether you are tweeting to express your personal views or as the face of a commercial brand.

In the coming blogs I will be exploring in more depths some of the following topics:

  • How different are the use of social media in different markets?
  • What are the proper “social behavior” in social media, what are widely considered as good manners in tweeting and blogging?
  • If you are tweeting and blogging on behalf of your company, are there any useful guidelines?
  • If you are maintaining a twitter profile for a brand as a marketing tool, what are the most effective approach to remain authentic while meeting the commercial objectives?

I welcome to hear your viewpoints and inputs especially from different cultures. (@louiechow)

Links and reference:

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary Updated for 2011:

Ai Wei Wei’s Blog: writings, interviews, and digital rants, 2006-2009/ Ai Wei Wei: edited and translated by Lee Ambrozy. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press 2011.

Google’s Schmidt sees more partners for Google TV (Georgina Prodhan,, 27.08.2011)

Germany Investigating Facebook Tagging Feature (Kevin J. O’Brien,, 03.08.2011)