When I hear marketers talk about marketing experiments in the blogosphere, they almost always refer to English-speaking, US-centric activities....
The wake up call for me was Dave Sifry's post on the state of the blogosphere, April 2006, in which he clearly demonstrates the growing international nature of the Blogosphere.
Out of the 37.3 million blogs tracked by Technorati, less than a third of all posts are now written in English. The Blogosphere has become deeply international and multicultural with a growing importance of Japanese (37% of all posts) and Chinese blogging (15% of all posts). As David points out, he also grossly underestimates Korean blogging considering that the largest Korean blog and hompy services (like Cyworld or Planet Weblog) are not being indexed by Technorati at this time. Check out my post on Cyworld to understand this incredible phenomenon.
Japanese blog posting overweight could be explained by mobile phone blogging with numerous short posts and Chinese blogging is most probably linked to the rapid growth of Internet penetration in this country.
But one other fact caught my eye, because the explanation was less obvious. The French blogosphere is greatly underestimated by Technorati statistics and France has become one of the major blogging countries in the world. According to a compilation of French sources such as Mediametrie (see Loic's podcast on the topic), France counts close to 7 million blogs today. This represents a significant part of the population, far above the penetration in the US or other European countries.
So why is France blogging and why should marketers pay attention? I decided to connect with leading French bloggers on the subject. Many thanks to Loic, Roland, Alain and our own in-house expert Srdjan for their insights.
2005 .... Web Tipping Point Year in France
According to Mediametrie, two tipping points have been achieved in 2005. More than 50% of French above 11 years of age are now Internet users and more than 25% shop online. More than 50% of households now own a computer with a very rapid growth of high speed connections: 80% of internet enabled households use high speed, which represents an 80% growth over last year.
According to Srdjan Ivo Vejvoda, one of HP's European experts, "France has basically catapulted itself from being one of the laggards in Internet peneration among the developed western European countries to one of the leading adopters of Internet-enabled technology. One of the main reasons is the very rapid growth of high speed connections. Unlike the US, where you usually don't have much of a choice from whom you get your DSL or other broadband connection, in France there is very healthy competition from multiple service providers offering which has driven prices down and increased higher speeds of connection. Here's a great overview published in Salon last October about differing national broadband policies and how other countries have leapfrogged the US in this area, confirming the technology underpinnings of the international nature of the blogosphere.
This tipping point phenomenon is accelerated according to Alain Thys at Future Lab by online history in France. "Online history goes back to the 1980s with the use of the online terminal system Minitel. This little device which was eventually used by over 25 million households to do many things which still happen today. (Online chat was already a phenomenon in France before the English speaking world had ever heard of it.) Digital communication habits in France are essentially "one generation ahead," which is also highlighted by the fact that many French kids are 'hyperwired' by Anglo-saxon standards. This also shows in the blogosphere."
Many French people have therefore accessed the internet with high speed at a time of great awareness of blogs and have jumped immediately on the bandwagon. About 73% of all French internet users know what a blog is and 28% visit blogs in 2006 vs. only 20% mid 2005. Additionally according to Loic Le Meur, the leading French blogger and General Manager Europe for Six Apart, 7 million French people read blogs every month.
Youth-driven growth triggered by the emergence of French platforms
The penetration of blogs is greatly driven by the youth: 11-15 year old teens represent 35% of bloggers, 16-24 year olds represent 47%. Skyblog, a free blog hosting service launched by Skyrock Radio, is a great example of this trend. Skyrock was one of the first media companies in Europe to offer a blog publishing platform to its audience of 12 to 24 year olds in 2002. Skyblog now hosts close to 5 million blogs, mostly by teen listeners. It includes close to 245 million posts and 415 million comments. If you check their home page, you will notice that a skyblog is created almost every second!
It has also brought close to $10 million a year in advertising revenues to Skyrock. Skyblog has been the French equivalent of social networking developments such as Cyworld and myspace. Advertisers range from Coca Cola to Ecureuil (financial services) or SMS providers. Skyrock and Skyblog were acquired last month by a private equity firm.
Growth driven by opinion leaders
Blogging has taken a critical place in the political debate as we get closer to French presidential elections.
According to Srdjan, "The traditional print media have played a leading role in making blogs a part of mainstream in France. For example, one of the national dailies, Liberation, has its blog page but it also launched last month a weekly magazine called Ecrans (Screens) -- that focuses very heavily on the Internet. The vénérable "Le Monde" has done even more and has a huge selection of blogs on its platform. A left-leaning news weekly, "Le nouvel Observateur" also has a significant blogging area.
Key French opinion leaders have also launched blogs to convey their ideas. Segolene Royal, one of the leading French presidential candidates, blogs on Desir d avenirs: close to 60,000 have visited her blog since December. As Roland Piquepaille ... one of the leading French bloggers .... points out, she has not necessarily stayed true to the spirit of the blogosphere since 40 people contribute to writing her posts (see this French article on the topic). Nevertheless her initiative has clearly raised the awareness of blogs as a vehicle to bridge the gap between politicians and citizens. Similarly Dominique Strauss Kahn, another French politician, claims one million pages read and 26,000 comments on his blog.
According to Roland, the case of Michel-Edouard Leclerc is quite atypical for a French CEO but contributes to the increased awareness of the French blogosphere. Michel-Edouard Leclerc, CEO of E. Leclerc, a leading discount retailer, leverages blogging as a key lobbying tool to criticize French policies as well as to communicate his own moral values. Similarly Pierre Bilger, a former Alsthom CEO, started a blog to convery his personal views following a scandal around his golden parachute.
So what does all this mean for marketers?
Blogging marketing is still in its infancy across the world and marketers should apply sound marketing practices. At the same time, France can represent a very interesting marketing pilot country (similar to Korea in Asia). A very interesting case study is Vichy, a skincare company, part of the L'Oreal Group. Vichy launched a blog for the introduction of a new anti-aging product as part of an integrated marketing campaign.
Bloggers quickly bashed the Vichy blog for presenting a fake character and filtering comments. The Vichy team learned from its mistakes and developed a blog with bloggers going through the anti-aging treatment and providing honest feedback, creating viral marketing for its cream. Shel has a great post on the Vichy experience on his blog.
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