European social media success thwarted by U.S. giants


The Americans are coming, and Europe’s social media platforms are losing ground. But many local brands are still doing fine business connecting the continent’s consumers.

In the past few years several high-profile European social media brands have imploded. Wer-kennt-wen (Who knows whom) and StudiVZ were once giants of the burgeoning German scene, offering a platform for Teutonic students to share information, much like Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard-based Facebook did in 2003.

Now, though, wer-kennt-wen and StudiVZ have been outstripped, out-featured and outmanoeuvred by Facebook, which has become Germany’s biggest social media site in an incredibly short space of time. In 2010 7.5m Germans held a Facebook account. Today that number is over 25m – around 31 per cent of the entire population.

“Right now we see the big U.S. networks reaping the results of global networking effects,” says Marcel Weiß of Neunetz, an analyst. “There is, right now, no-one standing in the way of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. If anything we see a decline of local social networks because of that.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom for Europe’s social media entrepreneurs. Their American competitors for the most part, entered the market relatively late. And a number of platforms still hold a formidable sway over the continent.

VK, formerly known as VKontakt, is the second-largest social network in Europe after Facebook. It currently has over 240m registered users – most of whom are Russian speakers from the former USSR and Israel. The site gets around 60m visitors per day: little wonder its former owners, Georgian-Israeli father-and-son pair Mikhail and Vyacheslav Mirilashvili, reaped over $1.12bn for their 40 per cent stake in the firm last year. VK is currently the ninth-largest social network in the world, and the biggest headquartered outside the States.

Following its larger Russophone neighbour, Odnoklassniki is a regional version of Friends Reunited, and is home to 148m registered users – many of whom live in the former Soviet states of central Asia such as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, whose market was for a long time shielded from western outlets, has had plenty of time to evolve separately. It’s one reason why the region, while a growing one for the big American players, remains loyal to local providers.

Neither VK nor Odnoklassniki compete directly with U.S. rivals. The same isn’t true of French-owned Viadeo or Germany’s Xing, both of which took part in a three-way fight with LinkedIn in late 2009 to provide a networking platform for local professionals. Viadeo undoubtedly came out on top, and now has over 50m members. Xing, which focuses on the Germanic speakers of Germany, Austria and Switzerland registers just 14m users but is growing slowly each quarter.

Other major platforms include Belgium’s Netlog, which claims 94m users, Berlin-based Soundcloud which has 40m, and Habbo, a Finnish teen-centred social network popular worldwide, which clocks in at 230m registered users. Pokes and Tweets may still be the major social networking currency, but Europe’s major players still have several million reasons to be cheerful.


  • Fred Rocha

    Impressive numbers on those last, least known Social Networks. Facebook used some dirty tactics to harvest users in the early days. That, together with very aggressive capital -backed growth left very little room for competitors to breath.