Carlie Sitzman MA, CT
Culture in Marketing: How Culture Impacts Social Media Use in Germany
Updated: Aug 16, 2021
Once you have found trending marketing content that works in your home country, identifying trending topics worldwide is an excellent way to expand your target audience. It may be tempting to simply have the trending content from your home country translated into the local language. Taking this approach could be a huge mistake, however, since content is nothing without its cultural and sociological environment. Foreign trends may be the same, similar with minor adaptations, or completely different. You will have to be aware of the many subtle ways in which the environment and culture in the target country differ from your own corner of the world. Hiring a translator specialized in marketing to perform trending content research for the target country can give you a huge advantage here.
This article is the second in a five-part series discussing how to adapt trending content research for foreign audiences. I will write from the perspective of someone in the United States researching trending content for Germany. This week, I take a look at cultural differences in social media use. Rather than discussing an overarching theory, I will compare Germany and the United States as an example. Similarly analyzing other countries will help you better understand which topics can be successfully researched through these channels.
Cultural Tendencies That Impact Social Media Usage
In my previous article about how culture impacts customer reviews, I discussed how members of German society are much more reserved in public than their comparatively boisterous American counterparts. This affects the type of content you will see on social media. Americans will share information more freely, while Germans will be more cautious and careful about what they share. The at times troubling role personal information played in German history over the course of the 20th century has also left German society with a heightened awareness of privacy concerns. In contrast, Americans seemingly lack a traumatic history with privacy and are consequently much more willing to share their information.
A Brief History of Privacy in 20th-Century Germany
Let’s take a brief look at historic events that continue to impact German internet usage today. After World War I, Hitler came to power and started another war. This was a very scary time for many people in Germany. Government agencies kept careful records on people and you could get in trouble, thrown in jail, or worse for having the wrong religion, being the wrong ethnicity, liking the wrong kind of art, making the wrong kind of art, spending time with the wrong people, writing the wrong kinds of things, listening to the wrong kind of music, etc. Was the determination of right or wrong based on some kind of fair or scientific system? No. Arbitrary determinations were made and executed based on the ideology of the people in power. Sometimes you might not even know you had offended the powers that be until a knock came at your door at two in the morning and you were ushered away, never to be seen again. Surveillance and records kept on people’s lives, likes, and dislikes are what made all of this possible.
It didn’t stop after World War II either. Surveillance intensified in East Germany, with new technologies allowing the government to monitor even more minute details of people’s everyday lives. If you even so much as frowned at a government official, you could return to an apartment riddled with bugs secretly recording every breath you took and word you uttered. The worst part is, you wouldn’t even know any of this were happening. Watch “The Lives of Others” if you want to get an idea of how this worked. If the government perceived any part of your life as a threat, no matter how rational their concern was, there could be dire consequences. You could be blacklisted from your profession for life. You could be arrested. You could be secretly tortured and questioned.
How German History Impacts Social Media Use
This history, combined with the German culture of being reserved, has definitely shaped the way Germans of the Millennial generation utilize social media. Future generations may embrace social media more. It remains to be seen. Consider for a moment how most people know very little about how their information is actually shared or stored once it is published to a platform. The social media employees controlling everything behind the scenes are also quite mysterious. This makes the social media platforms we frequent every day the perfect setup for miniature totalitarian regimes. German customers are understandably concerned. Due in part to their lack of firsthand experience with totalitarian governments, however, Americans are comparatively carefree on social media.
Practical Examples of Cultural Differences in Social Media Use
How does this manifest in practical terms? An informal assessment of the Millennials on my Facebook and Twitter accounts reveals that the majority of posts from German users are business-related or academic in nature. Meanwhile, US-American users are posting comparatively copious amounts of personal photos showing their family, holiday celebrations, vacations, and other activities. Post volume from American users also appears to be much higher than post volume from their German counterparts.
Facebook Groups have grown in popularity in recent years, so it is illuminating to compare popular group topics. An informal survey of the most popular German-speaking groups on Facebook reveals that the top five discussion topics are selling and trading used goods, cooking, home improvement, beauty, and fitness. Potentially controversial topics like politics and religion are noticeably absent. Such Facebook groups may still exist in Germany, but they are less popular. Meanwhile, the top five topics of English-speaking groups are cooking, novelty posts, games, religion, and budget living. American politics was one of the top ten English-language topics. Interesting indeed. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that many Germans speak very good English and may also be participating in the English-language groups.
One thing can be said for sure: Social media is probably the wrong place to be researching anything related to religion, politics, family, recreation, vacation, or personal matters in Germany. You will have to do more digging to find those topics!
Don’t have time to hunt down popular topics in Germany? I would be glad to assist. Contact me for a free quote.