Where next for brands and social media?

We Are Social’s Brittany Wickerson explores how social media usage varies geographically and explains how to best capitalise on social media trends around the globe

Brittany Wickerson, We Are Social

Global Head of Media


As the global population soars towards eight billion, almost six in ten of us are active social media users – an incredible 4.7 billion people. So, where will growth come from for social? And, how can global brands make the most of the opportunities on offer?

We Are Social’s Digital 2022 July Global Statshot Report, the latest quarterly update of WAS’ definitive annual report on the global state of digital, offers some key insights into brand building on social platforms.

The fact that marketers now need to look beyond US and European markets when considering the trends, developments and marketing opportunities shaping social media is an important takeaway.

Having the cultural insight and knowledge about which groups use particular platforms in specific markets can be a massive differentiator for brands.

Brittany Wickerson, Global Head of Media, We Are Social

True, the most popular social platforms were mostly built in America, with China giving us Byte Dance and WeChat. But it is developing markets – which now account for over 80% of users – that are driving the adoption, usage, and future of social media. 

More specifically, global marketers should keep an eye on emerging trends outside the G7. From India to Indonesia and Brazil to Vietnam, each market has its own social media dynamics, and all of these should be taken into account when developing any international marketing campaign.

Engaging with cultural differences across the world really impacts on the success of a global marketing campaign. So, it is vital for global brands to get a country-by-country perspective about their social media campaigns.

Drill down into the data, and what becomes clear is how much of social media’s growth now is driven by developing markets – often for complex reasons.

While Facebook has faced slowing usage in the West, for instance, it is growing strongly overall. Its monthly active users actually rose to an all-time high of 2.94 billion in the first quarter of 2022.

For Facebook, much of this growth has been driven by take up in India, where TikTok and dozens of other Chinese-owned apps are banned for political reasons – a move that has left the Indian market open to Meta platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

The male skew of Facebook’s global user base is another interesting finding. This is because around the world, men are more likely than women to have access to the internet.

While 40.4% of Facebook’s advertising audience in Africa is female, just 24.7% is female across Southern Asia, for example. In India, nearly 75% of social media users are male whereas in the US 55% of users are female. Meanwhile, the average number of social platforms used each month is 8.6 in India compared to closer to six in the US.

Marked differences are also apparent between age groups.

In the US, for instance, there is higher overall adoption of social media across age groups. In contrast, in India and Indonesia, the majority of social and internet adoption is among 18-34 to year-olds with low adoption among older age groups.

Age-related differences are important to consider when advertising in or entering a developing market. With social campaigns likely to reach a predominantly young, male audience, for instance, the type of content and actions taken should be planned against this context and adjusted – if needed – accordingly.

There are also big differences in the adoption of messaging platforms and devices.

In many markets, WhatsApp is the most used social platform – in part because of the dominance of Android, accounting for 90% of devices. But where Android penetration is lower – such as in the US, where it accounts for 41% of devices – so too is WhatsApp use. In the US, WhatsApp, used by just 28% of the population, barely breaks the top ten.

Messaging also touches on another side of social media – sharing and chatting directly between friends, families, and communities – that though almost impossible to track is a vital part of how content circulates.

Social media plays a greater economic role in people’s lives in developing markets than it does in the West. For many, it is a crucial way of making money – often through gaming and gambling or investing in cryptocurrencies as the local currency may be unstable. In many such nations, fixed line internet and websites have been bypassed with much business conducted via social.

In Kenya and Nigeria, for instance, social media is used for work purposes by over 42% of internet users, and over 30% in Brazil and 28% in Indonesia. This compares to just 13% in the UK and under 6% in Japan, where social media is used more for work.

With the growth of gaming and professional networks such as LinkedIn, expect use of social media as an economic resource to become a more pronounced trend in Western markets.

In the light of all this, the approaches and platforms marketers need to access different audiences vary by country. And as a result, having the cultural insight and knowledge about which groups use particular platforms in specific markets can be a massive differentiator for brands.

Influencers tend to have a far greater impact in developing nations, for example, the Statshot shows. In the Philippines, for instance, over 46% of internet users say following influencers is their main reason for using social media while in Brazil the figure is 38.6%; in the US, 21%; and in Denmark, 17.7%.

Use of social networks for brand research is also far higher in developing countries than in the West. And users in developing nations spend far longer on social media, with those in the Philippines and Brazil spending some 3.5 hours a day on social networks while many Europeans spend under 1.5 hours a day.

Developing markets also often have huge populations, but very low CPMs – the cost of buying 1,000 impressions. While this makes the cost to advertise in those markets comparatively low, budgeting has to be approached differently than it would be for Western markets. While CPMs are lower, brands need enough money to reach a much larger social media population, at a higher frequency than their western counterparts.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of seeing the world as an undifferentiated whole. But when you get into each market, it's highly nuanced. And the context and mentality of users really varies from someone on Instagram in Germany to a Snapchat user in Egypt.

Brands and marketers looking to reach their community via social media need to be familiar with the diverse behaviour of a country’s inhabitants and the regional culture that connects them.

Guest Author

Brittany Wickerson, We Are Social

Global Head of Media


Brittany is the Global Head of Media & Distribution for We Are Social, based in Dubai. She has 15 years of experience in digital marketing, with a focus on leading and developing global specialist teams. She’s worked in technology firms and agencies, helping to stand up highly successful paid media programs in Europe, Canada and the Middle East. In 2022 she expanded her remit, continuing to lead media and distribution for We Are Social while also supporting key initiatives for Plus Company, including strategic product development and regional growth.

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