Beyond Facebook: The Social Networks the Rest of the World Uses

Here in the States, the social media landscape is comprised mostly of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — with other social platforms and apps like Pinterest and Snapchat bubbling up. But there’s a whole other social media world out there just outside our borders.

Countries like China, Japan, Brazil, Israel and Russia are avid social media consumers too, but in many cases, they have their own regional networks and apps. While Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have gained some international traction, there are plenty of local social media offerings that people around the world prefer.

“Social media is a cultural thing; technology mimics human behavior,” said  Michoel Ogince, director of platform and product strategy at Big Fuel. “That’s why Facebook has not made such a big dent in Japan or Hong Kong — it’s just not applicable everywhere.”

Digiday has taken a look at some of the world’s social networks and apps to get a sense of how these regional platforms differ from their American counterparts — and how they’re similar.

Launched in: 2011
Country of origin: Japan
Popular in: East Asia, gaining steam in Spain, Mexico and Latin America
Features: Free text, video and voice messaging, group chat, stickers, games, desktop version

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 2.19.30 PM

LINE is an app for free calls and messaging — much like Canadian messaging app Kik — but has added a host of social services and popular tools like its sticker shop, which features thousands of cute stickers that people can add into their messages. The wide array of cute stickers is really what made it a hit in Japan, where real stickers, anime and kawaii (“cute” in Japanese) are part of everyday culture. LINE recently reached 300 million users worldwide and is making $100 million a month just from its stickers. “It’s like imessaging on steroids, and now everyone is copying them,” said Ogince. “Because they are getting so much traction in such a crowded messaging app space, everyone is copying them — both Facebook and Path have stickers too.”

Launched in: 2007
Country of origin: Japan
Popular in: Japan
Features: Upload, share and view videos, unique commenting system that overlays comments onto videos at specific moments in the video, free and premium membership options to become users (premium costs about 500 yen/$6 U.S. a month)


Niconico (formerly known as Nico Nico Douga) is a video-sharing website managed by Niwango, a subsidiary of Japanese telecom and media company Dwango. “Nico nico” is a Japanese homonym for “smile.” As Shingo Ohno, art director at Ogilvy Tokyo, put it, Niconico’s features make it “distinctively Japanese.” The video-sharing site allows users to create collaborative video and view experiences through the unique comment overlay feature. Videos can have thousands of comments from different people that scroll across the screen at specific times during the video. The types of videos that people share on Niconico tend to feature things relating to Japanese pop music, anime and manga.

Launched in: 2011
Country of origin: China
Popular in: China with growing international user-base 
Features: Free to download, messaging, video chatting, group chatting, stickers, in-app purchasing, games, photo/video sharing, photo filters, a “shake” social feature that connects users to others users who are also shaking their phones at the same time, and “throw” social features that acts like message-in-a-bottle to random users

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 2.09.06 PM

The popular Chinese mobile texting and messaging app was created by Tencent, a Chinese investment holding company. WeChat is available on Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Symbian platforms and supports languages other than Chinese, like Vietnamese, Hinidi, Russian, Thai, Spanish, Turkish, Korean and Japanese, among others. WeChat has 271.9 million monthly active users as of Q3 this year. The fact that WeChat supports other languages is helping it reach a broader global audience.
Launched in: 2006
Country of origin: Russia
Popular in: Russia and former Soviet Republics
Features: Must be at least 7-years-old to make an account, groups and events, games and apps, video calls


In 2012, the number of social media users in Russia grew to 57 million, and they tend to prefer their country’s homegrown social network and Internet offerings, as opposed to more global networks like Facebook and Twitter, according to German marketing agency Ketchum Maslov Digital. Odnoklassniki (OK) is the No. 2 social network in Russia after VK, both of wich are very similar to Facebook. OK is owned by Mail.Ru Group, the largest Internet company in the Russian-speaking world, which operates Russian email service Mail@Mail.Ru and instant messaging services Mail.Ru, Agent and ICQ. Much like Facebook, the social network is meant for classmates and friends to keep in touch. The average age of OK users is between 22 and 32, and in July 2013, the site had 37.8 million unique visitors.
Launched in: 2012
Country of origin: Russia
Popular in: Russia and former Soviet Republics
Features: Social pinboards for pinning visual content that link to their original sources organized by themes and subjects

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 1.09.00 PM was created by Fastlane Ventures, a Russian investment company that specializes in online businesses. Pinme is pretty much identical to Pinterest, but Pinme is beating out Pinterest in Russia. According to numbers from comScore in 2012, Pinterest had 405,000 daily unique visitors from Russia, while Pinme had 4.5 million unique monthly visitors and 851 thousand registered users.

Launched in: 2004
Country of origin: U.S./Brazil
Popular in: Brazil, India
Features: Instant messaging, like and sharing functionalities similar to Facebook, customizable, colorful interfaces, friend ranking and labeling with tags like “cool” and “sexy,” video sharing, polling, “Crush List” where uses can list their crushes to see if the crush is mutual.

Orkut was founded by Turkish Google engineer Orkut Büyükkökten. The social network was originally hosted in California, but due to its popularity in Brazil, it moved south in 2008, where it was from then on operated by Google Brazil. Orkut was Brazil’s number one social network until 2012 when Facebook overtook it for the top spot. Along with Facebook, Twitter also has a growing presence in Brazil, so in this case, it may not be a regional player that remains in the top slot.

Launched in: 2008
Country of origin: Israel
Popular in: Israel, U.S., Europe
Features: International social GPS mapping/navigation and traffic reports


Waze began as an open-source project called FreeMap Israel, but by 2011, Waze had employees in Israel and Palo Alto. In June 2013, it was bought by Google for about $1 billion. The Waze app runs on Apple iOS, Android and Windows Phone, is free to download, and according to the New York Times, has about 50 million users worldwide. Waze users can edit routes and maps and can also add points of interest and real-time events to maps. Waze can be used anywhere in the world, but because it runs largely on crowdsourced data, it needs a critical mass of users in a country to have enough data to provide best routes and traffic information. Because it is most popular in Israel, that country has some of the most accurate Waze maps and information.

Image via Shutterstock

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