This blog post originally appeared in Forbes Magazine.” View the original here.
In villages in the remote Brazilian state of Para, deep in the Amazon rainforest, running water is a luxury and paved roads are few and far between. But there is Facebook.
Earlier this year, indigenous groups fighting a new hydroelectric dam under construction along the Xingu River turned to the social network to vent their frustrations. The Xingu Vivo Facebook Page, which now counts 310 followers, logs their grievances against the project, keeping activists abreast of the struggle.
South America’s most populous country, Brazil is also emerging as one of the region’s most social-media savvy. Seventy-nine percent of Brazilian Internet users (some 78 million people) are now on social media, according to a newly released report from analysts eMarketer, fast approaching adoption rates in the U.S.
Brazil already counts 65 million Facebook users, second only to the U.S. It’s the world’s second-biggest user of Twitter (with 41.2 million tweeters and counting) and the largest market outside the U.S. for YouTube. Meanwhile, a range of homegrown and foreign networks – from Google-owned Orkut to Ask.fm – keep social media users logged in for 9.7 hours a month, according to a 2013 comScore report.
Plus, all signs indicate Brazil is just hitting its social stride. Average time spent on Facebook among Brazilians increased 208 percent last year, to 535 minutes per month. By comparison, global use declined by 2 percent during the same period.
With social media saturation looming in the U.S. and Europe, China’s citizens stuck behind the Great Firewall (with no legal access to Twitter and Facebook) and India still in relatively early stages of the Internet revolution, Brazil suddenly seems poised to hold an unlikely distinction: social media capital of the universe.
“2 Super Bowls per week”
The numbers tell a compelling story. With 199 million people, Brazil is second in population only to the United States in the Americas. Over the last decade, the country’s middle class has expanded dramatically, growing by 40 percent and now embracing more than half the population. Meanwhile, the government has spearheaded a progressive push to extend Internet access across the country, with the result that nearly 100 million Brazilians are now online. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of the population will have Internet access by 2016.
And the lion’s share of online time in Brazil – 36 percent – is spent on social media,according to 2013 comScore stats. Insiders chalk this up as much to deep-seated cultural factors as to access to new technologies. Facebook’s vice president of Latin America, Alexandre Hohagen, notes that Brazilians are inherently social people. “[It’s] common for someone to start talking to you in the elevator or in a restaurant just to start a conversation,” he says in a recent Wall Street Journal interview. TV soap operas, known as telenovelas, and sports are discussed constantly. “I always say we have two Super Bowls per week in Brazil,” explains Fabio Saad, online media director in Brazil for global ad agency DDB, in reference to the deafening weekly buzz around soccer matches and telenovelas.
Social media is also a uniquely democratic institution in Brazil. While the country has a notoriously deep divide between rich and poor, mobile phones give even underserved urban communities and remote rural areas access to social sites. Plus, potential for growth in this sector remains strong. Smartphone penetration is just 23.3 percent, and the country’s four largest carriers launched 4G services only earlier this summer. Domestic production of the iPhone has recently ramped up, as well, dramatically bringing down the price of Apple’s popular offering.
More enlightening – in particular for businesses serving the market – is how Brazilians are using social media to inform buying decisions. 77 percent of Brazilian social media users have a positive attitude toward shopping and buying on social networks, according to a recent study by Brazilian media consultant eCRM123. Meanwhile, four-fifths of social networkers use social sites to research new products and are more inclined to trust recommendations from social media contacts than from other sources, according to Latin American market research firm Oh! Panel.
Major consumer brands including L’Oreal, Coca-Cola, Nike and Brazilian bank Bradesco have lately launched aggressive Facebook campaigns to capitalize on social media’s influence, amassing millions of followers in just months. Nonetheless, digital advertising remains in its infancy in Brazil, accounting for just 10.6 percent of the ad market, compared to 19.8 percent worldwide. (TV, by contrast gets 69.4 percent of Brazilian ad dollars.)
The race is already on to capitalize on an impending sea change in ad spend, notes Facebook’s Latin America sales chief, Hohagen: “This is a big country, so there’s a lot of opportunity to migrate revenue from one medium to another.” Equally worthy of note: Brazil is expected to boost overall ad spending by $5.6 billion in the next three years, more than India, Russia or Indonesia.
Social media marketers have already shown unusual savvy in executing campaigns in Brazil. Last year, consumer goods giant Unilever ran an intensive two-day Facebook campaign for its shampoo Seda, timed to correspond with the finale of the hit telenovela Avenida Brasil (whose episodes attracted up to 50 percent of the total viewing public). In a country where nearly half of Facebook users check the site while also watching TV(the so-called “second screen” phenomenon), the ads drew record attention. Meanwhile, clothing retailer C&A recently pushed the envelope by introducing “Likeable” hangers for products in its stores. When shoppers pressed a button on the hangers, Likes would register automatically on corresponding Facebook posts for each item.
Having the right social media tools has also been critical to marketers’ success. In Brazil, users log onto not only the familiar North American networks but numerous alternatives, including Orkut (until recently, the country’s most popular social site), social gaming site Vostu and popular question-and-answer network Ask.fm. Marketers hoping to tap into the widest audience have turned to social media tools that integrate with these diverse networks and help streamline campaigns. Brazil is among the top markets for HootSuite. Meanwhile, Facebook, Twitter and Google have all opened offices in Brazil, recognizing the importance of localizing their products and customer service efforts.
Of course, it also helps that all eyes will soon be on Brazil for two of the biggest media events on the planet. The 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Summer Games will put an unprecedented spotlight on Brazil, with a predictably unprecedented uptick in ad spending on social media and other channels. Considering, too, that the majority of Facebook users in Brazil are still under 24, it would seem that social media usage – slowing elsewhere in the developed world – will continue to ride Brazil’s rising tide in the years ahead.