Why you should care
Because you could probably do with a lesson in social media abstinence.
Ah, the modern world. The news we read is fed to us by Facebook. The jobs we apply for are filtered by LinkedIn. The perfect Instagram feeds of our “friends” instill a growing sense of social anxiety while our politicians communicate to us in 140 characters or less. Doesn’t it just stink of … progress? Well, the land of good beer, even better sausages and the very best sense of punctuality didn’t get the memo. In fact:
Barely 1 in 3 Germans uses social media.
According to a Pew Research survey, only 37 percent of Germans report that they use social networking sites, even though overall levels of internet use are comparable to those of countries like Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K. (with 71 percent, 69 percent and 61 percent social media adoption, respectively). In various surveys, Germany consistently ranks at the bottom of lists of advanced Western countries for usage of sites like Facebook and Twitter (the Pew survey also included the German-language professional network Xing in its question).
Plus, those few Germans with accounts are more often “lurkers” than “posters,” being relatively more passive online than their peers in other countries, says Welf Weiger, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Göttingen. Many Germans on social media don’t use their full real names (instead they use their first name split into two), which has led to a lengthy legal dispute involving Facebook, which wants the use of fake names on its site strictly verboten.
Politicians are very reluctant to frankly post opinions because it could backfire and initiate a spiral of bad comments. We call it a shitstorm.
Maik Hammerschmidt, University of Göttingen
So why don’t the Germans twittern, facebooken and snapchatten like the rest of us? (Yes, those are actual German verbs.) It all comes down to concerns over privacy, says Sonja Utz, a professor of social media communication at the University of Tübingen near Stuttgart who conducts her studies on Dutch participants because she’s worried she won’t get enough participants in Germany. Given the not-so-distant memories of the Stasi, the secret police in the formerly communist East, Germans are keen to keep their private lives private, Utz says, from governments and big American tech firms alike. Oversharing details about one’s personal life is considered “narcissistic” in the famously reserved country, she continues, and the country’s older-than-average population (with a median age of 47 years, compared with 38 years in the U.S.) also plays a role.
Although marketers still use social media to target young Germans, it plays a markedly reduced role in public life through either celebrity or politics. According to analytics company Socialbakers, soccer star Mesut Özil’s 16 million followers comprise the largest Twitter audience in the country by a factor of three, though he comes nowhere near the followings of top soccer celebs in other countries, and he only really hit the big time while playing for clubs in Spain and England. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel doesn’t even have an official Twitter account. Public figures rarely have professional social media managers, says Maik Hammerschmidt, Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Göttingen. “Politicians are very reluctant to post frankly because it could backfire and initiate a spiral of bad comments,” he says. “We call it a shitstorm.”
And while young Germans are almost as social media crazy as their foreign peers, the older generation may never change its habits. On the upside, it seems German millennials need never worry about their parents awkwardly tagging them on Facebook. #wunderbar.