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Yesterday, our Director Tom Smith talked at the Internet Advertising Bureau about social media and online branding.

What happened in Europe in the last year in terms of attitudes towards brands and what can we expect for the future but first of all a short introduction on the state of social media in Europe.

We see now that social media are becoming a mature market with no or little changes in terms of social networks, blogs and content sharing usage. Also, we see that social networks users are shifting to an older age range. Social networks is no more just students' territory.

Especially when talking about blogging and social networking we se a steady growth in mature users (over 55) during the past year. Anyway, if we look at a country segmentation we see important differences across Europe, especially in terms of video/photo sharing and micro-blogging. In both these activities, Russia is the leading country, followed at a distance by Poland, Spain, Italy and the UK. Also, Russia, Spain and Poland seem to be the most active in posting comments on blogs and forums.

Speaking of social network, Facebook is by far the biggest player in the continent but its share is not equal across Europe. Netherlands, Russia and in a smaller measure also France, Germany, Poland and Spain resist to the advance of Facebook with local social networks. Meaning that in Europe there can't be a standard social media strategy to fit all countries.

If Social networks are mature, Micro-blogging and the so called real time web are still niche with very little signals of change. Except for this point, we can clearly say that the social web is becoming part of the mass market and the implication for business is that consumers communicate more with each other, even with strangers and most of all, they trust them.

If we exclude recommendations from family and friends, consumer reviews are the first source of trusted information on products. Even more, although on the low end of the scale, social network contacts not met in person are more trusted than celebrities and politicians.

This means that influencers are changing. In the past year, social network, blog and micro-blog contacts were the only sources to show an increase in the share of consumers trust while newspapers stood still and TV fell slightly.

Speaking of communications strategies this fit in a well estabilished trend now: the need for a real dialogue with the people inside corporations. As consumers get used to communicate with each other online they expect the same transparency and dialogue from corporations.

Now, although this is clearly a worldwide trend, we also see some slight differences across different industries so before jumping on the bandwagon, think! Passive imitation is not the solution.

What does this all mean for web marketing professionals?

While user generated content might have reached its peak, we see a new form of packaged web rising fast. Mostly driven by consumer electronic devices alternative to the traditional personal computer. Think about people accessing the web from TV, games consoles or mobile phones. Most of these experiences are more likely to fit in the walled garden model where a little number of distributors controls the content and the advertising spaces seen by all its users.

While the open web is traditionally the reign of freedom, once exclusive to a technical audience, now everybody can potentially enjoy the packaged web delivered on mobile applications or next generation TVs.

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