For the past few weeks, I have been working with my friends on a couple of social media projects. Long story short, we are trying to create online communication strategies for politicians. I was shocked to see the extreme gap between research and practice, as well as the impact of culture on social media habits. (Alright, I was expecting to see some differences between research and practice – also between American and Turkish social media habits… But I always thought as online communication studies were practice based, and globalization was bridging cultural gaps, the difference would not be this shocking).
Let me try to summarize my findings after my limited experience with social media and political communication in Turkey:
1- Social media is social in Turkey. The language used is very colloquial. I was trying to make a list of commonly used words on Twitter. For around a week, “lan” (mate, dude) was at the top of my list. Several words are misspelled, including names of politicians and political parties. Cursing is not very uncommon. Users are not afraid to use curses and tag celebrities in their tweets.
2- Social media is limited in Turkey. We LOVE Facebook, apparently Turks cannot live without Facebook. ( 1/3 of the population, including my mom and dad, is on Facebook. We are the leading producer of Farmville products, and the most dangerous mob in Mafia Wars. Twitter is gaining momentum. It is possible to find several people on LinkedIn and MySpace. But apart from these four platforms, social media does not exist.
3- Celebrities are important in Turkey. We have several Justin Biebers. We are more interested in what Demet Akalin (it is better if you don’t know who she is) has to say about her ex-boyfriend than in what politicians have to say. A widely know journalist, Ahmet Hakan, in fact gives everyone a lesson about how to use Twitter in Turkey. He is followed by over 35,000 users and he, himself, follows over 1,000. There is a constant dialogue between him and his followers. (There are also several pseudo dialogue tweets between him and other celebrities – including our president). Facebook is densely populated with fan pages and official fan pages.
4- Social media is blocked in Turkey. As you might all know, YouTube is blocked by a court order. Apart from that, several companies restrict access to social media websites at workplaces. I recently talked with a friend who works at the Corporate Communications department of a bank that wants to reach out to young people and restricts all social media and mail servers at the workplace.
5- We don’t know what tagging is. We use as many tags as possible, some of which are related and some of which are confusing. I realized that problem when I was trying to find Eurovision songs on Turkish video websites. All the video clips had the names of all the countries (and the years) as tags. So, there is no difference between Eurovision 2010 Germany Lena and Eurovision as search key words, they both yield the same results.
6- We translate strategies and data. There are several online communication consulting companies that translate American articles and data into Turkish and try to provide recommendations to the clients. Unfortunately, there is not enough data to build a substantive communication strategy.
Turkey’s internet consumption is rising, however, it is very difficult to use social media for targeted marketing purposes. Yet, it is still beneficial for companies and politicians to be active users on popular social media platforms because of the number of active users and the tendency to create unofficial/fake/demeaning accounts.