Cross-cultural social media usage shows more commonalities than differences

Cross-cultural social media usage was the primary focus of two researchers from Hohenheim University in Stuttgart, Germany.  They published their report in June, 2016 and it makes interesting reading (Cultural Differences in Social Media Use, Privacy and Self-Disclosure by Prof. Sabine Trepte and Philipp K. Masur).  They surveyed 1,800 participants across fives countries: USA, UK, Germany, Netherlands, and China.  Here is a summary of the main findings:

[Note: In the following text, SNS refers to social network site]


  • In all five countries, SNS users did not differ significantly in their frequency use – about 60 to 90 minutes on average per day.

Network size

  • Significant differences were found in network size.  SNS users in the USA had much larger networks (mean – 683); German users had the smallest networks (mean – 207).  USA users also had the most diverse users (people from different social contexts).  The highest level of ‘real’ friends on SNS’s was in the UK (mean 32.5%), and lowest in the Netherlands (mean – 11.6%).

Cross-cultural social media

International contacts

  • Generally speaking, most SNS users do not have a lot of international contacts.  The highest was in Germany (mean – 19.9%), and the lowest in the USA (8%).

Cross-cultural social media

Image sharing

  • All SNS users reported finding it important to prevent risks that could arise from privacy-related behaviors such as having an open profile or uploading pictures.  There were, however, significant differences between countries: More Chinese users had an open profile, and more users in the Netherlands uploaded pictures.
  • USA users often used a recognizable profile picture but used a pseudonym, whereas many Chinese users would use their real name, but had a preference for being visually anonymous by using an avatar or unrecognizable picture.

Cross-cultural social media

Micro blogs

  • Users in the USA and China reported spending more time per day on micro blogs than those from the other three countries.
  • The number of followers on micro blogs did not differ between countries.  The audience generally consisted of diverse contexts, including strangers.
  • Most micro blog users made their tweets accessible to everybody.  More users in the USA generally restricted tweets to their followers.

Cross-cultural social media


  • Users in all countries indicated having a high privacy literacy (i.e. knowledge with regard to their ability to use a number of privacy settings on their preferred SNS).
  • Users in Germany and the USA perceived themselves as slightly more privacy literate than users in other countries. German users of SNS’s – in general – reported applying more privacy settings.  In particular, they restricted the visibility of profile information more than users in other countries.  Friends lists (selected audiences) were applied equally often across the five countries.

Cross-cultural social media

  • Overall, users reported that they had not yet experienced privacy violations.
  • Europeans and in particular Germans reported perceiving information as more sensitive, and reported believing that privacy-related behaviors such as posting one’s relationship status affect their privacy.
  • Self-disclosure happened less frequently in online environments than offline. USA and Chinese users generally posted more sensitive information online than Europeans.
  • Chinese participants rated other people as slightly more trustworthy than participants in other countries (mean – 3.22).  The lowest ‘people are trustworthy’ score was among German participants (mean – 2.66).

Overall, the report shows that cross-cultural social media usage has more commonalities than differences.  It appears that a globalized online culture is being formed.  The world, however, is in a turbulent state and no one can predict how even the online world will be impacted.

About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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