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Published on Juli 25th, 2009 | by Gerald

20

Germany. Why we struggle with 2.0.

Used under a creative commons license from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mbiskoping/120302696/sizes/s/It's never been easy to be German. Who would think that the people who were among the first to invent big machinery of any kind and...well...the Blitzkrieg (one more idea which doesn't make it exactly easy to be German) might have certain issues with their ability to lead in innovation nowadays? But in fact we are stressed. Simply because we're a bit slow. Why? Because 19th century heavy machinery world was our kind of planet, the social web isn't...Social Influence Marketing redefines pretty much everything. It redefines how brands relate to their consumers, what agencies have to deliver and it redefines how products become products. But this isn't exactly a German sphere. It's too fast for us, too beta...too non-institutional.

Germany - An Internet Tale

A couple of weeks ago, readwriteweb published an article entitled: 'Social Media in Germany: 5 Years Behind - Still Lots to Learn'. This article revolved around the status of the social sphere in Germany. Marcel Weiß, editor of the German blog netzwertig.com gets quoted:
Germany is at least five years behind the U.S. when it comes to social media and its adoption by a larger part of society. Blogs are still considered to be suspect by a large part of the German public and have very little influence, and social news sites and aggregators attract very little attention. With regards to Germany's Internet startup scene, Weiß argues that, with very few exceptions, most companies are also years behind the U.S. and just aren't innovative enough to compete.
Personally I don't think we're that far behind. But when it comes to Social Influence Marketing it's at least 2-3 years. Germany is a rather corporatist state, which means: We believe in a strong state run by parties, social welfare, car manufacturers and a more or less fixed order in which everyone and everything has its special place. Sounds 16th century? Well sometimes it is. The German spirit seems stressed with the liberal intention behind Web 2.0. No one there to tell us how the world's supposed to be. No institutions. Just us and our personal creativity. And this difference between our ideal and the world's reality makes us rather slow. We're unsure how to behave in this individualistic world anymore. A world in which no overall truth seems to be right anymore. And this is why we don't move at all. The Vodafone Case One good example is the current Vodafone marketing disaster. The 'Vodafone case' started with a pitch win for German award winning ad agency 'Scholz & Friends'. Vodafone wanted to come up with a completely revised brand campaign by summer 2009 (a task which was nearly impossible to fulfill in 3 months). Earlier in 2009 'Scholz & Friends' had hired German Social Media evangelist Nico Lumma to take control of the agency's social media activities which should now become part of the Vodafone campaign. Three months went by and a shiny new brand campaign was rolled out at a Vodafone press conference which was streamed to the web. The fake-social character of the campaign became immidiately evident. Yes, Vodafone redefined it's brand image, invented the so-called 'Generation Upload' (a target group which is 'communicative' and 'energetic' + 'doesn't accept any communicative barriers anymore') and pretended to be open by communicating through a spectrum of 2.0 platforms. But what we actually saw was the rollout of a classic ad campaign aiming at the digital spearheads, who of course prefer to watch ads over enjoying innovative products or pricing models. The really, really sad part about this story is, the German state is as sceptical about the freedom of the internet as most Germans. German authorities sense the dangers behind this new freedom and invent more and more innovative tools to prevent us from the dangers of the web. And Vodafone was among the first brands to willingly support German authorities in filtering websites of their choice (some call this 'censorship'). Isn't it ironic that this brand now comes back with a bunch of blogs and Facebook pages, powered by the few (more or less known) German bloggers to adress the German digital elite? Isn't it ironic that we're actually talking about a classic ad campaign, camouflaged as a social concept? Vodafone never intended to be open as a brand. It never wanted to collaborate with the community in new pricing models or products? They just wanted to look 2.0. Vodafone payed German bloggers (who actually would have attacked the brand for its web filtering support) to become testimonials in a campaign which actually adressed normal people. The social web as an object in a classic ad campaign, powered by a big institution. Welcome to Germany! And even more German Ungeist The Vodafone case is just one example of how German brands like to behave in this uncertain period. Not innovative enough to be really open? No problem. We just make it look 2.0! But what Germans really enjoy to do is to prohibit stuff. While governmental agencies camouflage their ignorance-driven censorship model as fight against child porn (with German companies supporting), German publishers go a different way. For about a decade major German publisher Burda has tried to monetize their 'quality journalism' (with yellow press titles such as 'Super Illu or Freizeit Revue') on the web and basically failed. The recipe was pretty simple - let's buy 2.0 companies and launch one brand community after another or engage in one major web cooperation after another. In other words: Let's do what we always did...and make it look like 2.0. While most classic publishers are standing with their backs against the wall, Hubert Burda (owner and CEO) went nuclear. Publishers are getting slowly 'oustered' he said, in an interview with German newspaper FAZ. While publishers like him would provide 'quality journalism', search engines would just profit from his work by linking there without having to pay for the content-producing staff. The solution? Well, of course google (and others) have to pay a fair share to publishers like Burda. This must be a key interest for all actors on the market and Germany itself whose democratic public opinion formation somehow relies on Burda itself. In short: I don't know how to monetize my yellow press journals, so I need money from google. Yes, this sounds bizarre. But it is typical German. Whenever an old, traditional institution struggles, it reminds us of its crucial role in the democratic system. 'Public opinion' is a key term in Germany. Our Army is inefficient as a volunteer army, but continues to remind us of its role as creator of young, democratic citizens. Big publishers, no matter what they publish, refer to their alleged role as key pillar in our democratic system. No matter how senseless their journals are, no matter how irrelevant most of their content is - if Burda goes broke, Germans become Nazis again. And this is why Burda needs money from google (lawmakers, your turn). Well, and as we need lawmaker's support for pretty much everything in Germany, Burda has formed an alliance which ended up in the so called 'Hamburg Declaration'. This text demands a new protection of the intellectual property of publishers and has been presented to the EU legislators.
There should be no parts of the Internet where laws do not apply. Legislators and governments at the national and international level should protect more effectively the intellectual creation of value by authors, publishers and broadcasters. Unauthorized use of intellectual property must remain prohibited whatever the means of distribution. Ultimately, the fundamental principle that no democracy can thrive without independent journalism must also apply to the World Wide Web.
google's response to the whiny Euro-publishers? 'Feel free not to get indexed by us'.
Webmasters who do not wish their sites to be indexed can and do use the following two lines to deny permission: User-agent: * Disallow: / If a webmaster wants to stop us from indexing a specific page, he or she can do so by adding '' to the page. In short, if you don't want to show up in Google search results, it doesn't require more than one or two lines of code.
High five, google. The web isn't free from legality. But it is a marketplace. And the really bad news for the German state, Vodafone, Burda and all the others: It's a free marketplace in which users voluntarily decide to buy, read, enjoy or reject a certain good. I know, it's not always easy to be German. But, dear German institutions: Your classic approach to try to convince me before you filter, block accesses or prohibit something won't work anymore. I am a 33 year old German and don't need no institutional guidance anymore for new world which you simply don't understand. Align with it or fail. That's my message to these big actors in our pre 2.0 society.
A new song, a better song, O friends, I speak to thee! Here upon Earth we shall full soon A heavenly realm decree. Joyful we on earth shall be And we shall starve no more; The rotten belly shall not feed On the fruits of industry. Heinrich Heine. Germany. A Winter's Tale
Photo taken under a Creative Commons License from Martin on Flickr

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  • http://www.eranium.at/blog eranium

    Great summary about the things that happened in the last couple of weeks. I totally agree with you.
    .-= eranium´s last blog ..Open Access =-.

  • http://www.eranium.at/blog eranium

    Great summary about the things that happened in the last couple of weeks. I totally agree with you.
    .-= eranium´s last blog ..Open Access =-.

  • Patrick

    Gerald, this is one great article! Hats off!

  • Patrick

    Gerald, this is one great article! Hats off!

  • http://www.twitter.com/jensnikolaus Jens

    Well written. Thank you!

  • http://www.twitter.com/jensnikolaus Jens

    Well written. Thank you!

  • http://Www.morethanadvertising.com/ Steffen staeuber

    Your absolutely right.I think the problem in Germany is simply that we are too affraid to fail.that’s the reason we don’t try out new things and learn from our mistakes.instead we try to copy concepts that work from us companies without the willingness to also change the whole culture that it also work in this new social media world. I think the only solution is to start the revolution and just proof that it also works in germany!

  • http://Www.morethanadvertising.com Steffen staeuber

    Your absolutely right.I think the problem in Germany is simply that we are too affraid to fail.that’s the reason we don’t try out new things and learn from our mistakes.instead we try to copy concepts that work from us companies without the willingness to also change the whole culture that it also work in this new social media world. I think the only solution is to start the revolution and just proof that it also works in germany!

  • http://www.mybigmouth.net/ André

    I don’t know that your examples are particularly German. Vodafone trying to act social and building a presence on Facebook and Twitter, because it’s considered hot right now? There’s tons of other marketers all over who do the same.
    Publishers not having figured out how to monetize their content online? Again, not a problem unique to Germany.
    Content filtering and talk of censorship? First thing I think of is MPAA ;)
    What may be unique to Germany is that whenever something new comes around that threatens to replace something established, those who’ve got something to lose will label the “new thing” as the end of the world.

    All that being said I don’t think social marketing is the (only) way forward. There’s a place for it, but it’s not for everyone. And it doesn’t have to be.

  • http://www.mybigmouth.net André

    I don’t know that your examples are particularly German. Vodafone trying to act social and building a presence on Facebook and Twitter, because it’s considered hot right now? There’s tons of other marketers all over who do the same.
    Publishers not having figured out how to monetize their content online? Again, not a problem unique to Germany.
    Content filtering and talk of censorship? First thing I think of is MPAA ;)
    What may be unique to Germany is that whenever something new comes around that threatens to replace something established, those who’ve got something to lose will label the “new thing” as the end of the world.

    All that being said I don’t think social marketing is the (only) way forward. There’s a place for it, but it’s not for everyone. And it doesn’t have to be.

  • Gerald

    Thanks for the replies. André, I do agree with you in many things. No, my mentioned examples are not necessarily strictly limited to the German landscape. But they are typical for how I describe Germany: As a corporate state with a lot of scepticism for individual technologies. This may fit to other states as well. But the German example is what I described here. And no, Social Media isn’t necessarily the only step forward. Other things may as well be important. ;-)

  • Gerald

    Thanks for the replies. André, I do agree with you in many things. No, my mentioned examples are not necessarily strictly limited to the German landscape. But they are typical for how I describe Germany: As a corporate state with a lot of scepticism for individual technologies. This may fit to other states as well. But the German example is what I described here. And no, Social Media isn’t necessarily the only step forward. Other things may as well be important. ;-)

  • Florian

    Good roundup Gerald! From my perspective (political communications) problem is mostly lack of strategy, social media just seen as fancy and trendy

    Further reading (you might already know that): http://sz-magazin.sueddeutsche.de/texte/anzeigen/29176
    and of course http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/business/05pr.html?_r=1

  • Florian

    Good roundup Gerald! From my perspective (political communications) problem is mostly lack of strategy, social media just seen as fancy and trendy

    Further reading (you might already know that): http://sz-magazin.sueddeutsche.de/texte/anzeigen/29176
    and of course http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/business/05pr.html?_r=1

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  • http://twitter.com/pfandfrei pfandfrei

    i wrote this before i read andre’s response…i deleted the repeat stuff:

    It feels like your post compares the US and German populations and asks why Germany isn’t more like the US. I think instead the question should be: Germans obviously conceive the internet differently – what type of website can capitalize on their use and perceived value of the internet? That’s a tough question and one more for the startups and anthropologists than amateurs like me.

    With regards to blogging, the concept really took off in the US partially because prominent journalists embraced it in its early stages (both becoming bloggers themselves and by citing blogs in their news stories). It’s pretty understandable if German journalists don’t want to dig their own grave as US journalists did. But why should a culture that has deep respect for established credentials embrace something as upstart as blogging at all? On another note, why should twitter excite a population that uses SMSs differently than Americans? Does a healthy social media scene need either of these functions?

    And web enthusiasts often forget, most Americans don’t care about blogging, social media, or twitter – it’s just a prominent minority that pays attention to these things. Perhaps Germany, with a smaller population, just has more trouble finding the enthusiasts who will set the tone for the rest of the country.

  • http://twitter.com/pfandfrei pfandfrei

    i wrote this before i read andre’s response…i deleted the repeat stuff:

    It feels like your post compares the US and German populations and asks why Germany isn’t more like the US. I think instead the question should be: Germans obviously conceive the internet differently – what type of website can capitalize on their use and perceived value of the internet? That’s a tough question and one more for the startups and anthropologists than amateurs like me.

    With regards to blogging, the concept really took off in the US partially because prominent journalists embraced it in its early stages (both becoming bloggers themselves and by citing blogs in their news stories). It’s pretty understandable if German journalists don’t want to dig their own grave as US journalists did. But why should a culture that has deep respect for established credentials embrace something as upstart as blogging at all? On another note, why should twitter excite a population that uses SMSs differently than Americans? Does a healthy social media scene need either of these functions?

    And web enthusiasts often forget, most Americans don’t care about blogging, social media, or twitter – it’s just a prominent minority that pays attention to these things. Perhaps Germany, with a smaller population, just has more trouble finding the enthusiasts who will set the tone for the rest of the country.

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