France’s Twitter Problem

Yesterday as I was scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook, a rather intriguing status update caught my eye: Twitter lessons by Valérie Trierweiler. Shortly thereafter, I discovered that France’s first lady had done a little Twitter damage by openly supporting Olivier Falorni in the upcoming legislative elections – who is up against the French president’s ex (whom he openly supports), Ségolène Royal.

#Bashtagging.

Many international publications picked up the story, including the New York Times. But funny enough, this isn’t the first time French politicians are stirring up trouble on the leading micro-blogging platform. In fact, as I look over some of France’s recent political events, the use – or rather the misuse – of Twitter seems almost consistent. So in a addition to Valérie and her rather indiscrete tweet, here are a few other French politicians to add to the list of Twitter duds.

1. Nicolas Sarkozy: #cassetoipauvrecon

Ah yes, it’s not just the current French president that has twitter woes – the previous president had them as well! Now, President Sarkozy, despite having the image of being rather tech and gadget-savvy for a French politician, did not even join Twitter until this year’s reelection campaign in February.

Now, I’ve written about his rather childish social media strategy already (here and here). But the best part about Sarkozy’s little attempt at Twitter? It only lasted 3 months. The man hasn’t Tweeted since May 6th, the day he was officially voted out of office. For a country where your average Joe – or Pierre – is still trying to figure out what Twitter can be used for on a day to day basis, Sarkozy’s Twitter strategy clearly communicates a bit of a different message.

2. Dominique Strauss-Kahn: #danslamerde

In all fairness, I didn’t expect the infamous DSK to have a Twitter account. After all the other things he’s got on his plate at the moment, Twitter naturally isn’t a priority of his. And it’s probably best for him to keep his mouth shut (and his fly zipped). Still, seems a bit odd for the man whose troubles in New York last year leaked via Twitter from a French politics student.

Perhaps to Dominique’s dismay, this incident did have a huge impact for Twitter in France, allowing the French to see first hand how Twitter could be used as a source of information.

3. Eric Besson: #avectoi

One of my favorite French politicians on Twitter, the former French Minister of Digital Economy is perhaps best known on Twitter for having tweeted a rather seductive will-I-sleep-with-you-tonight message to all of his followers. Clearly intended for a DM, the original tweet sparked a lot of Twitter activity in response – including a Besson-inspired #avectoi in the trending topics for France.

Now, despite this humorous little glitch, Besson had done pretty well with his Twitter usage – until recently. Like Sarkozy, he decided to sign off Twitter once he was no longer Minister. But rather than simply going silent à la Sarkozy, he decided to full out delete his account – 58,000 followers included. One article event said he was committing Twitter harakiri (seppuku). Seriously though, WTF?

MIA from Twitter.

These Twitter mess-ups aren’t unique to France; politicians around the world are still trying to figure out exactly how to leverage the platform. Many French politicians are only beginning to make their way to Twitter – and many others are still MIA. There are also many leading French figures that have still not converted to 140 characters, including everyone from headbutter soccer player Zinedine Zidane to Oscar star Jean Dujardin.

Will the real Dujardin please stand up?

5.2 million and counting.

As Twitter begins to expand into Europe and France, there has been some discussion about the number of French Twitter users – which in January was estimated at 5.2 million (of the platform’s total 200 million users).  As a result, I was recently asked why France’s uptake of Twitter has not been the same as that of its neighbors (namely the UK, who placed 4th in this ranking). That said, while France is behind the UK, Turkey and oddly Spain, it did happen to place ahead of Germany.

#frenchtweet

My first thought is that this may seem strange for the opinionated French who are very big on web 2.0 to be somewhat less vocal on Twitter. Naturally, the first challenge that comes to mind is the language and culture barrier that many non-English-speaking countries have to cross in order to really engage with the entire Twitter community – but Brasil and Japan seem to manage just fine. That said, Brasil’s population is ever so slightly more than that of France and Japan’s uber-early-adopter culture may very well be contributing to Twitter’s impressive uptake on the archipelago.

C’est la vie (privée) ?

One thing I remember from when Facebook first started to pick up in France in 2007 (prior to the translation of the platform) was the amount of resistance it got from the average French user. Many of my French friends were skeptical and wary, and responded very differently than my American friends – who seemed almost excessively exhibitionist in comparison.

At the time, the comments I heard from France regarding Facebook clearly underlined the French distinction between what should be public and what should be private, and the different ways in which the Americans and French socialize with one another. Even though France is growing increasingly comfortable with social media, I couldn’t help be reminded of this again with Twitter. For example, a while back I mentioned how it could be confusing whether or not to use the formal “vous” when addressing someone on Twitter in French – a problem which doesn’t even exist in English. While no French person is going to question the utility of Twitter and the vital role it played in Arab Spring, cultural differences like this highlight how countries may not necessarily view Twitter in exactly the same way for everyday communication.

Bonjour @TV.

With Twitter expanding rapidly in Europe, this is likely to change pretty quickly. We can definitely expect Twitter to leverage some of the more traditional media channels in France, as it recently did with its Nascar TV advertisement. But even as it continues to develop and become more relevant for businesses, we’re still likely to see politicians completely miss the point – in France and abroad.

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