Social Borders: How Europe Stacks Up in Social vs. the USA

There’s a dirty little secret spreading across the United States. It’s being whispered at afternoon agency drinks, in board rooms, and maybe within the walls of your own company. It’s something we’ve heard year after year, and many have begun to accept it as fact. But it left us wondering:

Is the rumor that Europe is 18 months behind the US in social media sophistication actually true?

In our latest Smart Social Report, we wanted to test this theory to see if it held up, and use data to compare two slices of social from the US and the UK and see if the US is truly that far ahead.


We looked at 22 companies arranged into 11 head-to-head vertical matchups including consumer packaged goods, travel and hospitality, retail, media, and financial services. We paired two companies in each match: one based in the US and one in Europe, and chose each based on similar market capitalizations (the financial size of the company) to make for a fair comparison.

We then looked at follower levels and social content creation rates across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. These metrics aren’t all-encompassing, but they can give us a high-level view on different levels of sophistication social programs might be for each matchup.

Are the rumors true? Does the social presence of US companies beat that of similarly sized European companies?

Global Equality

Our findings show that there’s no truth to the rumors. When placed side by side, the US and European companies in our study were in a virtual tie for social media sophistication.    

Looking at 11 matchups across 8 different categories, the split is almost exactly even. US-based brands saw only 1 more win over the European companies out of 88 matchups, ending our study in a virtual tie.



More Alike than Not: Slight Differences Per Channel

  • If we segment the data by social channel, we can see some minor differences in sophistication patterns, but nothing that stands out. American brands beat out their European counterparts on Facebook, but Europe had roughly the same lead on Instagram.

Strength in Numbers: Europe Has the Follower Advantage

  • When it comes to building a large follower base across social channels, European companies had bigger followings on social, winning 21% more matchups compared to US brands. Across social networks, the American brands had just over 68M followers, and the European brands had almost 100M.

Staying Top of Mind: Americans Post More Content

  • When it comes to brand and posting frequency, American brands won with 37% more wins in our head-to-head matchups vs. European companies.


You should apply this same wary lens to your own efforts in social: rely on data, not rumor. American marketers can learn from the EU in terms of building a follower base, while abroad, social marketers can aim for posting more content, as is done in the United States. Regardless, don't let whispers and tribal knowledge skew your thinking when it comes to pushing your social agenda forward. Brands are embracing social media world-wide, and it's rash to dismiss an entire continent's social media efforts based on rumor alone.

If you’re interested in seeing the full results of our study, download the free Smart Social Report Volume 2. In addition to this study, you’ll also get research on messaging apps, the half-life of social content (Twitter vs. Instagram), why brands should be paying attention to Reddit, and our 50-brand-deep State of Social study.

Brands included in this US vs. Europe study include: Fox News, Shoprite, Hasbro, Cottonelle, Walgreens, Bissell, Dawn, JetBlue, Nordstrom, Bank of America, Kroger, BBC, John Lewis, Lego, Andrew, Boots, Dyson, Fairy, Virgin Atlantic, Marks and Spencer, HSBC, and Tesco.

Chris Kerns's picture

Chris Kerns

Chris Kerns has spent more than a decade defining digital strategy and is at the forefront of finding insights from digital data. He currently leads Analytics and Research at Spredfast. His research has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, USA Today and AdWeek, among other publications.