Facebook is Conquering Europe. Can Anyone Challenge the Social Network’s Dominance?

Facebook is slowly conquering Europe.  While local social networks (many of them looking suspiciously like Facebook) have been quite successful in many European countries, one by one they are falling to Facebook‘s international appeal and innovation. Bloomberg
reports that “the global scale of Facebook makes it increasingly difficult” for these local social networks to compete.

Which local networks are still ahead of the global giant, and will any of local European networks be able to survive Facebook’s dominance by escaping “into a niche market?”

It began when Facebook created Spanish, German and French versions in 2008, and expanded to include Russian, Dutch, Danish and Italian. In 2009, Facebook beat out the local competition in Spain and Austria.  In April 2010, the global social networking giant found similar success in Portugal and Germany.

Dutch Social Network Hyves Loses Out To Facebook, Seeks Niche MarketThe Dutch social network Hyves was overtaken by Facebook back in August, when comScore reported that Facebook had 7.7 million visitors to Hyves’ 7.2 million.  According to Marc de Vries, chief executive officer of Hyves, the network “can never compete on an international level,” and visitors who wish to connect with international friends don’t have that ability on the Dutch platform. Will the site be able to survive by tapping into a younger market and not setting a minimum age (Facebook requires users to be 13 or older)?

German Social Network VZ Netzwerke Overtaken By FacebookThe previously most popular German social network, VZ Netzwerke, lost half its visitors in the past year, while Facebook visitor numbers grew 43%.  VZ Netzwerke was started in 2005 under a different name (short for “students’ directory”) and has been referred to as a Facebook “copycat.” The network’s appearance was so similar that Facebook filed lawsuits against VZ Netzwerke in 2008 for copyright infringement, and while the case was dismissed in Germany, it was settled in California for an undisclosed amount.

Now, Bloomberg reports that VZ Netzwerke’s owner has reacted to declining user numbers by putting aside plans for sale or an initial public offering. However, brand spokeswoman Alexandra Kuehte told Bloomberg that the company plans to “lure users with distinctive platforms for students to focus on specific interests.”

So what European rivals remain for Facebook? There’s still some competition left with Vkontakte in Russia, Nasza-Klasa.pl in Poland and Draugiem.lv in Latvia.  However, Mike Shaw, comScore’s director of marketing solutions, predicts that Facebook will jump ahead of Poland’s Nasza-Klasa in user numbers within a month or two.  While these markets may have held off Facebook’s dominance due to having fewer international contacts, Shaw also predicts that “in a year’s time there won’t be a single European country, including Russia, where Facebook is not leading.”

If Facebook is indeed aiming for 1 billion users within the next few years, the Russian market is a huge one.  Right now Facebook is well back in 3rd place among social networks in Russia with 9.3 users, compared to market leader Vkontakte with 34.3 million users and Odnoklassniki (“classmates”) in second place with 27 million.  However, Facebook has easily seen the greatest growth in the past year, rising 67% since September 2010, compared to only 13% growth for Odnoklassniki and 44% for Vkontakte.

There are social networks finding success in Europe, but only those with “an alternative focus” to Facebook.  LinkedIn‘s professional network has seen 24% growth in the last year, and social dating site Badoo has grown 67% in Europe since September 2010.

What do you think?  Will Facebook continue to grow to a dominant position in each regional market?  Or will any of the regional players be able to challenge them successfully?