MADRID, SPAIN. Ten years ago, it was more difficult for people to connect with family and friends outside of their home country. Social media’s impact over the last decade has changed the way we communicate and interact with people. More specifically, it has had the biggest influence over the lives of today’s youth. The ability of social media to reach hundreds of people at once has made it an outlet for civilians and businesses alike in order to spread information and achieve positive outcomes. In Spain, the use of technology has grown at a slower pace compared to other parts of the world. Despite this, the country’s growing internet use and advancements show that they will not be left behind. Spain’s social networking site Tuenti is a perfect example of how the country is competing with innovative and successful countries such as the United States.

The Growth of Social Media

Not too long ago, the term social media was a foreign concept to most people. Today, it is a part of our everyday vocabulary. Technically, any website that allows social interaction is considered a social media site. These sites have been widening the world we live in over the past ten years, allowing people to connect with one another.

The main benefit from social networking sites is the increased communication channels. It is now easier to correspond, share knowledge, discuss important topics and interact with people, groups and businesses, regardless of location. These sites link people around the globe despite cultural differences and geographical boundaries. It has allowed business to better establish brand names and communicate with their customers. “Social media sites have allowed consumers to share real-time opinions with businesses. This is great for companies because they are receiving instant feedback from their target markets” explains Miguel Houghton, a marketing professor in Madrid.

As with most rapidly growing concepts, there are always consequences that accompany the advantages. Social media popularity has limited face-to-face interactions and decreased productivity, especially in youth. Despite these factors, the emergence of social media overall has provided today’s society with many benefits.

Youth and the Internet

Social life for many teenagers today revolves around interactions on the internet. With the rise of smartphones, this connection is never more than a click away. Currently, Spain is the European country with the highest amount of smartphone users. The use of mobile phones in school is being banned in many regions around Spain, most recently in Castile–La Mancha. Teachers are having to battle every day with students paying more attention to their phones than to lectures. Many students feel anxious and isolated when without technology and access to their favorite social media sites.

It is an addictive culture with teenagers never wanting to miss out on the latest drama and competing with one another for “likes” on their photos and statuses. Problems, such as peer pressure and cyber-bullying, do occur when adolescents are this invested in a life online. It is not all bad though as it allows youth to stay in touch with their friends, better than ever before. It also encourages them to form connections, stay updated on current events and can even enhance learning opportunities. On top of this, students today are more technology savvy than their parents will ever be. When used responsibly and appropriately, social media sites can be extremely beneficial to adolescents.

Tuenti’s Role in Spanish Culture

Spain’s slow journey into the social media world is nothing but expected following their late acquisition of the Internet compared to other parts of the world. Spain first introduced and commercialized the Internet in 1995, unlike the United States who had been working with the Internet since the late 1980’s.

Tuenti, or the “Spanish Facebook”, is one of the first and the most successful social networking sites in the history of the Internet in Spain. Founded in 2006, Tuenti aimed to create a platform for Spanish teenagers to connect with family and friends online. Founders Zaryn Dentzel, Felix Ruiz, Kenny Bentley, and Joaquin Ayuso de Paul designed the network specifically for the Spanish audience and their limited technological skills, which made the site an initial success. Part of its popularity came from the fact that, “It was in Spanish and was restricted for Spaniards who did not know English,” says Claudia Schumann, a 20-year-old student from the Canary Islands.

Tuenti introduced the Spanish culture to a new form of social media by diminishing concerns and fears that might have come with the new social media phenomenon. Tuenti founders made sure that privacy concerns were taken care of by limiting the users to citizens of Spain and by invitation only. This, unlike other social media sites, guaranteed privacy and safety once sharing any information on the site.

In 2013 Tuenti was sold to Telefonica, a Spanish mobile operator, for 70 million euros. This has put a toll on the company, and this decision caused a loss of 24 million euros by the end of 2013 and a 58% decline in users. The partnership with Telefonica and the subsequent announcement of plans to create a Tuenti phone service created uncertainty in users. Although Tuenti continues to be one of the most popular online social network sites in Spain, their increase in technological innovation and global networking has caused Tuenti users, especially in the youth demographic, to switch to sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Tuenti’s loss of activity against Facebook by 75% isn’t deterring the company from continuing on, “At first, limiting our customer base solely in Spain was beneficial to our company but as our competitors grow as well we realize we need to expand beyond the borders of Spain and connect our users with the rest of the world,” says Tuenti CEO and founder, Zaryn Dentzel.

Despite the setbacks faced in 2013, Tuenti is looking towards the future. The company’s efforts to expand and grow go beyond simple alterations of their site. There is a big focus for the company now on going global. Tuenti has recently opened up the page to allow users around the world to join the Spanish community. In the past year, they have introduced the site into the Latin American market hoping for success similar to the initial roll-out in Spain. Other advancements include their availability on smartphones including Apple, Blackberry and Android as well as a revived plan for Tuenti Movil.

Social media is becoming a staple in today’s society, influencing people around the world. If they are able to successfully go global, Tuenti has the chance to be a big player in the market.