In October last year Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg proudly announced that the social media behemoth had reached the milestone of over a billion active monthly users. To put that in some sort of context, that’s one in seven of the entire population of the planet. Conceived at Harvard and solidified in Silicon Valley, Facebook is in many ways a very American success story. But it owes much of that success to its phenomenal penetration of foreign markets. It has, for example, more than 66 million users in Brazil and over 61 million in India.
Facebook is most definitely the leader of the pack, but there are other big players out there. The market shows no sign of reaching saturation point just yet, especially in emerging economies.
In 2011-2012 India and Indonesia experienced huge social network user growth rates of 51.5% and 51.4% respectively, according to eMarketer. In 2013 the Middle East and Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America are the regions expected to see the highest growth rates.
What this all adds up to is the fact that the social media offers an ideal, and increasingly indespensible way, to communicate with existing and potential new markets worldwide.
Research your markets
The various social media platforms offer a great way to reach new people, but it usually takes more to connect with an international audience than simply waiting for them to come to you. An effective international strategy takes time and resources and there’s little point wasting efforts on markets that you’re not either currently active in or looking to break into.
Thorough market research should be part of any overall expansion plan, but in social media terms you should also look into the most appropriate platforms and user habits and expectations. Lewis PR lists some typical traits by country in its white paper on international social media marketing. In Japan, for example, an emphasis on privacy means users are far more likely to be anonymous. The Brits, meanwhile, are a cynical lot but often react well to humor. These are generalisations of course, and don’t apply to every individual user, but they can help you set an overall tone.
Other usage patterns could affect your overall social media strategy. In France, social networks and sharing sites are more popular than blogging, while the Netherlands has a lot of widely read collaborative blogs. Many of these are open to new contributors so approaching one could be a way to reach a far wider audience than setting up your own corporate blog.
Tailor your message
A recent study found that more than half of Internet users across the EU regularly visited foreign language (typically English) websites. It’s tempting to view English as a lingua franca or common language and to some extent it is. However, the same website also revealed that only 18% would make purchases from a foreign language website. People tend to put more trust in sites in their native language. When it comes to the informal communication of social media sites, they’re even less likely to seek out and access information in a foreign tongue.
The quickest and easiest way to translate content, updates and messages is to use an automatic translation program but these can be prone to contextual errors and certainly don’t deal well with slang, colloquialisms, common online abbreviations and any other linguistic elements that deviate from the dictionary.
Native translators can help to retain context as well as lending cultural knowledge, avoiding unfortunate faux pas, and giving your content a more local feel.
Go beyond Facebook
As already mentioned Facebook is the worldwide leader in social media by some considerable margin. This makes it an ideal platform for reaching out internationally and other well-known sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and the rapidly rising Pinterest also have global appeal. Depending on your markets however, other local competitors can be just as valuable.
China, where Facebook remains officially banned, represents one obvious gap in Facebook’s global domination. Platforms such as Tencent QQ and Sina Weibo are hugely popular alternatives. VK (formerly VKontakte) is the market leader in Russia. Orkut is still huge in Brazil, despite being recently overtaken by Facebook, and massively popular in India. You should of course link all existing accounts and profiles, whichever platforms you opt for in the end.
Social media on the move
Facebook recently announced: “While most of our mobile users also access Facebook through personal computers, we anticipate that the rate of growth in mobile usage will exceed the growth in usage through personal computers for the foreseeable future and that the usage through personal computers may be flat or continue to decline in certain markets.”
It’s not just Facebook that’s experiencing this switch to mobile. More and more people are using phones, tablets and even handheld gaming consoles to access their social media accounts. It is even more pronounced in some emerging markets such as India and Latin America, where affordable and reliable fixed high speed Internet access is not always be readily available.
The key to effective mobile communication is in short, easily digestible messages and formats that do not take an age to load or gobble up bandwidth.
There’s a lot to think about when approaching social media internationally, but the potential benefits can be worth all the time and effort required.