How to Approach Different Cultures via Social Media

As more businesses start to cotton onto the value of using the web to market themselves internationally,  they’re also coming to see the value of good quality website localisation – basically the process of translating and culturally adapting a website for different languages and cultures.

Social media marketing is another hot topic right now. With around 600 million users signed up to Facebook and another 200 million on Twitter, not to mention the more business-oriented LinkedIn and various other smaller and/or locally based competitors, the sheer scale of social media interaction is phenomenal. Many businesses are using social media platforms for marketing, increasing brand awareness and customer service, but few, it seems, are combining the two areas of localisation and social media marketing.

Econsultancy’s 2010 Social Media and Online PR Report reported that 83% of marketers were planning to increase their spending on social media in 2011, yet only 26% were planning to run campaigns in more than one country.

So are they missing an opportunity? The answer has to be that, potentially at least, they are.

So what’s the point of social media marketing?

While social media marketing can be used for direct sales or customer service, it is probably more widely used for more general PR. ‘Background’ activities such as building and maintaining brand awareness, monitoring and responding to criticism and gathering feedback from customers can obviously have a major effect on your sales and overall success – even if it’s not always as easy to see a clear return on investment, as you can for localisation.

In a survey conducted by market research company Ad-ology, the owners of 1,100 small businesses described their ability to generate leads, to keep up with developments within their field, and to monitor online conversations about their business, as being the greatest benefits of social media marketing.

Social media should be used as just one part of an overall strategy but, given the popularity of social networks and their capacity to span borders and cultures, they can be invaluable when it comes to reaching foreign markets and territories.


What are the best sites to use?

The global nature of major players like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn mean that they can all be used to reach different markets and cultures. Last year, Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish were the fastest growing languages used on Facebook.


To a large extent, these figures are representative of the worldwide growth in internet usage, and take-up rates in general throughout the vast potential markets of South America and the Middle East. It’s entirely possible to reach many different markets through the social media platforms you’re already familiar with, such as Twitter and Facebook, but some countries are dominated by local networks that are unknown elsewhere.

In China, for example, Qzone claims to have a staggering 380 million users. It’s thought that many of these could be dormant accounts, but it’s still a massive slice of China’s estimated – and still growing – 400 million internet users. Renren is another big player in China, with an estimated 120 million users.

In Japan, Mixi has a market share of around 80%, amounting to some 30 million users, while Sonico is popular throughout Latin America and Orkut, despite having started life in California, is now the most popular social media site within Brazil (and until recently was the most popular in India, now overtaken by Facebook).

As well as these general social networking sites, there may also be a number of sites dedicated to your particular industry. These sites often have their own active communities and it might be worth establishing a presence within groups on these niche sites. The key is simply to identify the markets you intend to be active within and then research the popular social media platforms within those countries. Depending on the resources you have available, it may be enough to concentrate on the most widely used sites, or it may be worth dipping into smaller or niche sites as well.


Effective translation and communication

Once you’ve decided on the most appropriate social networks to target, you still have to communicate with your customers, and likely across languages. Translation widgets such as Babelfish and Google Translate may give decent literal translations in some cases, but they can be prone to the sort of contextual and cultural errors that are marketing kryptonite.

Ideally, you’d be able to hire native-language speakers to run your social media campaigns in every language market, but if you don’t have those resources available, you can always outsource the translation and localisation of your content and make use of machine translation software to get the gist of online conversations.

The world’s biggest brands have already realised that to continue competing, they need to be across social media in every one of their target markets – the good news is that, with the right skills and knowledge, the smaller players can compete on the same playing field.

About the author

Christian Arno is the founder of professional translation agency Lingo24. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 150 employees spanning three continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over sixty million words for businesses in every industry sector. Follow Christian (@l24ca) and Lingo24 (@Lingo24) on Twitter.