Going Global: Strategies for Launching an International Social Media Campaign

Don’t Get Lost in Translation

The emergence of social media has opened the international floodgates. Companies can now target a global audience that was out of reach a mere decade ago. Whether your business already attracts a multi-national audience or you are preparing to launch worldwide directives for lead generation and/or brand awareness, developing a powerful social media plan can be challenging, elusive, and costly. Posts that are engaging domestically can translate poorly overseas, and social platforms can vary widely in their reach and efficacy. But with a thorough understanding of your market and careful attention to cultural norms, your company can establish a thriving global presence by following these fundamentals:

Research the Target Audience
What motivates your brand’s intended audience? What are their likes? Dislikes? Do you know the local colloquialisms? How do they spend their free time? Are they really interested in your goods or services?

These are just a few of the questions you’ll need to answer before embarking on an international social media campaign. It’s no different than promoting your company to a national audience: you need to clearly define your target market in order to achieve success.

Don’t assume that marketing principles applying to US consumers are the same worldwide. International audiences require special attention and it’s essential to have a thorough understanding of their needs before attempting to break into this significant market.

One of the best examples of a company that successfully utilizes social media to effectively target an international audience is Coca-Cola. It has numerous country-specific Twitter accounts – including Coca-Cola Mexico and Coca-Cola France – that communicate with customers on a local level. Each account features completely different conversations and discussion topics based on customers’ respective interests and preferences. Coca-Cola’s attention to detail and clear understand of its target audience allows for improved consumer engagement and ultimately a strong international presence.

Practice Sensitivity to Cultural Norms and Events
Be aware of the gestures, behaviors, and words that are considered taboo overseas. It’s also crucial to keep up with current political and social climates, as well as the local events that are affecting the customer base. Insulting customers or not paying attention to culture-specific happenings can have devastating consequences.

Case in point: popular designer Kenneth Cole sparked outrage across the globe, but particularly in Egypt, by capitalizing on the devastating Cairo riots in a misguided Twitter post. He wrote, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” The designer was forced to apologize for his insensitive remarks, and many followers in Egypt vowed to never purchase his shoes again.

Companies that do their due diligence by practicing sensitivity to other countries’ cultural norms and current events can avoid unsightly blunders and help better position their campaign for success.

Engage in Traditional Location-Based Marketing
Don’t generalize. Would you market a product or service to New York City businessmen the same as you would to farmers in Oklahoma? As domestic marketers hone their marketing messages and strategies state-by-state, every country has its own distinct regions where locals share customs, personality traits, and interests.

Traditional location-based marketing relies on the concept of personalization. McDonald’s announced in 2012 on its India Twitter and Facebook accounts that it would build its first vegetarian restaurant at two of the country’s most visited holy sites. In regions of India that do not follow the same strict religious customs, diners can instead enjoy a half-vegetarian menu that offers chicken as the main meat source. The McDonald’s India Facebook page targets both groups, posting images and messages showcasing products that are geared towards vegetarian and non-vegetarian customers. This respect for India’s regional differences has proven to be a financial success, and the chain has plans to build a number of new restaurants throughout the country in the next few years.

Top 10 International Networks
Americans might be big fans of Facebook and Twitter, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that’s necessarily true for consumers worldwide. For example, China, the world’s most populated country, has instituted a ban on both.

Here are ten of the top players in the international social networking game:

  1. Sina Weibo: It’s a wildly popular Chinese micro-blogging site with 500 million registered users that recently expanded to Singapore and Indonesia and features a format akin to Twitter. Although carefully monitored by the Chinese government, it offers an unprecedented window into the Chinese political and social landscape that can prove very useful for businesses trying to break into this highly sought-after market.
  2. Orkut: This Google-owned social networking site similar to Facebook has 33 million active users worldwide and is one of the most visited websites in India and Brazil, two up-and-coming international markets. Business owners can take advantage of Orkut’s “communities,” where users join groups related to specific brands, businesses, and special interest topics.
  3. VKontakte: VK for short, this site is the second most popular European social networking service after Facebook. It’s particularly prominent in Russia and the surrounding countries and has a similar format to Facebook, allowing users to publicly and privately share messages, create groups and pages, share images, and more.
  4. Bebo: At its height in 2008, Bebo boasted an impressive 40 million users, mostly in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland. The site was sold to AOL for a cool $850 million a few years back and subsequently lost a good deal of its popularity; however, its founder recently bought it back and is rebuilding the site from scratch. Given Bebo’s past reputation, this is one to keep an eye on – and may provide marketers with an opportunity to get in on the newly remodeled ground floor.
  5. Badoo: A cross between instant messaging and a social network, Badoo is based out of London but has registered users in 180 countries worldwide. Its primary goal is to connect people looking to make new friends or find a date, and users can filter their search by age range, location, and gender. Badoo primarily generates revenue from member subscriptions but is testing the waters for corporate advertisements.
  6. Hi5: Initially a US-based startup, Hi5 now has over 80 million registered users worldwide in a number of countries including Thailand, Nepal, Mongolia, and Romania. Hi5 offers the usual features like personal profiles and photo sharing, but has more recently built and expanded upon a social gaming platform.
  7. Viadeo: This business-oriented social platform is used worldwide but is most popular in Europe, particularly France and Spain. Its users include business owners and entrepreneurs looking to connect with other professionals, share work and career opportunities, and participate in networking opportunities.
  8. XING: Founded in Germany, XING is an international social network geared specifically for the business community. This LinkedIn competitor is used by people in more than 200 countries to search and apply for jobs, participate in group discussions (there are 50,000 industry-specific groups), and collaborate on business ideas.
  9. Qzone: It’s Asia’s largest social networking site that has 600 million users and is growing by the day. Owned by Tencent, a company that also runs Chinese instant messaging service QQ, Qzone is a blogging platform popular with young people that also allows users to listen to music, share photos, and customize their own space according to their interests.
  10. Netlog: This Belgian-run site targeted toward the European youth population is available in twenty languages and allows users to increase their social network through personally created web pages that incorporate blog posts, photos, videos, and events.

Creating a powerful overseas social media campaign can be challenging for most companies trying to establish an international footprint. But brands that do their market research, personalize their message for their users, know the cultural norms, and target the right networks can have lasting results, and better position their campaign to perform.

Has your business or business plan changed since launching overseas? We want to know! Comment below or tweet us at @Rocket_Post.

Read more: How to Build a Global Company Without Sacrificing Local Flavor