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Do you know how to use social media to target a global audience?  After all, social media provides a low-cost solution to engage your prospects, customers and partners located in different regions of the world.

As Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford Motor Company, says, “U.S. brands looking to leverage social networks internationally know that while their messages need to stay consistent regardless of the region, the language, cultural reference points, platform and tactics, all need to be tailored for each market.”

He continues, “Whether it is customer service, IT, HR or product development, there are a number of uses for social media. And when you add to that all of our constituents—customers, employees, shareholders, dealers, retirees—it becomes a very complex assignment.”

Here’s a look at a few of the difficulties and how you can overcome them…

The Information Available

In the past, statistics on social media were difficult to come by and they were not always relevant.  But there are more Internet statistics available today even for social media.  McCann’s Wave 4 Power to the People report  is one resource available to gain insights into how to use social media internationally.

The trouble  with an international social media strategy, as Erik Qualman of Search Engine Watch points out, one size does not fit all. Having more relevant statistics does not get you very far.  You still need to learn how to adapt what you do on social media to effectively connect with people in other countries. And before you can do this, you need to know a bit more about what social media is like over there.

Social Media in Different Regions of the World

A good place to start is to look for general insights into the social media environment in the places you would like to reach.

The Nielsen report Global Faces and Networked Places clearly explains why localization has won the day in many countries and says, “Succeeding in China takes more than producing a translated version; it requires investment in a local infrastructure and a mentality of running a Chinese social network that understands the domestic nuances of social network behaviour rather than simply rolling out a generic social network in Chinese.”

Here are more insights from two social media players well-known in their own countries:

Have a look at this interview of Laurel Papworth in which she gives an analysis on what’s happening in social media in Australia and Southeast Asia.

Fred Cavazza says, “The main differences in France‘s social media are based on the local offering and local players: Dailymotion, Skyblog, Viadeo, Dofus, BlogSpirit, CanalBlog, OverBlog… and there are 3 distinct groups in France around culinary, political and IT gadget blogs.”

Fred Cavazza raises a good point. Let’s have a look at the main challenges presented by local offerings and local players.  These are areas where you will need to adapt to fit in with what works in the local social media environment.

Cultural Differences in How People Respond to Social Media

Cultural differences always impact how people use social media. Here are some insights from a few culturally minded social media players.

Engagement—Jack Yan says, “There seems to be a gap between Americans and New Zealanders on Twitter usage, for instance. Kiwis, for the most part, seem to engage a bit more and there are relatively fewer accounts, proportionally, made up of automated tweets. There seems to be more of a demand on American tweeters, for instance, to provide a lot of content, and I suspect that this drives the automation. This arguably comes back to the different cultures: one historically more collaborative, the other historically more individualistic.

Hesitation—France shares a trait with many countries: hesitation and observation before engaging in new social media. Thierry de Baillon says, “Where Anglo Saxons are prone to quickly dive into new platforms and get new habits, Frenchies stick with old ones, watching others acting while taking their time.”

Networking—Lucy Chatburn sees more networking activity on both LinkedIn and Facebook in Turkey than in the UK. “This could be because networking doesn’t come naturally to many British people. And a LinkedIn profile is definitely not seen as an essential career tool in the UK.”

Shyness—Mixi, a leading social network in Japan, added a special feature to make it easier for people to make friends.

Of course, there are many more ways cultural differences impact social media. Before you can find the right way for your business to connect with people on social media platforms in different countries, you do need to:

  • Develop cultural awareness
  • Do your research
  • Adapt your communication and social approach

Evolution in Local Players

Other challenges in international social media are related to changes in popularity of social media platforms.  A snapshot of the social media environment in any country may not remain current for long.  Social media environments change.

Facebook’s growth has had an impact on many countries outside of North America. Orkut’s popularity in Brazil and India is changing.

This is why it is difficult for businesses to know how to:

  • Anticipate where to spend time
  • Identify the most relevant social media platforms for their business

Good monitoring practices and a local presence are keys to success.

Can Social Media Help Your International Business?

There are many reasons why this is a tough question to answer.  As we have seen above, statistics do not always reflect how people use social media. There are also:

  • Different speeds of adopting social media
  • Differences in how locals use social media
  • Differences in how businesses can use social media in different countries

On the one hand, local statistics can be misleading.  Another culturally minded social media player, Martin Lindeskog points out that “The broadband/high-speed Internet connection is very common here in Sweden.” However, he also notes that “you can’t find many examples of companies that have embraced a new type of media strategy in full scale yet. There is a lot of talk about Twitter, but you don’t see many companies microblogging.

On the other hand, although statistics only tell part of the story, a detailed view of the local social media environment can give you valuable insights.  According to Fred Cavazza, the social media market in France was evangelized long ago by local players, and this made the road to success easy to maneuver for Facebook in France.

Successful International Social Media

If you are serious about using social media within an international marketing strategy, you will need:

  • Strong cross-cultural skills
  • Local professionals

The right people will help you through the complexity in finding:

  • Preferred offers
  • Communication preferences
  • Use of different platforms
  • Where and how the people you want to reach use social media in their country

A Source of Inspiration

In addition to connecting with business networking partners abroad, there is another good reason to keep an ear open for what is happening in international social media: there is richness in diversity.  And this can help you stay in tune with social media as it evolves for everyone.

Monitoring how businesses in other countries use social media helps you to:

  • Get ideas for new things to try in your own country
  • Spot new trends in other areas of the world which might, in time, affect your own industry

As different people around the world adapt social media to their own cultural tastes and the driving forces in their local markets, we are sure to see:

  • More innovation
  • Different uses for social media in business
  • Opportunities to adapt the strategies and tools we are familiar with to new international markets

Observing these changes and understanding why they fail or succeed increase our understanding of what social media is all about.  Although North American businesses are using social media more than businesses elsewhere, there are many examples of innovation and inspiration to be found outside of North America.  This alone is why following international social media is useful to many businesses.

Now, over to you…

  • What have you learned by observing social media in other countries?
  • What is the most interesting difference in international social media to you?
  • What anecdotes can you share about social media in different countries?

Please share your comments with us below.

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