How to Approach Social Media Internationally

How to Approach Social Media Internationally

In an increasingly global marketplace, the benefits of localization are being acknowledged by more and more businesses of every shape and size. A Common Sense Advisory study suggested there could be a gain of $25 for every $1 spent on localization – an attractive return on investment in anybody’s language.

Social media marketing is another current hot topic. The immediate financial benefits might not be quite as cut and dried but the pervasive presence of social media platforms in many people’s lives makes them an important conduit between any organization and its target market. They offer an ideal means of direct communication and it’s rare these days to find any savvy business that isn’t looking to establish and maintain a strong social media presence.

How to Approach Social Media Internationally

How to Approach Social Media Internationally

Despite the undoubted benefits of localization and the opportunities afforded by social media, however, it seems that not everyone is willing or able to combine the two.

An eConsultancy report found that, in 2011, 83% of marketers were planning to increase their spending on social media, yet only 26% had plans to run campaigns in more than one country. This is perhaps surprising given that social media – much like the world wide web itself – affords an unparalleled opportunity to reach across geographical boundaries. Linguistic and cultural divisions remain but the mechanics are there and with a little forward thinking and effort they can be used to tap into new markets or, at the least, to open new lines of communication.

Geographical Social Media

The Risks of Social Media

Social media can bring great benefits to your business but there can also be risks involved. A study by ISACA (formerly the Information Systems Audit and Control Association) concluded that exposure to malware, brand hijacking, lack of content control and non-compliance with rules over record-keeping were some of the top social media risks to businesses.

The study also found that employees could frequently bypass the security guidelines and safeguards set up by the IT and legal departments of a company. Put simply, time-wasting and misrepresentation can become issues. Only authorised personnel should be given access to company profiles and extra care should be taken when dealing with social media in foreign languages.

Defining Your Target Audience

There’s little point in expending more than the minimum of time and resources reaching out to markets in which you are not expecting to do much business. It could be that a strong social media profile will actually open up opportunities in entirely new markets but in general you’d be better off concentrating your efforts. Traditional market research techniques should help you identify your target audience and the best place to expend your efforts.

Market Research

Choosing the Right Platform

Once you’ve identified your target audience, you should consider the best platform to use within that market. All the big hitters like Facebook and Twitter do, of course, have international followings. Indeed, according to the latest data (released in 2010), the fastest growing languages on Facebook were Portuguese and Arabic. English remains the most widely used language but this trend reflects the growing popularity of Facebook in the vast emerging market of Portuguese- speaking Brazil and within the Arab world.

Language Growth

Facebook, Twitter et al should clearly not be ignored and in many cases it may be easier to adapt an existing profile than create an existing one from scratch.

You should be aware though that in some markets local competitors may be more popular platforms. In Brazil itself, for example, Orkut is the most popular site. Originally hosted in California, the site still enjoys a modest success in the States but is now operated by Google Brazil from Belo Horizonte.

Mixi has a market share of around 80% in Japan and Yahoo! Japan is also popular. In the vast emerging market of China, meanwhile, Qzone has a staggering 480 million reported accounts.

There may also be specific forums and sites related to your field of business within each market and concentrating on these narrow-interest sites can sometimes pay more dividends than a more generalised profile or campaign.

Social Media Sites

Speaking Your Customers’ Language

Issues of translation are obviously important when it comes to reaching out internationally. There are plenty of free online translation sites, such as Google Translate or Babylon, that allow you to simply cut and paste text and receive an instant translation. These can be handy for getting the gist of what people are saying about you but care should be taken when using them for your own posts or responses.

Even the best automatic translation systems can be prone to contextual errors and they don’t tend to deal well with slang and the sort of abbreviations or text-speak often used in social media.


A lot of people will appreciate the effort but a bad translation can leave you looking unprofessional or may even entirely change the meaning of what you’re trying to say. If you’re lucky enough to have an employee who is fluent in the language of your target market, you may wish to make the maintenance of your social media profile part of their duties.

Otherwise, native speaking translators will help get your message across and filter out any embarrassing linguistic or cultural faux pas. You might not consider it an essential use of resources for every minor Tweet or post but you should at least ensure that your profiles and any major communications are translated as accurately as possible.


Choosing your platforms and setting up your profile(s) is only part of the job. Running a successful social media campaign is an ongoing process rather than a one-off task. Profiles must be kept up to date and your lines of communication should constantly be refreshed. Social media can provide an ideal platform for disseminating up-to-the-minute news and information about your organization.

A traditional website can do the same job however and social media perhaps works best as a two-way channel of communication. Don’t just issue pronouncements. Talk to your customers and take their views and comments on board.

An active social media presence can provide an invaluable PR resource and can help you reach out to international markets and present a friendly, human and approachable face.


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