I’ve got to start with a confession. There’s no silver bullet for international social media. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The right strategy for your business will depend on the countries you’re targeting, the kind of audience you’re aiming for, and what you actually want to achieve.
It also depends on what you’re using social media for—whether marketing campaigns, brand building, driving engagement, customer service, or a mixture of all of these.
But probably the most important factors in getting global social right are these:
- Be clear about who’s involved in your social strategy (PR, marketing, customer service, etc.)
- Define what you want to achieve
- Work out how to achieve it
- Find a way to measure success
Otherwise, you’re just posting in the wilderness.
After years of helping clients figure out—and improve—their global social practice, I’ve come across five common mistakes that will at best make you look awkward, and at worst, can seriously damage your brand.
Mistake #1: Stopping at translation
Social media campaigns can’t just be translated and re-posted in other markets in order to grow a community there. What some people will find incredible, hilarious or emotional in one region could quite easily fall flat in others. And with the potential for a disastrous mistake going immediately viral, you should never, ever make any assumptions about other cultures.
Poor translations are an obvious peril. But it goes beyond that. Consider the whole package. Does your tone of voice translate? Do your images resonate in your target markets? Are you using each platform in line with local conventions?
And remember: social isn’t just about putting your ideas out there, it’s also about understanding how your brand is perceived and the kind of language your customers use to talk about you. With global social, you need to listen extra carefully. But, social listening tools might not pick up on nuances like irony or sarcasm. To get the actionable insights you need, you’ll need analysis from experts that understand the territory you’re operating in.
Mistake #2: Wasting time and money on the wrong channels
Just because Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are your biggest platforms in the US doesn’t mean that’s where your global audience is looking.
Bear in mind that around the world there are lots of platforms that don’t have any traction in Western markets, but have huge market shares in their own countries—think WeChat and Baidu in China, VKontakte in Russia, and XING in Germany.
You need to do the research to find out where your audience is and work out how to reach them. This goes beyond market share and into demographics. For instance, one company thought Instagram was a great channel in the German market because it had great reach. But the majority of German Instagrammers are in the 18-25 demographic—not right at all for the brand in question.
Treat each country and channel uniquely, have content tailored to fit—and don’t think you have to be on every channel either.
Mistake #3: Trying to plan it all out in advance
While some social activity can be planned over the long term—for marketing events, seasonal holidays, and so on—it’s more important for your international social to be timely, responsive, and flexible. Your social budget should always include resources specifically for creating reactive content.
You need teams who keep an ear to the ground at a regional level for news and events you can respond to. Time-critical trends can be exploited for topical campaigns that will be hyper-relevant for local audiences. Trying to do this centrally is far less likely to be effective. You’ll miss the moment—or worse, misjudge a topic and produce something tone-deaf to cultural sensibilities.
This relies on getting the balance between your central marketing team and your in-market teams right. The central team can train local teams on the overall brand social strategy; the in-market teams can advise on how best to roll out the campaigns to your local audience.
Mistake #4: Assuming that all you need is a native speaker
You probably wouldn’t leave your social media management in your home market to someone with little social media marketing experience. So when you’re going into other markets, keep your standards just as high. Never assume that someone is qualified to manage regional social channels just because they use those platforms and speak the language.
To get the best results, you need someone who speaks the language and gets the strategy. Your branded social media channels, wherever they are, are an official mouthpiece for your business. It’s not just marketing: whether you’ve got a low-level customer service issue to fix or a full-blown crisis to handle, you need your social media presence managed at all times by people who know how to deal with problems quickly and can deliver timely responses.
Mistake #5: Thinking of social strategy as a one-off project
International social media is an ongoing challenge. At no point can you sit back and say ‘we’re done’. You need to thoroughly research each market before you start posting—and then keep the research flowing. Social channels come and go, the power of regional influencers waxes and wanes, and local cultures change.
You need to create a social media process that’s built to adapt with your markets—executing on centrally planned activity but being responsive and familiar at a local level.
As Chloe McKenna, Senior International Strategist at Moravia’s digital marketing partner, Oban International, tells us:
“It’s essential that businesses invest time and resources into conducting cultural research prior to launching social media activity.
Understanding social media behaviors, expectations, trends, likes, and dislikes for users in a country you are targeting helps you create campaigns which really resonate—so you can achieve your business objectives."
Tackling global social media can be daunting. But I hope the above advice has helped you see the opportunities as well as the pitfalls. A successful global social media practice relies on the same principles as your home market strategy: solid goals, expert knowledge of user preferences in-market, and a well-trained team you can trust to execute on your strategy.
(Shameless plug: we can help. And we love to talk about this stuff. You can reach us here.)