Using Social Media to Reach Customers in Different Cultures

Any business operating online clearly can’t ignore the benefits offered by social media platforms. This includes companies which are operating in markets abroad, as well as their home countries. However, just as you will have localized your website content for different foreign markets, you’ll need to take a similar strategic approach to your use of social media.

Where?

Before just jumping online and bashing out status updates, you do need to think about where the people you want to talk to might be interacting. On the whole, the ‘big three’ – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – are growing everywhere and are relevant in most countries. Insider Facebook figures reveal that the major languages spoken on Facebook are English, Spanish and French, but other languages such as Portuguese and Arabic are growing quickly. On the other hand, Facebook is not used in China, so it pays to do your homework on your target market before jumping in.

However, don’t stop with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You have to get to know your market to find out where people are talking – do some online research and ask around at the very least. For example, in China, Qzone has over 380 million users so if China is your target market, it’s a platform you won’t want to ignore. RenRen is another big player, with 120 million users. Other country-specific examples include Mixi.jp in Japan and Orkut in Brazil.

You need to drill down to niche areas as well. General sites are great, but industry-specific networks, although smaller, can be very targeted and useful to get involved with.

How?

The way you communicate on social networks is very important. They give you direct access to potential customers but you have to get the tone and content right if you really want to engage.

Translation tools are an option for delivering your social media content in the correct language for your target markets. However, the language could end up being stilted, a little odd or just plain wrong. You could also accidentally make cultural and contextual errors or omissions which won’t reflect well on your company.

Think about your own use of social media and the companies that utilize it well – the updates sound natural, they’re fun and engaging and they encourage participation. You’re much more likely to achieve the same effect if you use a professional translator who understands social media.

Also don’t forget that crucially, social media is a two-way thing. It’s no good firing out tweets and updates if you can’t respond to any feedback you get.

Why?

If you’re at all interested in marketing or digital trends, you’re likely to be well aware of the business benefits that using social media platforms can provide. But just in case you need a little more persuasion, let’s talk just a little more about why you can’t ignore social networks when it comes to online marketing.

Yes, you can use social media to sell and promote your product. However, this is just one example of the numerous ways that businesses can use these sites. They are also a great way to create and maintain awareness of your brand and its values. Social media sites can allow your businesses to get to know customers and create a human ‘voice’, rather than being a faceless company.

Some companies are concerned that social media fails to offer a clear ROI, which is especially important if you’re employing specialist staff, but most companies do attribute an increase in profits, brand awareness and customer connection to social media.

In a survey by market research firm Ad-ology, over 57% of small business owners said that social media was at least somewhat useful to generate leads. Many also said it helped them to keep up to date with industry news and to listen and participate in online conversations about their brand. Social media gives quick and easy access to businesses to find out what the people who matter really think about their products and services.

Social media is just one part of the online marketing mix when you’re selling to foreign markets. It is not a ‘silver bullet’ but offers a cost-effective way to connect with customers, clients and colleagues on a worldwide basis.

Christian Arno is the founder of Lingo24, one of the world’s fastest growing translation agencies. 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.

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  • http://twitter.com/PunchakPR Whitney Punchak

    Hi, I recently had a bit of experience using one of the platforms you mentioned: RenRen (popular in China, similar to Facebook) as well as Weibo (also used in China and is similar to Twitter) and I had to share what I learned.

    I was working on a PR plan for one of my university’s departments and we looked into these two platforms as a way to reach potential students from China. I was working in a team with two native Chinese speakers and as you can imagine, they were crucial. However, despite everyone’s best efforts our application was rejected by RenRen. They rejected us because we were considered a for-profit company and because they required official, signed papers with the university seal as part of the application. We discovered the later only after being in contact with their customer service department.

    We were able to successfully make a Weibo profile, however that had to be abandoned as well. It was explained to me that we had to enter the email address of people before sending any messages. This meant collecting emails instead of just “following” potential students.

    In the end we found other ways to reach the Chinese market, but it was certainly an interesting first time experience with Chinese social media policies.