Social media marketing is the biggest thing to happen to the world of business communications since televisions arrived in every home. The increasing popularity of social networking sites has provided an effective way for businesses to communicate directly with existing and potential customers all around the world, and companies both big and small are taking advantage of the fact.

The truly worldwide nature of the web has made the possibility of reaching out across geographical barriers more attainable than ever before, but cultural and linguistic divisions remain and companies are coming to realize that a monolingual, mono-cultural, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is no longer enough. If you’re looking at targeting customers in foreign countries and cultures, your SMM approach needs to be localized – but not everyone realizes this.

Econsultancy’s 2010 Social Media and Online PR Report noted that, while 83% of marketers had plans to increase their spending on social media this year, only 26% had plans to run campaigns in more than one country. Given the increasing pervasiveness of social media throughout the world, it seems that many may be missing out on a golden opportunity.

Social Media Marketing Strategies For Different Cultures

 It’s not just Facebook…

It’s true that the giants of the social media world, such as Facebook and Twitter, have international appeal. The role played by both in the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions and protests should be enough to convince any onlooker that their influence and appeal goes far beyond the English speaking or western world.

Facebook and Twitter have both enjoyed recent upsurges in the Arab world, as well as the vast emerging markets of Latin America and elsewhere. These sites certainly shouldn’t be neglected, but there are other platforms you’ve probably never heard of that rule the roosts in their own backyards. These sites often mean little outside their own spheres of influence, but within them, they’re market leaders, and due consideration should be given to which sites are popular within each target market.

  •  In China, Qzone and its associated messaging service QQ are massive, with parent company Tencent declaring a staggering 636.6 million active QQ accounts as of September 2010.
  • Cyworld is a market leader in South Korea. The site also has a presence in China and Vietnam but has failed to take off elsewhere, recently ceasing its operations in Germany, Japan, and the United States.
  • IRC-Galleria is the biggest social networking site in Finland. With half a million users, it certainly doesn’t have the global impact of Facebook but, if you happened to be targeting the Scandinavian country, you’d be foolish to ignore its most popular site.
  • Mixi commands an 80% share of the Japanese market, which equates to around 30 million users.
  • Facebook is the single biggest social media site in France, but blogging platform Skyrock is an increasingly popular and influential competitor.

And the list goes on. New social media sites are springing up every day, often tailored towards specific countries, areas, and markets. It can be tempting to just stick to the familiar, but even the most cursory research may turn up more efficacious sites, depending on your own requirements and those of your target markets.

 Getting the message across

Once you’ve identified the best platform or platforms, you still have to use them to communicate effectively. Services such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck for Twitter, Google Alert, and various programs designed specifically to trawl forums and message boards for specific keywords (such as your company’s name), will help you to keep track of who’s talking about you and where.

Machine translation software such as Yahoo! Babel Fish and Google Translate can be ideal for getting an idea of what other people’s posts are about, but when it comes to posting your own, it might be worth considering a native speaking translator.

Even the best machine translation programs can be prone to errors and this can make your posts or responses seem stilted and unprofessional. A native translator will not only catch contextual errors but will also provide a more ‘local’ feel, with colloquialisms, abbreviations, and knowledge of culture-specific references.

It may, of course, come down to a question of resources as to whether you can afford to invest in in-country copywriters or translators to localize your social media content, but the fact remains that clear and effective communication is the name of the game when it comes to approaching different cultures via social media.

About the author

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 forty million words for businesses in every industry sector, including the likes of MTV, World Bank, and American Express. Follow Lingo24 on Twitter: @Lingo24.