Some traditional business owners may be tired of hearing about how critical social media is to a solid marketing strategy. Some may see it as just a fad or trend, while others don’t see the value in creating a campaign at all. But as companies like Jimmy Choo and Kraft have demonstrated, social media can produce a robust return on investment (ROI).


Social media should play an integral role for every business; however, this can become a bit more complex for a company with an international presence. Unfortunately, just because a business maintains a healthy social presence domestically doesn’t mean that success will translate abroad. Furthermore, what makes for engaging content in one part of the world may not work somewhere else. In fact, some of the most popular sites in the United States don’t even have a major presence in other prominent countries.


With that in mind, consider these tips for traveling across international social media waters:


Be Aware of All the Most Popular Platforms


Every country has its own top performing social platform. In fact, a ranking of the social media sites with the highest sharing and comment rates in China — home to more than 1.3 billion people — reveals that Facebook is only 19th on the list, despite being first in the United States by a wide margin. The primary reason for Facebook’s low ranking is that the site is banned everywhere in China except a 17-square-mile free trade zone in Shanghai.


Be sure you research what platforms are most popular in the region you are considering for expansion. According to traffic data from Alexa, the top three performing social sites around the world as of December 2013 include:


  • Facebook: North America, South America, Australia, Africa, Europe
  • QZone: China
  • VK (formerly known as VKontakte): Russia


Know Your Audience: Customize and Localize Content


According to data from an Infographic by WeAreSquared, the number of social media users worldwide increased by 18 percent in 2013. The infographic shows that:


  • Social media is expected to grow more rapidly in Africa and Asia than anywhere else in the world between 2011 and 2017.
  • The number of social media users in the Middle East and Africa is expected to increase by a staggering 191 percent during that same six-year time period.
  • By 2017, the global social network audience will total 2.55 billion.


As social media becomes an increasingly effective global marketing tool, businesses will need to elevate their awareness of important events and customs in their target markets. For example, if your company is expanding to a primarily Muslim country, you should be aware of the religion’s holidays and acknowledge them on your platforms. In an area with a large Jewish or Chinese population, make sure you have a calendar handy so you know when the New Year falls in these cultures. Build a campaign around these meaningful dates or simply send well wishes through social media — just make sure you give them their due.


Maintain a Professional Social Presence


In the early part of 2013, global entertainment retailer HMV suffered what can only be described as an epic social media failure. In the middle of a downsizing effort, tweets about the layoffs began appearing on the company’s Twitter account, detailing everything from mismanagement to illegal interns. Perhaps the most devastatingly snarky blow came when an anonymous employee on the way tweeted “Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’” The tweets went viral and the already struggling company took yet another massive hit to its image as people wondered how this could have been allowed to happen.

Because of its immediacy and reach, social media can present a real challenge to businesses who don’t want to sacrifice the image of professionalism they worked hard to cultivate. But with careful management and personnel in place, pitfalls can always be avoided. Retailer GAP stands as a perfect example of this. The brand recently took advantage of one such situation when one of its New York City billboards featuring a Sikh model was defaced with racist remarks. Shortly after being made aware of the graffiti, Gap made the image its Twitter header image, earning respect and kudos from support groups worldwide.


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