"U.S. brands looking to leverage social networks internationally know that while their messages need to stay consistent regardless of the region, the language, cultural reference points, platform and tactics, all need to be tailored for each market," said Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford Motor Company.
According to a study published at the end of January 2010, Nielsen observed the online social activity of consumers around the world and discovered an 82% increase in time spent on social networking sites in December 2009. But what social networks are these different countries using? As culture and behavior shift across countries, they also establish a new dynamic within each social network creating a universal population that adapts what they know to what they learn and experience.
Companies should learn how consumers around the world use social media and take advantage of the platforms to conduct consumer research, launch products, manage public relations crises and more. For instance, Facebook stands as the default social network, throughout much of the West, gathering all demographics. The same does not hold true in China, where Facebook was recently banned (much to the dislike of our friends at the Palo Alto headquarters), and a handful of social networks attract segmented audiences, ranging from urban youth to migrant workers. Think about it. Facebook is the largest social network globally with 500 million + active users, and China has 400 million social network profiles without having Facebook as its leader.
As we zoom in on social media usage in different countries, we see other established and emerging social networks that are unheard of, or not very popular in the United States. Let's look at Brazil, the leading country in active social media usage, where Google's Orkut dominates. In fact, over half of Orkut's global traffic comes from Brazil, which equates to around 20 million monthly visits. And the decreasing in U.S. popularity, MySpace, has been Brazil's third largest network for a few years.
Different social media usage patterns and network popularity tells a great deal about the Internet and the country involved. For example, let's look at the Chinese culture again. The Chinese use online video platforms quite differently from how Americans use YouTube. Rather than short, silly videos, which may be popular among YouTube watchers, China's social video platforms, Youku and Tudou, are filled with longer content, up to 70 percent of which is professionally produced. Users in China spend up to an hour per day on the sites, compared with less than 15 minutes spent by Americans on YouTube. University students in China often express skepticism when told that their country has one of the highest levels of social media engagement in the world, because they expect that the United States would rank first.
In a demonstration conducted by Thomas Crampton and reported in an article on The China Business Review he tells of a demonstration he conducted with a classroom of students in China. He asked the students to raise their hands if they have watched China Central Television (CCTV) in the last week – no one raised their hand. When he asked who has watched a video on Youku or Tudou in the last 24 hours, every hand in the room goes up, accompanied by amused laughter.
As the anecdote above shows, a well-crafted television advertisement on could miss university students entirely. The transition to social media does more than demonstrate the popularity of emerging media—it shows new media's affect on the advertising and marketing industry as a whole. If we fail to recognize that in other parts of the world, different platforms of media are preferred to what we here in the U.S. tend to consume, we are missing a big opportunity to reach a targeted audience. In China's case, certain demographics can no longer be reached effectively via traditional media channels, such as television.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that we are in the middle of an international revolution in the way people communicate on the web, and marketers are continually figuring out what this means for their marketplaces around the globe. Your international social media strategy should take into account the most popular platforms in your target market. In order to effectively reach other cultures via social media, we need to understand that social media goes beyond Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and FlickR.
Don't forget – regardless of country or social media platform; stay in line with your marketing objectives. Keep the consumer as a priority on every social network and in every market. That's sound advice in any language.