Social media is a key part of an online marketing strategy, but if you want to use it to its full potential don’t forget about the global reach of the internet. When you are playing on an international stage a lack of scope can restrict you before you’ve even started.
Communicating from the Right Platform
There’s still a common misconception that the internet is populated only by English speakers. Ask the people around you for the names of social media giants and you will invariably hear Facebook and Twitter, alongside LinkedIn, Google+ and maybe some popular social bookmarking sites. However, did you hear any mention of Orkut, QZone, Vkontakte, and Mixi? If not, that’s a large part of your global audience who could be missing out on your message. According to the World Map of Social Networks: June 2011, each of these social networks is a major player in other parts of the world.
Talking the Same Language
More food for thought: the second most used language of internet users, in statistics shared by Internet World Stats, is Chinese. In fact, the closing divide between the 536.6 million English-speaking internet users in 2010 and the 444.9 Chinese-speaking users suggests that China’s growing population and access to technology is already posing some serious competition. Spanish speakers are another force to be reckoned with, representing at 153.3 million a substantial 7.8% of global internet users. What’s even more interesting in these ‘Top 10 Languages of the Internet’ figures is that, even putting aside other linguistic groups of high usage such as the tech-savvy Japanese and Korean speakers, those speaking what might be considered minor languages together represent almost 18% of internet users.
Trepidation is normal when venturing into online territories where English is at best used like an exotic spice to flavor conversations. Add in non-Roman characters and even the best of us can be at a loss. Fortunately, there are ways to expand your choice beyond either invisibility or the miscommunication that can result from poorly-phrased automated translations. Get a native speaker with social media literacy on board and you open a door wide to your target overseas market.
Reaching Across Cultural Boundaries
In dealing with international web users, localization is more than just a buzzword. It comes down to understanding and respecting the people you want to reach, and getting it right can mean going beyond stereotypes and blanket guidelines. Using an inappropriate color when communicating with Chinese customers or out-of-place informality with Indian contacts can destroy your efforts to engage your audience. Watch out too for hidden meanings in taglines and slogans. Even world-famous brands slip up sometimes, for example, ‘The future’s bright…the future’s Orange’ might sound catchy but could be interpreted as having a political meaning in a country such as Northern Ireland. Time spent researching and getting to know your overseas markets, or working with someone with that knowledge, will be well worth it. Authentic communication demonstrates that your network matters to you and will help to build a relationship of trust.
Localization isn’t only about those cultures and countries that you don’t know. It extends to those you think you know, too. Even where you speak a common language, your social contacts in other countries will have their own ways of using that language, as well as different perspectives on global topics. Avoid easy assumptions in your hurry to connect and you cut your risk of causing offense, which in the online world can be both public and long-lasting.
Social Media Trends and the Future
Keep an eye on trends and what these could mean for your international network. Social media has until recent years revolved around the written word but these days audio and video are ever more popular ways to catch people’s attention and build your online brand. If using English only in video, whether on a blog or a site such as YouTube, it can be helpful to keep your words as clear and simply-phrased as possible for the benefit of non-native speakers. If it’s important to you that everyone understands, offer a transcript so that speakers of other languages can take their time to grasp your message. Even better – why not have the transcript available in more than one language?
One last thing to remember. While reaching a larger readership widens your exposure, it’s ultimately about reaching the right people. People who will care about your ideas or product as much as you do. Channel your energies in the right direction and your time spent on international social media could take you further than you imagined possible.