International Social Media Marketing – Different Places, Different Habits

No matter the country your target audience is from, if you want to reach them with the help of social media, Facebook won’t let you down. Or will it?

Facebook has indeed become the most popular social network in many countries, but the overall social media landscape is - even in countries where Facebook is no. 1 - way more colourful than that and Facebook shouldn’t always be the first choice. 

However, it’s not only choosing the right network that matters. If you want to improve your turnover with the help of international social media marketing, as well as increase your brand’s popularity, you’ll have to get acquainted with the culture of your target audience and take a lot of other things into consideration.

For example, you have to think about which foreign language is the most appropriate for your target audience and get informed on current global social media trends, so that you can adjust your social media strategies accordingly. Moreover, the cultural differences between social media users in different countries should also be taken into consideration. 


Facebook (almost) rules the world

Facebook has built its global dominance in the last couple of years; this can be seen in the global map of social media platforms on Vicenzo Cosenza’s blog.

While around June 2009 other networks dominated the American continent, in Mexico and Brazil, in December 2012 Facebook managed to be no. 1 in all of America. Other countries that had other dominant networks in 2009 were India, Japan and in Europe – the Netherlands and Portugal. Even so, by the end of 2012 it was Facebook that ruled there too.

And yet, in big markets such as Russia and China, other networks are more popular: Odnoklassniki in Russia and Qzone in China.

World Map of Social Networks

The social media world stays colourful

When you take a closer look at the social media landscapes in different countries, it becomes obvious that there are still many important players that are almost completely unheard of in Germany. For example, according to the information on Vincenzo Cosenza’s Blog, Badoo was the second most important network (after Facebook) in Austria and Italy in June 2012. In the Netherlands Hyves has been no. 2, while in Russia Odnoklassniki was followed by V-Kontakte and Facebook only came in third.

I’ve also come across other social networks in Brand Report 1, 2012, a publication of the University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration in Zürich and Brand Value Rating Agency. The report called The Most Valuable Social Media Brands 2012 contains a Top30 ranking of the most important social media brands of 2012. Facebook, Youtube and Twitter hold the first three places. But farther in the ranking I’ve found names that in Germany are (almost) completely unknown, such as: Habbo in Finland, Renren in China, Pandora in the USA.


What does this all mean?

It means that the world’s social media landscape is still colourful. And this in its turn means that if you want to target a certain audience in a foreign country via social media marketing, you must first decide on which networks you should be active.

But all in good time!


Targeting a foreign language audience: three decisions


In which country should I be active?

This is the first question you have to answer if you want to target a foreign audience with social media marketing. In order to find a good answer, you must first see where your offer will meet great demand. This can be done by getting in touch with experts in the Chambers of Commerce. International social media studies such as Wave 6 from Universal McCann will then tell you how appropriate social media marketing is for your target audience. On a worldwide average, 65.2 percent of the respondents in this study answered that they have been active on a social media profile in the last six months. Germany is below this average, with the percentage of 53.1. Above average are countries such as: Brazil with 74.3%, Russia with 77.1% and China with 68.9%.  Social Media strategies should therefore be effective in these countries.


Which networks should I use?

Up until here the article has shown that, according to the number of users, the landscape of social media networks is very colorful in many countries, at least as far as Facebook runner-ups are concerned. But this is also true: the most powerful networks aren’t always the best choice for social media marketing. Overall, niche-networks such as Pinterest are developing nicely and could be, for some companies, more appropriate for social media marketing than Facebook & co.

Social networks are not different in the number of users alone. Some of them are designed for consumers, others are business networks, while others are limited to certain topics (thematic forums) or regions (regional forums). 


What content should  I offer?

In principle, the same rules apply for foreign audiences, as well as for the German public. You have to offer your fans, followers etc. something valuable - that is, informative or entertaining content, that would connect potential customers with the company. There is something that you must keep in mind though, when targeting a foreign language audience: “foreign language” often means that there are cultural differences to be taken into consideration.

Warning: different countries, different habits (and different social media rules)

Every culture has its own rules regarding taboos, for example topics such as eroticism, politics and humour. If you break taboos, you might end up missing your target and, instead of winning clients, lose everything. If you want to avoid that, you should thoroughly research what kind of content is good and what might be problematic. Thorough research is the basis of good decisions.


Do you already have experience with international social media? In which countries and in what languages did you communicate via social media channels and what have you learned from that?

Christian Arno

About the author

Christian Arno is the founder of Lingo24, a translation company that offers professional translation services. Follow Christian on Twitter: @l24ca.

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Comment by Tom 29.01.2014

I wonder if there is any point in European agencies using Kontakte or Cloob to promote their brands and spread international awareness. Their geographical limitations mean they might not be worth the effort.

Robert Weller

Reply by Robert Weller

I'd say it depends on whether your target audience uses these platforms and whether you have the (additional) resources to feed another profile. Creating only awareness abroad without increasing sales is probably not worth the effort.

Thanks for commenting anyway, Tom, hope you enjoyed the article :-)


Comment by Leadgenix 14.05.2013

Niche marketing is often the best marketing. Most companies are not large companies than can afford marketing on a massive scale that applies universally to millions of customers. Finding a niche and marketing to that target market is often the best road to success for smaller companies. Utilizing social media in such a way as to reach that niche takes thought and effort. There is no universal way to reach everyone, not even Facebook.

Robert Weller

Reply by Robert Weller

I absolutely agree. Brands once thought that Facebook might be enough social media but this is not the case anymore (if it ever was...). It's just the way marketing works: define your target audience, find it and connect with them on THEIR networks.

Thanks for commenting, hope you enjoyed the article!

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