More than 2 billion people around the world used social media in the past 30 days, and these numbers are still growing at an impressive rate:
This connected, vocal audience presents huge opportunities that marketers won’t want to miss, but social success requires a different approach in different countries and cultures around the world.
So how can marketers get global social ‘right’?
The answer lies in the 6Cs of Social.
There are hundreds of different social networks around the world, all built around different needs, interests, and technological functions.
All these platforms have one thing in common, though: conversation.
Without conversation, social media aren’t social, and for brands in social, it’s the conversation that really matters.
Conversations enable brands to become more engaging, allowing them to evolve beyond a straightforward product or service.
But managing a ‘regional’ conversation in Asia poses a number of challenges.
In Asia-Pacific alone, people speak more than 2,000 languages.
Even if your audience understands English, they may not be comfortable – or happy – conversing in it.
When it comes to social conversations, people prefer to speak the language that best allows them to express themselves.
Even when they do speak the same language though, there are invariably many different ways of speaking it – from the nuances of everyday slang to our constantly evolving ‘social’ vocabularies (think ‘LOL’).
The key is to remember that successful communication isn’t determined by what you say; it’s determined by what other people understand.
Recommendation: spend some time listening to your audience’s conversations in social media, and adopt a style that makes it easy for them to converse with you.
Humans are a highly diverse bunch, and this diversity can add significant complexity to the process of developing a unified global approach.
Firstly, people follow a wide variety of religions, each of which may impact how a brand needs to behave in social media.
Marketers will need to keep track of myriad religious festivals and celebrations, while attitudes towards things such as alcohol, styles of dress, and even colours may vary dramatically from one culture to another.
Similarly, many Asian cultures are guided by the concept of 面子 – ‘face’ as it is commonly known in English – and as a result, they may exhibit less ‘social volume’ than their Western peers.
Consequently, it may be more difficult to achieve high levels of audience interaction, which can impact organic reach and engagement.
Recommendation: make sure that your content development teams and community managers truly understand the culture of the people you’re trying to engage.
3. Content Neutrality
Qzone and Facebook still command the greatest number of active social networking users in the world, but most social media users are active across multiple platforms:
China’s Tencent is responsible for 3 of the world’s top 5 most active social platforms – clear evidence that social media users adopt multiple channels at once.
Chat apps like WeChat (Weixin), Whatsapp, LINE and Kakaotalk have exploded in popularity in recent months, while platforms like Weibo, Twitter and Instagram continue to grow too:
As a result, it’s important for brands to avoid putting all their eggs in one basket.
Marketers need to create content that audiences will be able to transfer from one platform to the other, allowing people to continue the conversation on their own terms with their different networks.
This approach will also help to avoid relying too heavily on platform-specific audiences.
Social media users are quick to adopt new platforms, and marketers may find that the ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ they build in one platform quickly become irrelevant as audiences move on to the newest network or app.
Recommendation: build communities around passions, not audience on platforms.
4. Country Needs
What does your brand need to do in order to succeed?
It’s unlikely that the answer to this question will involve the same set of challenges and opportunities in each market, so you’ll need to develop an approach that can adapt to your varying local needs.
Much of this relates to the audience context in each market – for example, how much they know about the brand, or the specific place it holds and role it plays in the local landscape.
Do you need to educate people, or just reinforce what they already know? Can you already harness ‘cultural equity’ like community in-jokes or evocative imagery?
You’ll also need to adapt your content and conversational approach to your brand’s specific needs for things like new launches or environmental factors (e.g. product shortages).
Don’t forget that local legislation may have a significant impact on your activities too. Many countries have strict laws governing aspects such as product claims, competitions, or even whether certain products (e.g. alcohol) can be overtly marketed.
Recommendation: even if you’re aiming for a global or regional approach, ensure that it’s flexible enough that it can adapt to a variety of local needs.
Social media is increasingly a mobile-first experience. Almost 80% of Facebook’s users access the service via mobile devices, whilst almost all 438 million users of WeChat - China’s hottest social platform – are mobile-only.
This mobility presents some great opportunities for marketers, whether it’s connecting with people when they’re actually using a brand, when they’re at the point of sale, or when they’re out socialising with friends.
However, the mobile context differs considerably from one country to the next, and mobile diversity isn’t without its challenges.
Firstly, data connections remain slow across much of the developing world, with barely one-quarter of Asia's 1.8 billion mobile users able to access 3G networks.
Meanwhile, more than 80% of Asia's 4 billion active mobile connections are pre-paid (versus 27% in the US and 42% in the UK), meaning that the cost of mobile data – and therefore of mobile internet access – is still an important challenge.
As a result, marketers need to build carefully balanced content plans. High-definition video may deliver the ‘optimum experience’, but video streams or downloads will be too slow and too expensive for the average mobile user in countries like India or the Philippines, so be sure to incorporate simpler, static content too.
Slow connection speeds mean brands need to deliver immediate value too; if the audience has any doubts about the relevance or utility of a brand’s post, they will scroll straight past it before the content even has a chance to load.
Recommendation: make sure all your content is tailored for a mobile-dominated consumption experience.
If you do need to take a global or regional approach to social media, avoid categorising your audience by country.
Instead, look for the interests, motivations and attitudes that the people you want to engage have in common, and use these commonalities to define your audience.
People are drawn to others whom they feel affinity for, and when it comes to the borderless internet, this affinity is far more dependent on passion than it is on place.
Recommendation: define your audience around their shared motivations, not their nationality.
A version of this post first appeared in my column on The Marketing Society's blog.