Using Social Media in the Foreign Language Internet

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By Christian Arno

The use of social media is now an established strategy in online marketing. However, for many English-speaking marketers and business owners the idea of running social media campaigns across different cultures is daunting. Here are some pointers to help you begin your cross-cultural social media marketing.

The global social media landscape
To succeed in cross-cultural social media marketing, you need to familiarise yourself with the global social media landscape by researching emerging trends and identifying social media hotspots. Australia, for example, has one of the highest levels of social media engagement in the world, with Australians spending an average of nearly 7 hours on social networks each month. Likewise, in Latin America and China social media is experiencing massive growth.


Different social networks are popular in different parts of the world. You need to research which networks are most popular in the regions you hope to target – this will help you to decide upon which social networks you should focus your activity. For example, in China Renren.com and Qzone.com dominate the social media scene.

In Japan, Mixi.jp is the largest social network with over 80% market share, while in Brazil, Orkut is the biggest network. Over 51% of Orkut's global traffic is from Brazil, which equates to around 20 million monthly visits. Also noteworthy is Brazil is Sonico.com, a network strongly aimed at Latin American users which has around eight million Brazilian members.

The language of social media
The biggest challenge you will face in your cross-cultural social media campaigns is language. The most effective way to deal with this is to enlist the services of professional translators, who can help you with social media monitoring. 

Successful social media marketing begins with listening – you need to know what people are saying about your company, brand, product or industry sector. Translators can help you to understand the conversations going on in the foreign-language social networks you are targeting and will be able to help you with ‘social media sentiment analysis’, which tells you about the perception of your brand or industry within different social networks. 

Is the attitude towards your brand or service offering positive, negative or neutral? Is there an untapped requirement for your product or service in that market which you can take advantage of? Listening to and understanding the conversation around your brand and sector will help you to make the right decisions about how to start marketing within different social networks.

Cultural differences
You need to be aware that cultural differences affect attitudes towards, and use of,  social media, and this will influence the way you approach the medium in different regions. Recent research from Rhinegold highlights the differences between American and German attitudes towards social media, and Twitter in particular. 

For Americans, ‘Twitter’s promise provides a perfect fit to American culture… Americans are constantly on the go and always setting the stage for themselves in front of new people. The quick chat here and there reassures them and provides confirmation of social acceptance.’ Whereas Germans, ‘fear being tricked by effortlessness and banality into producing 'hot air'. They are scared of not producing anything real, sustainable and definite. “Something this easy can’t be anything.'”

As such, you can see that the ways you would target a social media campaign for the USA and for Germany would be entirely different.  Every culture approaches social media in a different way, so it pays to put the research in before launching a campaign.

A quick case study
Reckitt Benckiser’s Clearasil brand has recently demonstrated the power of cross-cultural social media marketing with the success of one of its campaigns in Russia. They realised that social media was the best way to engage with Russian teenagers, who spend little time watching TV and prefer to be online socialising with their friends.

They used Vkontakte.ru, Russia's most popular social network, as the platform for their campaign. They created a group page where users could share photos, post comments and discuss advice from experts. They also created an app called 'Profile Pictures' which integrated the Clearasil brand into the experience of creating cool profile pictures. More than 500,000 people have participated in the Clearasil group on Vkontakte.ru, leading to a 30% increase in Clearasil sales in Russia. By doing the research and creating cleverly, appropriately targeted social media campaigns in foreign languages, your brand could see the same results.

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One thought on “Using Social Media in the Foreign Language Internet

  1. Roger Garcia

    Interesting article. The one piece I tend to disagree is the use of a professional translator to monitor social media. These are two completely different disciplines that require specific sets of skills and experience. Being able to translate what is being said, does not qualify as having the skills to extract the meaning. In my experience translators often miss the cultural elements. In most cases we had to engage an in-country agency to add the cultural elements. Now – I am referring to the typical definition of “professional translators”. If your company offers true social media monitoring capabilities in different languages/cultures, then you should clarify this – Professional Translator is too broad a term and some may take it that all professional translators are capable of doing social media monitoring, which is definitely NOT the case.
    My two cents.
    Roger Garcia

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