Unless you’ve just been to see ‘The Social Network’ or read the book – the tellingly titled ‘The Accidental Billionaires’ – on which the movie’s screenplay was based, it’s easy to forget that Facebook, still the big daddy on the social networking scene, was only launched in 2004. It wasn’t the first social media platform, but it was the first to become a truly global phenomenon and, in the intervening few years, social media sites have become an integral part of many businesses’ marketing plans.
But what does social media marketing actually achieve?
Social media marketing isn’t always about making direct sales or reaching new customers. It can be, of course, but these platforms can also be used effectively to build and maintain brand awareness, to cement existing customer relationships and to obtain valuable feedback about your business.
In a survey of 1,100 small businesses conducted by market research company Ad-ology, the business owners surveyed listed the ability to generate leads, to keep up with their industry, and to monitor the online conversation about their business as the greatest benefits of social networking. Sometimes, finding out the negative things people are saying about your business and being able to respond to these criticisms can be as important as advertising your products and services in the first place.
Picking the right platform
Have you ever heard of Renren.com? How about Mixi.jp? Orkut.com? If your knowledge of social networking sites doesn’t extend much beyond Facebook and Twitter there’s every chance you won’t have, but these sites have over 300 million registered users between them, ruling the local roosts in China, Japan and Brazil respectively. That’s a lot of potential customers you might not reach with a monolingual Tweet.
English is still the most widely spoken language online, according to Internet World Stats, but it still accounts for just over a quarter of all online usage, with simplified Chinese running a close second. Bilingual users might seek out important information in English, especially if this information is not available in their own native language, but they are less likely to engage in social media in anything but their own tongue.
Take a look at the growth rate of languages used on Facebook.
The rapid growth rate of both Portuguese and Spanish reflects the rise of internet usage in general within Latin America – a potentially huge, largely untapped and still emerging online market. While some consumers are certainly using Facebook, you should remember that other social media platforms are more popular in certain markets.
In Brazil, for example, Orkut is the most popular network, receiving around 20 million monthly visits. Orkut is also a big-hitter in India, while Sonico.com is popular throughout South America, with its content and format geared towards a Latin American audience.
Mixi.jp rules the roost in Japan with a market share of 80% (around 30 million users) while the Chinese market is dominated by Renren and Qzone. Qzone alone claims to have a staggering 380 million users and, while many of these could be dormant accounts, it’s still a huge slice of China’s estimated (and still growing) 400 million internet users. A little research should help identify which sites will offer you the greatest inroads within each target market.
Getting your message across
According to Econsultancy’s 2010 Social Media and Online PR Report, 83% of marketers are planning to increase their spending on social media next year, yet only 26% have plans to run campaigns in more than one country. Localization has a proven return on investment, with Common Sense Advisory studies suggesting an average return of US$25 for every $1 spent but, taken in conjunction with a still emerging discipline like social media marketing, some may consider it simply not worth the effort.
There are certainly problems with communication. Machine translation systems sometimes provide adequate translation, but they’re prone to mistakes and are not great at translating the colloquialisms, abbreviations and other informal linguistic styles that are often used on social media platforms.
A multinational company might be able to utilize employees in whichever target markets it already operates, but if you don’t happen to have offices in Rio, Kyoto and Beijing, you’re probably looking at paying for local knowledge.
A native speaking translator who is well versed in the appropriate social media platform(s) would be the preferred option, but this can also be an expensive solution and it may come down to concentrating efforts on a few select markets rather than going for a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Reaching across cultural and linguistic divides via social media may seem a daunting task – and it’s certainly one that requires time and effort – but when you consider the vast number of people engaging with foreign language social media platforms, the potential is too great to ignore.
About the author
Christian Arno is the founder and Managing Director of global translation services provider Lingo24. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 130 employees spanning four continents and clients in over sixty countries.
Image by Wyoming_Jackrabbit