For many of us, social media has become like the air we breathe. It’s so ubiquitous and integrated into our daily lives that we hardly notice it at all—until we hit a snag, that is.
Via social media, we often connect with people who come from our own cultures. It can thus be easy to assume that people around the world all use the same channels in the same ways. However, social media use varies from platform to platform and from country to country.
How can a global business using social media navigate these complex waters? Here are some points to keep in mind as you begin to plan a global social media strategy.
Global Social Media: Facts and Figures
First, let’s put to rest any thoughts of skipping social media as part of your company’s globalization plan. Social media use is on the rise, particularly in developing countries.
As of February of 2019, over 3.4 billion people around the world use some form of social media, which is a 9% increase over 2018. Just over half of those users prefer mobile apps to desktop.
The regions with the highest percentage of social media usage might surprise you. According to the 2019 report from Hootsuite and We Are Social, the Middle East currently leads the world in social media use. Qatar, The United Arab Emirates, Brunei, and Kuwait take the top four spots in the world, with over 90% adoption.
Social Media Use Around the World: What Drives It?
When it comes to connecting with your audience on social media, knowing why people use various channels is key.
Some platforms are specialized. In the United States, for example, you wouldn’t post your resume on Instagram, and you wouldn’t post pictures of your food on LinkedIn. However, some platforms are quite general—users can and do post multiple content types.
Facebook, for example, supports video, text, ads, livestreams, fundraising, and more, meaning that people use it for a wide variety of reasons, both domestically and internationally.
Take a look at the top reasons people use social media in various locations:
- Connecting with friends and family: Australia, China, and France
- Keeping up with current events: Italy, Netherlands, Russia, South Korea, and Spain
- Personal research: Brazil
- Researching purchases: Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States
- Work research: India
Notice any regional trends here? Neither did we. It’s difficult to draw generalizations about why European users log onto social media vs. why users in the Americas do. This is especially true of users in Asia: China, Japan, and India all have very different patterns of social media usage.
Social Media Channels to Watch
Globally, Facebook takes the prize as the most-used platform. However, if you dig a little deeper into the data, you’ll notice that there are huge parts of the globe that don’t use the platform.
China uses its own channels (e.g., Youku in place of YouTube, Weibo in place of Twitter); and a Facebook-comparable platform called QZone leads there. Likewise, Russia has VKontakte. Japan prefers Twitter. Nigeria loves Instagram. Runner-up platforms vary even more widely, with Reddit winning among English-speakers in Australia and Canada, and LinkedIn leading in India.
Even if you’ve never heard of some of the world’s most popular social media channels, savvy global marketing teams are up-to-speed on the top names, such as:
Cultural Norms and Social Media
People from different cultures behave differently, and that’s just as true on social media as it is in real life. Cultural tone deafness can kill a social media campaign on contact.
For example, consider some of the ways in which cultural norms influence social media usage around the world:
- China: Government control of social media means that businesses need to be very careful about what they post. Here, the general tone of social media for business use tends to be optimistic and patriotic.
- Japan: Japanese culture emphasizes politeness and humility, so it’s not a good idea to engage in brazen self-promotion on social media.
- India: On the other hand, many people from India love to use social media for work research and professional connections.
The list goes on. Each nation that embraces social media does it slightly differently, and it’s difficult to divorce social and political climates and cultures from social media activity. Companies leveraging social media as part of their brand strategies need to be aware of these differences and how they might play out in their target regions.
The Bottom Line for Businesses
With so many factors to consider when building a social media campaign in another country, you might be wondering how you can possibly get it right.
This is where localization services come in. Localization is the process of fine-tuning your brand messages to work in another culture, making your message specific to each location.
Multilingual social media is a huge part of making different channels work for you. To succeed, you need to work with local experts who have lived the experience of a particular culture to help you navigate all the ins and outs of social media norms and expectations in a given region. All globalization is ultimately local, and there’s no substitute for the eyes of a human to get the words and the subtext of global social media just right.
Does it seem a little overwhelming? We can help! Contact us today to find out more about Lionbridge’s multilingual social media and digital marketing services.