Sphere from color applicationThe April issue of Intercom, the magazine of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), featured an article that makes some important points for those interested in social media marketing in other countries. The article, “Reconsidering Social Media for Global Context,” is by Kirk St. Amant, an STC fellow and professor of technical and professional communication and of international studies at East Carolina University. He reminds us that not all cultures use the same social media platforms or use them in the same way.

St. Amant raises five questions to consider:

What social media are available to international audiences?

You can’t assume that the platforms you use for U.S. audiences will be just as popular everywhere. Facebook is possibly the most global of platforms, but even Facebook usage has significant limitations for reaching people in the important market of mainland China. The Facebook presence is limited to certain users and areas, particularly around Shanghai, so most Chinese tend to us other social networks.

What social media are used by individuals in other nations?

We’ve written before about some of the social media platforms popular in other countries. St. Amant gives examples of a few of the important LinkedIn competitors in various countries.

We would add that Google may not be the major search engine used to find material in all markets. Notable competitors are Baidu in China, Yandex in Russia, and Naver in South Korea.

Do individuals in other countries use certain social media?

Even if a platform is available in other countries, it is not necessarily used by enough people in those countries for your messages to make an impact. St. Amant gives the example of Twitter use by Germans, which is available but very low. Only about 4 million of the 80 million Germans use Twitter, so the ability to build up a following is extremely limited. (This is probably because of all those long words.)

How do individuals in other nations use social media?

Even where a platform is available and widely used, it might not be used in the same ways as it is in the U.S. St. Amant’s example is Korea, where Facebook is used almost exclusively for posting personal communications, not business updates.

St. Amant doesn’t mention it but the demographics of the users of a platform can be different in other countries. Don’t assume that a particular platform can be used to reach a foreign audience that is similar in age, sex, occupations, etc. to users of that platform in the U.S.

What do international users expect to include in their online social network?

In some countries, people don’t look to build large networks on social media. Instead, it might be customary to include only family and friends, rather than acquaintances, co-workers, friends of friends, businesses, organizations, or celebrities.. This seems to be the case in China and Japan to a certain extent.

St. Amant’s article is written for technical communicators, but it applies just as well to anyone looking to use social media to engage social networks in other cultures.

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