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How to Think Like a Local for Global Social Media Content Success

flag with red pin stuck in mapSo, you’ve read a few articles on growing your business by going global, and now you’re ready to reveal your content marketing to the world with a global social media content campaign? Not so fast. Let me stop you right there before you run head-first into certain disaster. Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy.

There are many things you need to take into consideration before promoting your content via social media to markets outside your own country. Rushing this process is not an option‚ but you can take steps that will get you started on the right foot. Here are a few considerations to focus on before you take your company’s social media content on a trip around the world. 

Recognize that timing is everything

I know what you might be thinking after reading that headline: Timing the delivery of your social media content should just be common sense, right? Well, if I were only referring to the matter of time zones here, then common sense would dictate that you should post social media content when your audience is awake. However, in this case, I’m referring to the need to dig into the unique consumption habits of social media users in the different countries and regions that you are targeting.

In the U.S., for example, a number of studies have shown that social media activity, on average, peaks somewhere between 7 and 10 p.m. There are also high levels of social media activity during traditional work hours. (Keep that last tidbit of info to yourself, though. You wouldn’t want your boss to find out, would you?)

In other countries, however, peak social media usage may not be the same. Take into account practices like the siesta in Spain. If a large portion of the population is in dreamland during a midday power nap, it’s likely they aren’t using social media in their sleep. Best not to schedule your messages to go out during that time. Consider cultural practices like this, and post accordingly.

You’ll also want to consider the outcomes you hope to achieve from your social media content. If your goal is increased sharing of your posts, RadiumOne’s study suggests you should share your post around 6 p.m. in Great Britain, while for places like France or India, you should post far earlier — around noon — for maximum impact.

Keep in mind that these are just suggestions. Do some testing and see what works best for you. Schedule posts at different times throughout the day, and then analyze how your content performs at each time to see if these stats align with your experience.

You might also find that posts on one platform perform better at one particular time, while posts on another platform perform better at a completely different time. By analyzing your posts’ performance, you’ll be able to create social media content that hits your audience at the time, and on the platform, that’s most effective.

Speaking of platforms…

Target the right platforms

While you might find that Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are likely the most effective platforms for getting your content noticed in the U.S., it wouldn’t be wise to assume that this will also be the case as your company becomes more globally social.

Let’s say, for example, you want to target China. Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t just be ineffective platforms for content in the Chinese market — they would be impossible. Issues with internet access abound in countries like China, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and some such issues have prevented sites like Facebook from getting even the slightest bit of traction in those areas. As a result, you would need to consider popular regional alternatives, like Renren and Weibo — China’s answers to Facebook and Twitter, respectively.

But access isn’t the only issue to consider. There’s also the question of platform popularity. For example, in Russia, users of VKontakte (a competitor to Facebook in Russia and other European nations) number 30 million, while Facebook has only pulled in 9 million in the country. Statistics like these highlight the importance of researching which social media content platforms might offer your company the largest audience and the best chance for engagement in each different country you are targeting. Don’t assume that the usual (U.S.-centric) suspects will be the right choice no matter where you want your content to go.

screenshot-chinese language renren
Screenshot from

Follow the rules and regulations

Once you’ve determined the right platforms, you need to think about playing by the rules. Specifically, you need to be aware of regulations or restrictions that different countries might have in place in regard to how their citizens interact with the digital world. While China’s rigid stance on media outlets, including social media, has eased over the years, it still holds a certain level of censorship in place due to a concern about loss of authority. If you don’t take the time to develop a strong understanding of these types of regulations, you risk getting banned — or even buying your social media manager some unwelcome time behind bars.

In order to avoid the pitfalls of ignoring rules and regulations, don’t just rely on the info you found in a couple of blogs you’ve read. While they may contain accurate info, they likely won’t tell the whole story — which likely resides in a bunch of boring political and legal documents. Trust me you don’t want to take on the sleep-inducing task of scouring through those yourself, or be responsible for interpreting them accurately. If you are serious about building a foreign audience for your brand’s social media content, bring in an expert in international law and foreign policy, and let them take care of this tedious task the right way.

Now that you’ve positioned your company on the right platforms, you have your posting schedule down, and you’ve figured out how to play by the rules, it’s time to focus on sending the right message… 

Exercise cultural sensitivity

When you are looking to communicate with audiences that reside outside of your own country, it’s critical that your content creation efforts are sensitive to the unique cultural characteristics and practices of each location. Spoiler alert: Not everyone in the world thinks like you! I know, it’s crazy, but it’s true. If you try to send the same message in Spain that you sent to your audience in the United States, you’d better have a talented, multilingual public relations team in place to clean up the mess that could arise if you missed the mark on a cultural hot-button issue.

Neglecting to develop a thorough understanding of the cultural habits and customs of the people you plan to target is not wise. Here are a few key considerations you will likely need to account for when targeting your message to different cultures:

  • Typical mindsets, such as individualism vs. collectivism
  • Regional beliefs, customs, and religions
  • Significant events, festivals, and holidays
  • Masculine culture vs. feminine culture
  • Relationship building habits
  • Level of power distance
  • Regional conflicts and friction
  • The varied meanings of particular pictures, symbols, or colors

If you ignore the above, don’t expect your messages to resonate with local audiences; they will either ignore you, or run you out of town, or worse — none of which are likely your desired outcome.

colorful, flowered decorations-bangladesh festival
Pohela Boishakh – Bangladesh Festival – Source

Speak their language 

This one seems simple and straightforward, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than it might appear on the surface. Yes, you need to create content in the language of the audience you are targeting, but it doesn’t end there. It’s critical that you hire writers and editors with experience in and connections to the local culture — content professionals who understand the way the local population communicates. Speaking a language and speaking a language the way the locals speak it are two completely different things.

I took a few years of German in high school and college, but that doesn’t qualify me to run a social media campaign targeted at a local audience in Frankfurt. I’d be laughed at, and the content I shared would likely see zero engagement. You need to hire a local expert that really gets the local nuances and has been immersed in the culture.

Make sure the local social media content manager you hire understands the difference in translation options and knows which will be most effective for your specific goals. For promoting your content on social media, forget about Google Translate for your post descriptions. You’ll want to focus your efforts by using localization or trans-creation tactics. Localization is content written by locals for locals in a way that they would naturally consume it. Trans-creation, while similar, goes a step further and actually adapts the meaning of the message. (To get a better grasp on this concept, check out Spiderman in India.)

You’re almost there

These tips should give you a great start — but don’t just take my word on the matter. Seek out the advice of experts from all walks of the digital landscape. Make sure that your social media content is prepped for a global audience before you share it on a global scale. Don’t even think about posting that first message on Vkontakte, Weibo, or anywhere else until you have a well-developed global social media content strategy in place that covers all of the above — and then some.

There is a lot of work to do, so there’s no time to waste in getting your team together and getting started. Begin by conducting some serious research and by documenting your goals and objectives, and then move forward through the considerations I’ve discussed above. Feel free to refer to this article if you hit a wall at any point.

Leave a comment in the space below if you have any tips to add, or want to know more.

For more great ideas, insights, and examples that will help you take your content marketing around the world and back, read Epic Content Marketing, by Joe Pulizzi.