Overcoming social media pitfalls as a multinational

Emoderation’s Chief Services Officer, Blaise Grimes-Viort, on how multinationals can effectively reach audiences across the world through social media
Man with laptop in the park

There is no doubt that social media is an effective way for multinationals to reach audiences in new and existing markets, but it’s not as simple as implementing one global Twitter account. Social media audiences may not only differ from country to country but also within countries; some social media platforms are more mature in certain markets; and there is a multitude of cultural and linguistic issues. Emoderation’s Chief Services Officer, Blaise Grimes-Viort, discusses the pitfalls multinationals may face when communicating to a global audience through social media and what can be done to overcome these challenges.

For multinationals with local offices situated across the world, what we have seen as an agency is that while they may have a centralised communication strategy in place, it tends to fray when it reaches local level. Local offices may go off on their own tangents and control is lost. It is one of the core challenges for multinationals: ensuring the message is consistent regardless of which audience they are communicating to. A second challenge is the creative themes. If they are created by a centralised office, in many cases they do not resonate on a cultural level in other markets. You can loosely group countries into western and eastern but then, for example, you have the Middle East, Northern Europe and Southern Europe, and they all have their own idiosyncrasies. When content is repurposed for a different culture, a turn of phrase may not translate or in the worst-case scenario, it can be offensive, so you need to employ a cultural sense check.

Another challenge is the fragmentation of social media channels. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are the big three, but in some countries they have made little traction and there are different social media channels multinationals need to be aware of. China is a good example; there are a huge number of communication channels of great complexity here. How do you repurpose your content for those channels? You also need to consider social media maturity in different regions. Social media is still very new in many countries, so the level of understanding isn’t as good as the understanding in the UK and US, for example. Local offices may not understand how to implement a central strategy. So it’s not as simple as having a global Twitter account; multinationals need to consider which form of communication is best, which network, and for which country.

I think if a multinational’s product range is different or has a different presentation from country to country, it makes sense to give more control to local offices. When you have a global brand or product, it is a good idea to have a hub operating a central strategy, which sets guidelines and establishes the brand’s persona, standard responses to common questions, creative themes, and how they want the brand to be perceived globally. The hub then sets clearly defined boundaries about how much localisation can occur and for which activities.

In my view, a central hub and semi-autonomous spokes is the wisest option, which will hopefully address any gaps in knowledge at a local level. Of course, local offices can then be trained with the view to increase autonomy over time.

Multinationals need to consider which form of communication is best, which network, and for which country
- Blaise Grimes-Viort

Why understanding demographics is key

Multinationals need to carry out an audience demographic analysis of a territory they are targeting. This will flush out things like how much people use social media and at what time of the day, which will affect the frequency of your messaging. It will help ad targeting, but parts of the same country can also be very culturally diverse. The age groups using social media can change, as well as income levels; some parts of the country may be more liberal or conservative.

The interests of the demographics are also crucial in understanding any brand affinities they may have in those countries. Every single country has its own attachments to brands, whether it is local, regional or global brands. As a multinational you would expect people to have some association with your brand, but which ones should you be nurturing in that particular region? And which social network should you use for the brand?

I mentioned China before. In Japan, there are some social networks that are only accessible if you have a mobile number and contract in that country. So if you are trying to target social media users in a country like Japan on the platform they use most, you need to be physically there. This is the kind of issue that an audience demographic analysis will discover.

demographics are crucial

Consider your resources

It is not only about messaging; it is also about the cost of implementation. Take user generated content moderation. You can gain huge cost efficiencies by centralising this; it becomes a large-scale endeavour, whereas for content creation you need to relinquish some control as the themes often need a level of transcreation.

Let’s take a brand as an example. Dropbox is a global and English brand. You could argue that it would be fine to use English, but it has a global user base. So the question is does it target all the languages that make up its user base? This would be a huge undertaking, so do they focus on core languages like Spanish, which would reach a large portion of the world?

touch screenIt helps to approach your audience by language instead of country. Cultural considerations aside, it is a shortcut if you take French, English, Spanish and Russian as you are reaching a large part of the globe – just as long as your messaging is reasonably culturally neutral. But if you are speaking to your audience in Russian, the question then becomes, can you manage the response? If no one speaks Russian in the team, then no one can respond. My view would be to not publish in that language as it encourages responses in the same language.

Another factor is the effectiveness of your messaging for those different audiences. If people use your products in slightly different ways, your KPIs will differ slightly. But if you implement a multitude of varying analytical reporting systems, you can’t benchmark territories against other territories. You need to take into consideration how much work you can actually afford to put in. I don’t think there is any shame in only covering a few languages, as you need to do them really well. Remember it’s all about brand perception, and social media activity reflects on your brand at a reputational level. It’s better to do a little really well rather than spreading yourself too thin.

Think about all your stakeholders

Business meetingProfessional networks, such as LinkedIn and Xing, are very important for brands, as not only do they help with recruitment but they can also deliver highly segmented targeting of potential customers. When placing ads on these networks, similar to traditional social networks like Facebook, you can chose a highly specific list of criteria for who is targeted with your ad, from job title to skill to location to qualifications.

A good social media strategy should be based on reaching all stakeholders, whether these are potential customers, suppliers, or current and future employees. A good strategy should illustrate a brand’s values so will certainly support recruitment. A lack of a social media strategy can in fact hinder a brand as everyone does a search before applying for jobs or going for interviews. If there is nothing available online about the company apart from what other people are saying about it, it could prove detrimental to the brand, both internally and externally.

Emojis are the next big thing

Video has become more accessible, and the end user’s expectations of how long content should be have changed, which has opened up GIFs and six second videos. Oreo does this particularly well.

The flip side of this is live streaming, for example Periscope. The downside to them is that they are still very raw platforms with an open line of communication and no filtering mechanism in place, and companies have very little administrative control. As it’s live, the reputational damage is immediate so these platforms need to be treated with caution.

The growing use of emojis is something that multinationals need to look at and monitor. They are what you could consider to be a dark form of communication in that they aren’t trackable. They encompass common phrases and feelings, so people are effectively talking about your brand but you can’t see what they are saying. We are only starting to see tools that track emoji use in real time.

But if I can offer one piece of advice, this is what it comes down to. The critical mistake that brands make is that they translate their messaging. But you cannot just translate; you need to localise the message, plus take cultural mores into consideration. A small point would be making sure it fits the event calendar of that country. There’s no point in talking about Wimbledon in a country that has no interest in tennis. You need to sense check your editorial calendar and then be prepared to make decisions about whether to publish the content or transcreate it. And this requires additional skills such as copywriting in different languages.




Blaise Grimes-Viort

Emoderation manages social media 24/7 for the world’s biggest brands and agencies in more than 50 languages. Blaise Grimes-Viort started his career in community management in 2001 and since then has worked with global brands, start-ups and charities in fields such as publishing, FMCG, fashion, gaming, pharmaceutical, broadcasting, and telecoms.

At Emoderation, Blaise oversees our global social media services delivery, including strategy, insights, social reputation and content production, and is tasked with ensuring innovation is at the heart of what we do.

You can follow Emoderation on Twitter @Emoderation.

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