One of the appeals of marketing through social media is the massive potential reach that these platforms have. Even if the company isn’t catering to a global market, it’s fascinating to know that a potential customer half way around the globe can stumble upon your company’s Facebook page, YouTube video, or Tweet, and be connected to your business. But if you are targeting a specific foreign market, it’s very important to understand which channels are popular or available in that country.
When I tell people that there was a two year window in my life where I didn’t log in to my Facebook account or watch any videos on YouTube, they give me a pretty strange look followed by a gasping “Why?”. It’s not that I have personal vendettas against these companies; it’s because I lived in Shanghai for the past couple of years, and in Mainland China, most major social media outlets are blocked. So for two years, instead of Facebook, YouTube, Google + and Twitter, I had the option to use RenRen.com, YouKu.com, Sina Weibo.
Why does this matter? For a lot of companies, it doesn’t, because they’re not targeting the Chinese market. What does matter is the underlying concept: just because social media channels are popular in North America, doesn’t mean they carry the same clout in highly profitable, developing markets.
It was always frustrating to meet with marketing managers who weren’t based in China, and listen to complaints about their videos not being viewed on YouTube or a lacklustre amount of “likes” on their targeted Facebook pages. Even when they pushed content through available channels like LinkedIn, their posts would be accompanied by a bit.ly shortlink, which simply resets your internet connection over there.
Of course, China has one of the most stringent internet censorship policies, but it provides a good lesson for companies who market globally. On top of the big social networks being blocked, websites like blogspot.com and most shortlink services are permanently censored, while LinkedIn, Wikipedia and even major news outlets like CNN and BBC are blocked intermittently throughout the year. When you drop China from the global reach of your social media strategy, you’re ignoring a market of 1.3 billion people or about a fifth of the world’s population. That’s a lot less people to stumble across your company.
Here’s a look at the social networks in all the BRIC Nations, where most of the world’s new wealth is being created:
Brazil: Orkut is the most popular social network, with over 20 million users, followed by a Latin American Network called Sonico.com.
Russia: Vkontakte.ru has over 100 million active users. Brands like Clearasil have used the platform and saw a 30% increase in sales of their product.
India: Facebook rules the roost here, but a close second is Linkedin, followed by Orkut.
China: Sina Weibo (a Twitter-like service), Renren (a Facebook clone) and Tencent QQ (instant messaging service) are number 1, 2 and 3 in the world’s most populous nation.
The moral of the story: like any other marketing strategy, social networks need to be identified and changed to reach certain countries. Don’t assume what works at home will work abroad.