Going Global With Your Social Media Strategy

5 Mins read

As shipping and transportation across borders become easier, the international e-commerce industry is quickly flourishing. This situation is definitely sped up – especially in the time of a pandemic where social distancing is expected to be the new normal for as long as we can see. Online dealings are now the most effective way for any SME to grow its business.

However, as businesses venture overseas, they may hit a couple of roadblocks – language and culture barriers, alongside differing country regulations in marketing strategies and advertising. For example, some businesses may be complacent in expecting customers of other countries to understand English advertisements, but this assumption may make you miss out on a large portion of the rest of the world. 

According to the EF English Proficiency Index, China was ranked 40 out of 100 countries with a “Moderate Proficiency” label. This is the first year the country has broken away from the “Low Proficiency” designation; there is a long way to go for the 1.4 billion population to choose English as their language of choice on social media apps. Besides the United States, the largest consumer markets in the world including China, certain European countries, Japan and Russia do not use or learn English as an everyday necessity.

Thus, it is important to consider all aspects of international differences in your social media marketing strategy to reach these target markets. 

Knowledge As The Foundation

Regardless of nationality, a long-standing proven method to form and maintain a consumer-producer relationship with new and old customers is through social media marketing. Nevertheless, there are more things to consider when launching a social media marketing campaign for international consumers (also known as cross-border marketing). Here are some tips to ensure your social media marketing strategy for campaigns runs smoothly with a reduced risk of cross-country issues:

1. Different markets come with different customer acquisition costs

According to Google Keyword Planner, as of Aug 19 the average cost-per-click for the keyword “clothing” costs RM2.07 in Malaysia, RM2.36 in China, RM2.89 in the US, and RM2.91 in Australia respectively. 

While these differences may seem small, they can generate a large difference once the number of clicks reach the hundreds or thousands. Hence, companies cannot generalise costs when it comes to cross-border business, but should create separate budgets for each country and region instead.

2. Customers have different cultural norms and sensitivities across regions 

Posting in an individual’s native language with its cultural nuances will always be more personalised and is more likely to attract people to your advertisement – and possibly converting them into customers. 

However, not acknowledging cultural differences in your marketing imagery and copy could lead to the campaign missing its mark completely. It may also cause a negative perception on your business within a particular region. Some examples of particulars your company should take note of when venturing overseas are:

Localise trends and lifestyle needs Imagery and copy that is relevant to the times and local trends play a large role in attracting the attention of a certain population to your social media postings. 

For example, a sports drink ad using badminton for the Malaysian market will make sense, but may fall flat in the US where it is not a popular sport.
Reflect local cultural values and habits Cultural values and sensitivities differ among – and even within – regions of different countries. For example, it may be a usual sight to see a scantily-clad woman in an ad in a European country, but it is almost impossible in more conservative countries like Saudi Arabia. 

In 2017, the Internet was abuzz when comparisons were made between original images of western ads and their alternatives for the Middle Eastern market.
Avoid copy lost in translations Ads can become lost in translation if the translator does not understand the cultural lingo or nuances of a certain community. 

For example, HSBC was forced to do a US$10 million (RM41.48 million) rebranding in 2009 after a failed international marketing campaign. Instead of using its motto of “Assume Nothing”, the phrase was mistranslated to “Do Nothing” in many countries.
3. Platform preferences vary from country to country

While certain social media and messaging platforms are widely used in Western markets, other channels may be more popular in other regions. 
Statistics show Facebook is the most popular social network in the US, but Qzone dominates as the main social media platform in China. For messaging apps, WhatsApp dominates globally with Facebook Messenger following closely behind, yet WeChat maintains its stronghold on Chinese users.

4. Different platforms suit different services better

Social media and marketing platforms may be used variedly for different types of sales communications in different countries. For example, in Afghanistan, Facebook and Facebook Messenger has become a key tool for local retailers to take online orders for delivery in addition to driving foot traffic. WhatsApp has recently rolled out its WhatsApp Business app to connect business with customers as shopping habits increasingly move to messaging apps. 

Besides that, a social media platform that may work for one service or product may not work for another. For example, Instagram is well-designed for artists who want to showcase their portfolio and artwork to attract buyers and get commissions. On the other hand, a well-established brand may prefer to use Twitter to connect more personally with its followers outside of traditional advertising. 

Your social media marketing strategy does not go unseen

Going across borders can be a big step for any SME – from the logistics of international shipping, to a proper social media campaign to attract the first set of customers overseas. However, with the appropriate research and understanding of your target market’s language, culture and sensitivities, there should be no big issues in connecting to new opportunities throughout the world. 

To close off, here are some examples of successful cross-border social media campaigns with exceptional social media marketing strategy:

Etude House – The Korean beauty company connects with its Malaysian followers by collaborating with Malaysian influencer Dee Alimin to create a new make-up pallet. Customers can relate better to a brand if they see a representative of their culture using or promoting a product from said brand.


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A post shared by ETUDE Malaysia (@etudemalaysia)

KFC China – Instead of generalising its menu across countries, KFC provides for its China consumers to pick and choose their favourites with a poll on the country’s social media platforms. Within 43 days, more than 13 million people had voted on which KFC fried chicken recipe should stay on the menu.

Social Media Marketing Strategy KFC

EVA Air – The Taiwanese airline reaches both its local and international customers simultaneously by posting bilingual posts on their Instagram account. This post informs customers of the airline’s efforts to transport urgent cargo across the globe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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A post shared by EVA Airways Corp. 長榮航空 (@evaairways)