Globalization has long been a buzzword in many industries, but it is perhaps nowhere more applicable than in e-commerce. Today, it is easier than ever for e-commerce businesses to reach audiences worldwide, turning even the smallest organization into a global brand.
E-commerce businesses are throwing themselves wholeheartedly into serving their international customers. Indeed, according to a recent statistic from the World Trade Organization, 97% of internet-enabled small businesses export products and services, compared to 2-28% for traditional small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
However, despite their potential reach, many U.S. businesses are not taking sufficient advantage of their potential overseas audiences to grow their market. Social media marketing, which has been steadily increasing to become the dominant marketing channel for more than a decade, is one way that e-commerce businesses can quickly expand their customer base outside the U.S.
There are nearly 4 billion active social media users outside the United States – active meaning that they don’t simply have social media accounts but spend hours a day on social media. Even small businesses can harness social media to reach these prospects. We’ll take a look at which countries are the best targets and how you can reach those potential customers.
International social media usage
A quick look at social media usage statistics worldwide offers insight into the size of the potential audience outside the United States. According to one study, more than half of the world’s population are not merely present on social media but spend more than 2 hours a day on various social media platforms.
If that’s not enough, the average time spent on social media now exceeds time spent with online or print publications and is rapidly approaching time spent watching television. No wonder that social media has become the advertising vehicle of choice for many companies.
But many U.S. companies are missing the larger picture. Of the 4.2 billion active social media users, only 240 million (5.7%) are in the United States. Not surprisingly, China leads the pack with nearly 1 billion active users. But India has 448 million, Brazil has 150 million, Mexico has 100 million, Germany has 66 million, and Nigeria has 33 million. Even Cuba has over 6 million active users.
Taking advantage of this enormous pool of potential customers could significantly improve the prospects of many SMEs struggling to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19. Minority and women-owned businesses in particular should consider the benefits of international social media marketing to overcome the disproportionate impact the pandemic had on their businesses.
According to one study, more than a third of women-owned businesses expect recovery to take six months to a year. This recovery time could potentially be decreased – or even swapped from recovery to growth – with strong international marketing efforts.
Effective international social media marketing
To effectively market through international social media channels, you can’t simply take your existing U.S.-focused advertising and copy it over to a new platform. Instead, international campaigns require careful crafting and tailoring directed to your intended audience.
One obvious consideration is the need for accurate translation, which must also take into account local usage. Unfortunately, advertising history is full of examples of marketing campaigns that failed due to bad translations.
Those old enough to remember Braniff Airlines may also recall their effort to reach high-end customers through their “Fly in Leather” campaign. Unfortunately, their translation of “Vuela in cuero” didn’t fly in Mexico, where local usage turned the slogan into “Fly naked.” It may have been appealing to some, but it was a very different message than Braniff intended.
The translation issue goes both directions. Swedish vacuum manufacturer Electrolux ran into its own problems in the U.S. when it launched a campaign focused on the power of its products. It chose the unfortunate translation “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”
And that’s just one aspect of the challenge. Marketers must also consider cultural differences between the U.S. audience and international audiences very carefully. For example, a campaign in China by luxury goods manufacturer Dolce & Gabbana failed badly due to perceived cultural insensitivity. In the ad, a male voice instructs a Chinese woman how to use chopsticks to eat Italian food.
What does this mean for you? First, get a good translation solution. While it will inevitably increase the costs of your marketing campaign, it may save you future embarrassment and reputational damage.
Second, run your translated ads by a sample group of native speakers from the regions you are targeting. Even a good translation agency may miss local nuances. Third, understand points of cultural sensitivity among your new audiences and, again, consult with local users for feedback.
Choosing international social media advertising channels
Many U.S.-based e-commerce business owners are already well familiar with social media channels in the U.S. like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok. And the trend is nowhere more prevalent than among younger business owners. Just among millennials alone, 84% use websites or social media to generate income.
On the other hand, many of these businesses have little knowledge of the social media platforms that dominate in foreign countries. Unfortunately, using the wrong tools is a common marketing mistake, and you can overcome this by exploring the most popular platforms in your region of interest.
Here are a few options for you to consider in your international marketing efforts:
We start with Asia because it not only has the most potential viewers for your campaigns but because it is also an area well-versed in e-commerce. There are several strong alternatives to traditional social media platforms that you should consider in this region.
By comparison to the rest of Asia, India gravitates more towards the established global platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram. China, though, is a different story.
You can’t talk about social media in Asia without giving a nod to WeChat. WeChat has quickly been gaining ground on the dominant messaging app, WhatsApp, and it has more overall features for companies looking to expand into the Asian market. With more than 1.2 billion users sending more than 45 billion messages a day, WeChat is one of the top social media platforms in the world.
Companies can create WeChat Official Accounts to promote their brands, as well as online shops. Turns out, however, that there can be hurdles to getting an Official Account. In China, for example, companies must either register in China (a lengthy and complex process), use the license of an existing business, or use a special process offered by Chinese conglomerate Tencent.
But wait, there are quite a few other highly popular platforms in Asia with millions of monthly active users (MAUs), including Weibo (520 million MAUs), LINE (167+ million MAUs), QQ (617 million MAUs), Kuaishou (520 million MAUs), and KakaoTalk (52 million MAUs).
What does this mean for you? Your options are extensive. Look for the formats that best suit your marketing approaches. Weibo, for instance, uses a Twitter-like format. And naturally, consider whether the demographics of the platform’s users match up with your ideal customer.
There are a few platforms outside of the global giants that dominate the European market. Although their usage numbers fall short of Facebook, Instagram, and others, they still have a substantial pool of users.
In France, Viadeo, a LinkedIn-style professional networking application, is the major player, with more than 65 million members across the globe. Germany’s contender is XING, with about 19 million members in German-speaking countries.
Russia’s primary alternative, Vkontakte, is a Facebook clone rather than a LinkedIn-style professional network, and accordingly, it has a much larger user base. With more than 100 million members and 45 million daily active users, Vkontakte is a prime candidate for your international marketing campaigns.
Another candidate in the Russian market is Odnoklassniki, which claims to have more than 200 million members and 1.5 billion visitors per month. Odnoklassniki focuses on video and image sharing, which is great for rich media marketing.
It is crucial that you don’t ignore Africa. Despite perceptions that many countries in Africa are underdeveloped, more than 650 million Africans use mobile phones, a larger number than in Europe.
Africa has had difficulty in maintaining homegrown social media platforms. Despite the initial popularity of platforms such as Mxit, Yookos, and Bandeka – named one of Africa’s Hottest Startups by Forbes in 2011- they all ceased operations after only a few years. So, your best bet for accessing African social media markets is to focus on the big players like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
Latin and South America
Like Africa, Latin and South America have seen their fair share of players come and go. Platforms such as Sonico and Google’s Orkut developed substantial numbers of users before shutting down. Among the only local players left in this market is Taringa!, which has a user base of around 30 million.
By now, you should be able to see the great potential of marketing through international social media platforms. Of course, you may be able to reach some of your potential international audience using global giants such as Facebook and Instagram. But by taking advantage of platforms that have more local popularity, you can develop more targeted marketing campaigns to expand your reach and integrate your brand into local communities. Simply put, your business can’t afford not to consider international social media marketing.