Tips for multicultural social media success

Between the growing minority population here in the U.S. and the great opportunities foreign markets offer, it's no wonder that attracting and supporting ethnic markets has quickly transformed from an "add-on consideration" to a strategic piece of the business model. A question that I've been getting asked a lot lately is, "How do marketers effectively connect with ethnic groups through the use of social media?"

Unquestionably, there are a growing number of ethnic communities that use social media to obtain information and share experiences on topics that directly affect their lives and influence purchase decisions. In fact, a recent survey put out by the Florida State University Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication indicates that emerging minorities visit social networking sites more frequently than non-Hispanic whites. According to Forrester research analyst Tamara Barber, online Hispanics are highly active in their use of social media, and they consistently outpace non-Hispanics in every aspect of engagement.

Know your audience -- connect not project
When reaching out to an ethnic community, whether it's in its own language or via an English-language social media site, the same rule applies. Each group has its own culture and agreements. Starting with the end result in mind, you have to understand your audience. Who are they? What are the relevant demographic issues? What are the specific ethnic-oriented issues to be sensitive to? Where do the unsuspected potential pitfalls lie?

Look for ways to adapt your content in meaningful, authentic ways that connect to the values of the culture. Consider elements such as idioms and humor and how they should be adapted according to each target audience and/or country. If using colors, symbols, or images, make sure they are not offensive and that they do not represent a different meaning. For example, two fingers held up in a "victory" sign has an extremely offensive meaning in some cultures. In addition, the color red means happiness in China, but in the U.S. it means danger or stop. In France, green indicates criminality; however, in the U.S. we relate green to safety or go.

Also, keep in mind that many ethnic minorities tend to be drawn to collective values vs. individualistic ones, and they often look to one another to help guide decisions and opinions. Hispanics, for example, are a very experiential culture. They are driven by emotion and direct experience and less so by data. Chinese-Americans, as a general rule, are reserved and humble. Harmony is prized over confrontation, and there remains a great respect for elders and a love for children. 

Social media communities open up the opportunity to engage multicultural audiences in a two-way conversation. Creating timely and relevant content that stimulates feedback and sharing will go a long way in reaching these groups. When people find others that have had an experience with your organization, they will have a much higher level of trust.

As with any social media activity, listen first
Before jumping into a community or forming one yourself, listen to some of the current conversations and watch for the main ideas, phrases, and names that are applicable to you.

As you study the communities with which you intend to interact, ask yourself:

  • How many different communities are there?
  • What is the size of each community?
  • Where are they located?
  • Who are the key players (both individuals and organizations)?
  • What are the main issues the different groups are dealing with?
  • What is your own organization's position on these key issues?
  • Who are your potential partners and competitors within these groups?

There are a number of great tools to help learn what is important to your communities and how they are searching for information. Many of them allow you to "listen" down to the ZIP code:

After collecting pertinent information, begin to establish your presence in the community and build up your connections and followers. Join the community and be a genuine member of that community. Be a resource, offer help, and provide valuable, pertinent information. Talk to people in the community. Share information about yourself and your company.

Getting your (web) house in order
The largest growing ethnic communities in the U.S. are the Hispanic and Asian communities respectively. So, if you are targeting them, you should consider having information available in their languages on your website. Start by asking the following:

  • What are you communicating? To whom? Why?
  • Are key pages and downloads available in their languages on your site?
  • Is your site easy to navigate and search for information?

The cost to have a few high-use pages translated is often less than most people think. Adding PDFs of already-translated brochures and flyers is another low-cost way to share information. As social media grows, so will the traffic to your website. Never before has your website had the power of such a strong first impression.

Providing virtual access to your organization in a way that facilitates social exchange and interaction will go a long way to fostering trust and credibility. Language is used to describe how we feel and see the world. But, in an online environment, it's about how we interpret what's being said or read. Give careful thought to your key messages and how your words, meanings, and actions are interpreted by these virtual communities. When done well, this goes a long way to building an authentic and real online environment.

Chanin Ballance is CEO of viaLanguage.

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