Social media has had a profound impact on the way marketers view global campaigns. Companies that have successfully closed the void between domestic customers through Twitter and Facebook may be tempted to implement an international outreach campaign using these same platforms. However, despite its accessibility and glamour, social media alone can't carry an international marketing plan. Instead, businesses should view social media as one part of an integrated approach created with sound international search engine marketing (ISEM) strategies at its core.
ISEM starts with research into regionally relevant keywords. This activity should be spearheaded by translation and localization experts who understand the nuances of regional dialects and colloquial speech, as well as the parameters of preferred search engines. In most of the world, the latter means Google. However, in China, for example, prospective customers are more likely to use a local search engine like Baidu, which uses a vastly different algorithm than Google. Thus, keyword development for China, or your prospective global venture, should reflect this fact.
Once the most effective keywords have been selected, businesses can begin building multi-pronged efforts in those new markets. This might include targeted pay-per-click ads, multilingual rich media, adapted banner ads, out-of-home advertising, philanthropic community involvement, as well as social media outreach, if appropriate.
For those companies that decide that social media should be one of the elements in branching out internationally, there are a couple of things to consider. First, social media requires human management. Complete reliance on machine translation is rarely a good idea, and it can be even more disastrous in social media, which requires ongoing, authentic engagement. If social media must be part of the marketing mix, so should a local translation expert. This hire should of course be knowledgeable of the company's international messaging, but more importantly, they need to be aware of the cultural norms, local news, and search engine algorithms.
Hiring a local professional is also essential since social media is not a one-time activity. Direct connections between brands and prospects work best when they are tended to over time rather than forced through quick-hit broadcasts. Blogs, for example, need fresh, relevant content several times per week. Twitter streams must be updated multiple times per day, customer tweets should be responded to immediately, and Facebook walls need to be monitored and updated. This is easier said then done, but when done correctly, social media can deliver significant returns on investment for businesses expanding internationally. However, not all industries reap these rewards. It pays to analyze the behavior of domestic customers and weigh that into the decision regarding international social media investments.
No matter what type of marketing approach an enterprise may take regarding international social media, search engine marketing matters the most in terms of return on investment. Yes, businesses big and small are getting closer to their customers through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and other social media vehicles, but international success in those arenas is complex. When multiple languages and disparate regional norms are part of the mix, businesses must follow best practices in ISEM first. When they do so, they are far more likely to succeed in their efforts to engage prospects, promote deals, encourage brand loyalty, supply traffic to their international websites, and increase profits.
Liz Elting is co-founder and co-CEO, TransPerfect.
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