Do You Need Social Media Localization?


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It’s funny how things sometimes happen in a series. Last week all of the North Americans I spoke with asked me the same question:

“Do you need to adapt your social media communication to different cultural audiences?”

It intrigued me that all of these questions came from North Americans and I think I have an answer as to why this happened… more on that later. I want to answer this question first.

By the way, for those of you who are not familiar with the term “localization” this refers to adapting all of your communication to different local cultures. It’s much more than just translation and includes all aspects of communication. Localization means adapting your communication make sure your message gets across in the right way.

Adapt Your Communication For International Audiences

The short answer is: yes.

To create genuine communication you must adapt how your social media communication to the different cultural audiences you want to reach.

Adapting your communication always gives you better results when communicating with different cultures, and sometimes it’s critical to do so. If you don’t adapt your communication you can lose relationships which leads to losing clients and business.

More Cultural Differences Are Visible On Social Media

But there is also a longer answer because the localization of social media communication goes deeper than cross-cultural people skills. Social media communication can be a little bit more challenging than other traditional forms of communication such as print communication or emails.

Here are two characteristics of cross-cultural social media that magnify the cultural differences others see in you.

Your cultural differences are obvious. It’s hard to hide from who you are on social media and this means

You get close when you’re social. Social media gets you closer to people. It is a social environment and people tend to let their guards down when they are behind a computer. It’s easier to say things online that you wouldn’t say in person. It’s easy to forget about trying to respect the other person’s cultural differences.

This is why you should always pay attention to the messages you are conveying to others and how they are perceived on social media.

People Skills To Connect With Different Cultures On Social Media

Good cross-cultural social media skills require both:

  • Strong “soft” skills or people skills
  • Good cross-cultural skills

Over the years I’ve noticed how most North American business professionals don’t have time for these “soft” skills.  They prefer to focus on the skills that are easy to measure and ones you can learn through courses. This may be why this question seems to crop up more often there than in the other cultures I network with.

Cross-cultural skills are not so easy to pick up or develop, they:

  • Require some personal work
  • Usually require international experience

Localization Of Social Media

Some of the people I spoke with needed some more insights

Here are the personal observations I shared with them regarding cross-cultural differences on two popular social media platforms.

Different Networking Practices On Twitter

Prior to my cross-cultural twitter interviews I chat with my guests and try to learn more about how they use Twitter in their country.  For some people it may come as a surprise to learn that English speakers in different countries do not have the same habits on Twitter.

Some cultures are more at ease in striking up instant friendships, and some cultures need a bit more time.  This impacts the relationships you form on Twitter.  And if you use Twitter for international networking it also means you need to use cross-cultural communication skills even on Twitter.

Different Job Hunting Practices On LinkedIn

One of the people I spoke to yesterday needed to advise his clients on business networking on LinkedIn.  Communication on LinkedIn is just the same as any other communication.

Every time I navigate on LinkedIn I’m struck by it’s the strong North American atmosphere. In cross-cultural terms most of the people I run into on LinkedIn have very strong traits of “individualism”.  Obviously LinkedIn is mainly a job hunting platform which brings out these North American traits even more.

Even if you come across people from different cultures on LinkedIn there is a very strong probability they use it differently than a North American on LinkedIn.

Different Perceptions Of The New Like Button On Facebook

It’s easy to see how different people use Facebook and thanks to the newly improved Insights box on Facebook Business Pages you can monitor some international metrics.  But the fun thing I’m noticing lately is the differences in appreciation of the new “Like” button.  So many of the North Americans in my network seem to identify more personal endorsement just because the button is now called “Like” and not “Become A Fan”.

The reaction to this small little word reminds me of the need to localize social media buttons in some Eastern countries.

  • In most Western cultures having a real photo creates credibility and in some Eastern cultures it creates discomfort. Cartoon gravatars work much better.
  • In Western cultures it’s easy to use the notion of being a “friend” on social media and in some Eastern cultures the use of the term “friend” creates uncomfortable situations for fear of offending others by not being their friend.

Those are extreme reactions to small things in social media.  And when you dig deeper and analyze communication on Facebook, you’re sure to encounter subtle differences in perception which can have significant impact on your Facebook marketing.

No Standard Social Media Localization Plan

Even with the knowledge of some of these differences you still cannot expect to come up with a standard international social media localization plan or generalizations for all international markets.  It’s hard to do. Social media marketing for international audiences is still evolving due to a number of reasons:

  • Some countries are still catching up to social media and at different speeds.
  • The cultural differences between generations within different countries makes it difficult to provide a cookie cutter solution for using social media.
  • We should see growth in online communication from several countries thanks to recent changes by ICANN to allow URLs with different alphabets.
  • The demographics in many countries are undergoing dramatic changes and this will eventually impact cross-cultural communication with these countries. Cross-cultural generalizations established in the last century are rapidly becoming obsolete.

Social media marketing in different cultures follows the same basics as in your own country: you need to get to know your audience well before you can create an effective communication plan. The good news is that you can use social media to help you get to know your audience if you take the time to go slowly and do the person-to-person networking you need to learn how to adapt your communication.

Now, Over To You

  • Have you adapted any of your communication on social media to different international audiences?
  • What are your favorite social media platforms for your international audiences?
  • What cultural differences do you notice on the different social media platforms?

It would be great to hear from you. Please share your comments below.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Cindy King
My name is Cindy King and I help businesses with cross-cultural marketing, international sales and strategic international social media networking.


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