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Navigating international social media engagement

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For companies that want to increase their reach, global expansion has become a gateway, and most growing businesses eventually pass through it. But despite today's prevalent social networking frenzy, few are tackling international social media due to the risks involved. Brand-endangering mistakes are alarmingly easy to make. For prudent, pioneering business leaders, taking the time to plan an international social media engagement strategy tells customers that you care about them, which serves your ultimate goal of building trust and fostering that all-important business relationship. Here are some concepts that may pose inherent dangers and advice to help you steer clear of those risks. • An American focus. Many of us in the U.S. fall prey to a myopic mindset, which includes global social media. Americans often assume that other countries will adapt to our example. International social media requires shifting your thinking away from your cultural comfort zones and realizing that different countries have different expectations. Since fostering trust between business and client is vital, not opening your eyes to international clients' cultural and societal values can result in broken trust and strained relationships. Business leaders must shed their restrictive, potentially xenophobic cultural blinders before going global with social media. • Rushing in. Phase one should be a capacity reality check. You can easily become overextended if your existing social media plan isn't running smoothly or you lack adequate staff to maintain it. Adding markets can result in a complete breakdown of the teams that manage your social media. As for translation, a reliable way to translate social media messages combines machine translation and a process known as post-editing, in which trained linguists review the product. While this option costs more than a free online translator, it's insurance against a mistranslated social media message that goes viral and damages your brand. • Cultural missteps. Emotional impact is generally not a concern when we develop campaigns. Prospects base their buying decisions on perceived and actual value rather than how warm and fuzzy a product or service makes them feel. Yet when dealing with other cultures on social media, emotional response does enter the picture. People are still people—consumer and trade buyer alike—and cultural insensitivities can provoke intense reactions. Understanding a prospect's or customer's cultural values is a significant part of engendering trust between client and provider. To avoid cultural missteps, first research each of your target markets. Determine where website visitors are coming from and research your international prospects' cultural preferences regarding social media platforms and content sharing. For example, connecting with Chinese customers means you must adapt to their government-censored, group-mind culture and their own state-approved social platforms. The statistically more mobile customers in Japan favor Twitter since micro-blogging appeals to the on-the-go Japanese mindset. • Favoring speed over prudence. The world runs in real time, and your customers expect fast communications. But if you believe that immediacy trumps all when interacting with international contacts on social networks, you are exposing your brand to serious risk. Speed for its own sake should never be your first priority. Consider fast-food restaurant chain KFC Corp. During an 8.6 magnitude earthquake in Indonesia in April, KFC Thailand breezily posted on Facebook that Thai followers should run home and order their favorite menu items. A backlash and public apology ensued. If you are concerned that a four-hour lag time in responses will negatively impact your brand on social media, remember that a hastily delivered message that offends your customers can be far more damaging. Angel Zimmerman is COO of language services provider Sajan Inc. www.sajan.com. She can be reached at azimmerman@sajan.com.
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