What Social Media Can Learn From Multicultural Marketing

Regardless of Market, Focus Should Be on Cultural Relevancy, not the Technology

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Christine Huang
Christine Huang
Listing: Blue Chip company seeks experienced Online Community Manager/Social Media Strategist/person who understands the Internet to develop company's integrated marketing initiatives across new media channels. S/he will be responsible for monitoring Twitter, making a Youtube channel, adding friends on Facebook, and managing intermittent "blogger outreach". 3+ years experience in updating status messages required.

Sound familiar? If you're working for any brand with a half-functioning marketing department, it should. Even amidst the downturn, companies are clamoring to get in the social-media game by hiring social-media managers or looking in-house to indoctrinate their own. The question around social-media strategies is no longer if, but how: How can we acquire more Twitter followers than rival Brand Y? How can we tap into our Facebook fans to promote our new product? How can we use social media to tell our story?

Any brand that considers itself competitive is already engaging in social media on several levels. And even if they haven't answered the "why" of it all, many have already launched headfirst into the how, getting their logos and well-briefed spokespeople on every social networking site/platform/channel they can, spreading the message of their latest promotion or new campaign.

Of course in the growing flurry of tweets and blog-buzzery, separating the signal from the noise has become an increasingly difficult task for consumers. Brands tirelessly pump out their messages across the standard platforms, but many users are often left wondering what it is they're "friending" and whose purpose it ultimately serves to do so. What does it mean to become one of Brand X's 7,000 Facebook friends, and why should we read its CEO's latest blog?

For most businesses, being part of the social-media evolution is no longer a new opportunity; it's a necessity. And yet for many, one of the most basic elements of a successful strategy seems dangerously undercooked: the "what?" What exactly is this currency we're now wielding? What are its different forms, how do they travel, and do we have a real understanding of them? What makes the content we're creating socially, culturally and distinctively relevant?

For multicultural audiences, this is an especially crucial consideration. For the growing "non-general market," social media means much more than just Twitter, Facebook and blogs. It includes a wide range of content and channels, paths to entry more nascent than the staid mediums and content we're all familiar with.

African-American, Hispanic, and Asian consumers download more mobile ringtones, games and images than their white counterparts. They share shopping and entertainment advice and consume a wider range of mobile media (from Internet to live TV to streaming audio) than their peers. They engage in niche social networks that are grounded in offline interaction. They're more likely to store and share photos, contacts and calendar information on their mobile phones than anyone else.

Hispanics, in particular, are more likely to befriend a brand on a social-networking site than non-Hispanics. And African Americans as well as Hispanics are more likely to use social-networking spaces to share opinions with friends about products, services and brands than "general market" consumers.

Needless to say, when speaking to a multicultural audience, research into the different content and mediums most valued by these segments is a necessity. This is particularly important in the social-media game, given the minority market's high adoption rate of new means of accessing and sharing content, entertainment and opinions -- often about brands. Understanding these morphing modes and pieces of cultural currency is the first step for any brand trying to truly resonate with a highly differentiated audience.

But this culture-based approach shouldn't be limited to the multicultural sphere -- especially when dealing with media designed to be social. All brands and agencies should be thinking beyond Twitter updates and Facebook pages when considering their interactions in the social media space. Every user today has a voice, a culture, a distinct perspective. For a brand's efforts to be meaningful and worthwhile, it must explore the diversity of its audience -- and strike up relevant, authentic conversations founded in a true understanding of their cultures. From multicultural to general, the market today must be spoken to via media that is more than social -- but cultural, as well.

When we think about social media, for any type of audience, we must consider the spectrum it represents, and which pieces are most relevant and valuable to the consumers we're trying to reach. This means thinking about:

  • Culture-based insights about your audience: What kinds of content are they consuming and sharing? Why, where and how?

  • Using these clues to guide the content you offer: Does a viral video make sense for your audience? Or should you consider a niche community outreach? Or, both? (Scion has been successful in this area: From its design-your-own coat of arms to its fine arts events to its extreme sports sponsorships, the brand has taken a culture-based approach to reaching its heterogenous audience while maintaining its brand's core values)

  • The relevant pathways to entry: Should you invest in a Twitter promotion? Or would a mobile entertainment campaign make a bigger impact? What mediums and networks do your most loyal consumers use and trust?
Of course, none of this is easy. It requires a keen understanding of what lies beyond the known conversation and its oft-used channels. But we present this challenge to brands and to agencies: to think outside of the social-media template, to venture beyond the conventions already established and to create fully-considered strategies that speak to their increasingly diverse audience in more meaningful, relevant ways.

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Christine Huang is head of cultural trends at GlobalHue, the U.S.'s leading multicultural marketing-communications agency.

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