Commentary

Don't Get Lost in Translation

In this age of globalization, there are important social, linguistic and behavioral differences between even the most similar of cultures, of which marketers need be aware as they try to expand their customer base beyond the US. I am reminded of this daily as I venture out in London. Someone always asks me, "Are you okay?" To an American, such a question might seem off-putting, as if the other party is in possession of some insider knowledge that I have been ailing in some way. However, after living in London for almost a year, I realize that this is the British way of asking "How are you doing?" and I answer accordingly: "Fine, thank you. You okay?"

In short, is not simply enough to engage with Brits in the same manner as you'd engage with Americans, or with Australian consumers as you'd engage with Chinese ones. While new social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter may unify global audiences, they are not yet great homogenizers -- many important cultural differences still remain.

Through a study of almost 8,500 members of 16 non-U.S. and multinational private online communities, Communispace has identified three key "lessons to be learned" for marketers engaging a global customer base:

Lesson One: It's not all about geography...
You can achieve great success with a global or pan-European community; the key is not to focus on national differences but on key similarities. If you are building a community of members from multiple countries, be sure to engage members of a similar life stage (moms with kids, millenials, etc) or shared interests (love of travel, passion for consumer electronics, etc.). If you can connect people across these shared social experiences, you'll garner much more robust and vibrant insight from your consumers.

Lesson Two: But geography can make a difference...
That said, if your company is looking to get the most out of a key market or a certain local geography, we have found people are even more likely to participate in online discussions and activities when they're with a group of people from their own country, versus a multi-country group. Even if everyone is using a common language (e.g. English), there appear to be fewer barriers to engagement when members share a geographical region or native language.

Lesson Three: Openness and transparency bridge most cultural divides...
Finally, regardless of whether you are engaging a single-nationality community in a key market or convening a global community around a strong interest or brand, what is most important is ensuring members feel listened to- this is accomplished by allowing them to help guide the conversation and by keeping them updated as to how you are using their insights. We have found that members of global communities start a greater percentage of activities than do members of U.S.-only communities, suggesting that consumer-generated content-members' ability to start and contribute to their own discussions-is crucial to engaging members and is valued regardless of community composition.

Cassandra Jeyaram, PhD, Social Marketing Manager, Global Consumer Marketing at InterContinental Hotels Group, offered this key takeaway as marketers think about how to engage consumers and prospects online: "Be transparent and make a commitment. One of the biggest mistakes I see companies making is that they'll set up a Facebook page or community and then ignore it. Social marketing tools are designed to build and foster relationships. They need nurturing and attention. Failure to connect and engage in a transparent way can lead to extremely disappointing results -- not to mention wasted resources."

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