The impact of culture and language on social media efforts

social media language

One of the most frequent questions we are asked by students in countries where English is not the first language is, which should be their language for social engagements. Because most of our work is with multinationals, and subject matter experts need to tap into a global network of fellow-experts, we recommend using both their customers’ native language and English.

Culture and language matter

There is no question that both culture and language make a difference to the effectiveness of social media. For example, North American marketing strategists generally view social marketing as more effective than their European counterparts. This may be at least in part because North America is much less complex linguistically than Europe: in other words, there are far fewer major languages spoken. This means that in one language, it is possible to reach most of your audience fairly easily.

In Europe, by contrast, there are more than 24 official languages in the EU alone. It is hard to translate content effectively into other languages. There are nuances to language and culture that may not translate, and the cultural references that create connections are much harder to find.

Many social listening tools were also developed to use US English. They may therefore make it harder to understand social effectiveness in Europe.

There are other aspects of culture that may also affect social media practices. For example, attitudes to privacy vary widely around the world. In Europe, people are generally more worried about personal privacy than in the US. This means that European marketers may have less information to work with than their US counterparts, because their customers are simply disclosing less. Building good buyer personas is significantly easier with more data to work with, improving effectiveness in North America.

There may be another aspect that is affecting effectiveness: budget.

North American social budgets are generally about 30% higher than in Europe, regardless of the size of the company. This may, of course, be a bit of a ‘chicken-and-egg’ situation: are the budgets higher because it is easier to demonstrate effectiveness and therefore get more budget, or is social media use more effective when there is rather more money being spent on it? It is very hard to say.

The difference between measurement and value 

There is a saying that what matters is what is measured. In other words, people will only focus on what is being measured, so you had better make sure that you are really measuring what matters to your business. But what about when it is hard to measure something, such as the impact of your social media activity? Does this mean that social media doesn’t matter?

A radical thought, and clearly not true. For a start, there are some very good ways to measure social effectiveness, and they do not rely only on lead generation. But in a way, social media effectiveness is not really the issue. External metrics and factors do matter, but the biggest payback from social media activity comes in the development of good digital and social habits.

It is very hard to put a concrete value on these habits. But it is worth exploring the idea a little further. First, it takes time to become discoverable. Like owning and training a dog, you have to put in the effort, and you have to do so on a regular and ongoing basis over a considerable period of time. A single tweet or article is not going to leave much of a mark on the rapidly-moving world of social media.

It takes about 20 days to build a habit (give or take a few days here and there). In other words, you need to do something for 20 days, regularly, before it becomes part of your routine. Break the routine for more than 20 days, and you build a new habit of not doing it. Building good habits of social engagement involving regular activity is therefore an important part of thought leadership, and one that will pay off over time.

More intangibly, it may be helpful to consider the phrase ‘thought leadership’. The ‘leadership’ aspect is as important here as the thinking. Our coaching helps candidates to become pace-setters, not followers of market trends. Social media is an important part of everyone’s lives now, and increasingly vital across all aspects of doing business. However hard it is to make it work across cultures and languages, marketers need to make the effort to do so to help their business survive.

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