International Business Strategies

The Power of Social, and Serving Overseas Consumers

Is your company expanding to new global markets in 2017? You’ll need to get fluent in their languages—and their social networks.

Dominic Dithurbide's avatar
Dominic Dithurbide

December 06, 2016


These days, businesses are increasingly expanding into less-competitive “blue ocean” international markets to serve new customers, and discover untapped and robust revenue streams. The smartest companies are doing this online, using websites offered in those new consumers’ languages of choice.

It’s a smart play. After all, it’s far more affordable to deploy translated websites that support global shopping and shipping than to launch risky brick-and-mortar endeavors. Further, these shopping experiences are available to local residents anywhere, thanks to the increasing ubiquity of smartphones in emerging markets.

But it’s been our experience that expanding companies often overlook a key component to success in these digital markets: social media. Engaging global consumers via social channels does more than drive traffic to a company’s in-market social accounts. It also directs them to a company’s localized websites—which directly leads to more engagement and sales.

We all know that social media engagement is considered “table stakes” in primary markets such as the U.S., the UK and other Western countries. But social adoption is through the roof in emerging markets. Read on to discover how social networks are reinventing communication and commerce in emerging markets—and how you can tap into this movement to better serve global customers.

Astonishing Worldwide Growth

These days, the world’s population is nearly 7.5 billion. Astonishingly, about 40% of these people are on the Internet. (Compare that to 1995, when less than 1% of the world’s population was online!) Of these 3.5 billion people, about 2.5 billion are active social media users. That’s over 70%.

This number is projected to rise to nearly 3 billion by 2020. About 40% of the world’s total population will be Liking, tweeting, posting and sharing by then.

Social networks have radically changed how we communicate with others, and how frequently we perform that communication. Their growth practically defies imagination: about 12 new social accounts are added worldwide every second. Sixty billion messages flow through ultra-popular platforms Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp every day.

This growth won’t slow any time soon. In five years, nearly half of China’s population will using social networks. (The country’s population will be about 1.4 billion people by then.) About half of all Twitter tweets are currently written in languages other than English.

In the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA), social media adoption is well above the global average. In fact, Arabic-speaking MENA residents use social networks more than other digital channels, including mobile messaging apps and texting. And they use these networks more often during special times of the year. For instance, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Facebook interactions can increase by 30%, and Twitter interactions can grow by a third.

Companies must incorporate social-media marketing components into their consumer outreach and engagement efforts, particularly as they expand into new global markets. The omnipresence of these networks—and the business opportunities they can facilitate between company and consumer—are undeniable.

In fact, that shift is already well underway. Just last year, nearly 40% of companies aimed to dedicate over 20% of their total ad spends to social media channels. That represented a sizeable increase over 2014’s 13%. That number will continue to rise.

Is your business taking this major shift seriously? Read on for a “101” on the ever-changing worldwide social landscape.

Social Media Who’s Who

Globally, Facebook leads the social-media pack with over 1.7 billion users. Facebook-owned Whatsapp and Messenger have over 1 billion users each. Chinese networks QQ, WeChat and QZone have about 900 million, 800 million and 650 million users, respectively. (The Chinese government blocks Western social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.) Facebook-owned Instagram has eclipsed Twitter, with 500 million users.

Indeed, Twitter has been losing worldwide market share for some time. Its user base is currently around 313 million, representing a veritable “flatline” of non-growth for several months running.

But as your company enters specific markets, understand that these well-known social networks may not be the best ones to leverage for customer engagement. Take Russia. There, a network called VK (formally called Vkontakte) commands the social media scene with more than 100 million users. The market’s second-most popular network is another Russian-owned endeavor, Odnoklassniki. Facebook comes in third.

The lesson? As your company eyes expansion-worthy online markets, make the effort to clearly understand which networks are preferred by local consumers. Appropriately invest in-language resources into those channels.

Supercharged Adoption in Emerging Markets

Let’s circle back to Facebook, and emerging markets, for a moment. The network’s user base is downright amazing. According to data compiled from Facebook and Internet World Stats, the percentage of the global population—not just Internet users exclusively—using Facebook looks a lot like this:

  • North America: 62.1%
  • Latin America / Caribbean: 52.2%
  • Oceania / Australia: 51.8%
  • Europe: 39.5%
  • Middle East: 30.8%
  • Worldwide: 22.9%
  • Asia: 13.8% (Facebook is banned in China, depressing the continent’s penetration rate)
  • Africa: 12.4%

Overall, these stats overlap quite nicely with overall social network penetration rates in global markets, making them a good representation of general trends.

Observe the penetration rates in regions with emerging markets, such as Latin America and the Middle East. Now let’s examine this 2015 data, which presents a per-country breakdown of how much time, on average, social media users spend on their preferred social channels each day:

  • Philippines: 3.7 hours
  • Brazil: 3.3 hours
  • Mexico: 3.2 hours
  • Argentina: 3.2 hours
  • United Arab Emirates: 3 hours
  • Malaysia: 3 hours
  • Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Indonesia: 2.9 hours
  • Vietnam and India: 2.3 hours
  • United States 1.7 hours

The stats may be incredible to Western readers, but they don’t lie: as Internet-savvy and connected as Americans might believe themselves to be, consumers in many emerging markets spend far more time communicating and conducting business on social networks. In some markets, more than twice as much!

This growing adoption in emerging markets jibes with recent Pew research, which further crafts a compelling case for serving global consumers via social. Let’s take a look.

Analysis from Pew Research

A 2016 report from the Pew Research Center revealed that social networking is very popular in emerging markets. As Internet access skyrockets in these markets (thanks mostly to growing cellular data infrastructures and affordable smartphones), more of its citizens are going online. These consumers are “hungry for social interaction,” Pew writes.

Pew’s research confirms the trend we described in the previous section: Internet users in emerging markets are more likely to use social networks. Based on Pew’s survey spanning 40 countries, majorities of adults in emerging markets use social networks at comparatively higher rates than adults in mature markets.

Pew’s report suggests some emerging markets have seen significant “upward movement” in social-media adoption in recent years. Take China: “63% of Internet users report using social networking in 2015, up from 48% in 2013,” the report said.

Pew’s analysis also reveals additional key global markets with heavy social-media usage, including Jordan (90% of Internet users there also use social media), Indonesia (89%), the Philippines (88%), Venezuela (88%) and Turkey (87%).

“(M)ajorities of Internet users in every emerging and developing nation surveyed, Pakistan excepted, say they use social networks,” Pew’s report said.

Finally, it’s also clear that an age gap exists among social media users in these markets. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Millennials are more likely to be using social networks than consumers in their mid-30s and older. This trend crosses emerging and mature markets alike, the report said.

Getting Social with MotionPoint

MotionPoint leverages such authoritative third-party data—and more importantly, compiles and uses industry-leading proprietary data—to help organizations successfully engage consumers, via social channels, in global markets.

Indeed, we recently helped one e-retailer enter the Chinese market with a Chinese-language website, and complemented its engagement efforts by integrating functionality with social networks such as WeChat, Weibo and QQ. Within mere weeks, 30% of all referral traffic was hailing from those social networks. Further, that traffic generates more than 10% of the Chinese site’s revenue.

We’ve seen one of our Arabic MENA retail clients’ Instagram referral traffic leap by an astonishing 59,000%, thanks to savvy in-language, in-market promotion of its Instagram account during a recent holiday.

We’ve also helped a fashion e-retailer serve the Japanese market with a translated e-commerce website, and translated Facebook posts. This localized social content has generated thousands of Japanese “likes,” hundreds of comments, and robust referral traffic to the company’s Japanese website.

Would you like to learn more about how MotionPoint can help your company smartly serve global consumers in their languages of choice, on their social networks of choice? Contact us for more information.

Last updated on December 06, 2016
Dominic Dithurbide's avatar

About Dominic Dithurbide

Dominic Dithurbide is a creative, goal-driven marketing leader that’s dedicated his career to the translation industry. Dominic brings proficiency in global marketing, demand generation, and go-to-market strategies to MotionPoint’s marketing team.

Dominic Dithurbide's avatar
Dominic Dithurbide

Marketing Manager


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