Social media marketing creates new coordination challenges for global brands.

Home Social media marketing creates new coordination challenges for global brands.

[By Christian Leman and Joseph Halverson – Many thanks to Suzanne Burley]

The session “Social Media: Just US?†last month at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas offered a valuable insight on international social media.

On the one hand, global brands are increasingly relying on social media marketing, which is all about conversations. Marketers are eager to leverage the amazing collective intelligence accumulated by online communities to gather market intelligence, to support customers, to use fans as promoters, to test products or campaigns. Doing so, they also realize that these conversations require real people to interact; social media is not the place for scripted dialog and automated responses. Only local teams that can perfectly apprehend the nuances of language and culture can interact with communities at the proper level of sophistication. In addition, several countries such as China, South Korea, Brazil, and The Netherlands have adopted country‑specific social media platforms as alternatives to Facebook. It is often impossible to manage those platforms otherwise than locally.

As Torsten Schollmayer (Sapient Nitro) explains: when Kit Kat (Nestlé group) in Germany faced the major PR crisis of the Greenpeace campaign against their use of palm oil, they were missing a savvy social media team locally to understand and engage in the dialogue. Legal action is the worse response in the social media world. Brands have to learn to “fight social media fire with social media waterâ€, says Drew Neisser (

Having actual local presence is especially relevant when a brand has distinct images in different markets. For instance, Ford is known for large cars in the US and small cars in the UK; this is forcing them to have different Facebook pages in the US and the UK.

According to Robin Grant (We Are Social), the traditional model of creating centralized assets and distributing them to each market to localize does not work for social media; the majority of assets spent needs to happen in the market itself. Most companies are just not structured for social media. In some cases, even budgets need to be allocated differently.

Companies such as Texas Instruments are adapting their strategy and are in the process of hiring a community manager in China and building stronger teams in Europe. THQ, a video game company, had to expand marketing budgets because of social media as they realized that the exact same game needs to be launched differently in various countries, even where English is the official language (for instance, in Australia vs. the USA). For Intel, social media resources should be funded by shifting marketing budgets away from other online channels (emailing, search). The preferred approach is to fit budget between emailing, search and social media, by comparing time spend by user versus costs.

On the other hand, international brands live in a world where the media reach is more global than ever. Inconsistencies in brand positioning have never been riskier. Global brands are adapting to better account for both global and local impacts in their campaigns: the Brazilian version of the Coca-cola “Happy truck†commercial is a great example. Posted on YouTube, it generated comments from fans in many countries outside of Brazil, including Australia, Africa, Poland, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Canada, and the U.S.A. It is interesting to notice that the magic button on the Brazilian happy truck says “Push†in big letters and in English! Did Coca-Cola anticipate that the commercial would be seen by a far larger audience than Brazil? Is the Brazilian commercial really for the Brazilian market, or just to leverage a Brazilian image for a global audience?

Research shows that consumers do not pay attention to national borders with social media. They don’t think in terms of Coca Cola USA vs. Coca Cola UK. It is more difficult than ever before to target messages by country without taking into account possible reactions in other markets. Inconsistencies are not only more visible, they are also more dangerous. Previously, unhappy consumers sent angry letters or emails to the local customer service department. Today, social media users can trigger powerful collective reactions that can wreak havoc on global brands. At Intel, after allowing local marketing teams to explore options, the trend internally is now towards consolidation and defining global best practices (such as an official comment policy

Social media marketing creates new coordination challenges for global brands. Most of them are heading towards local social media teams, sharing strong coordination and best practices. Overall, it seems that a set of principles are emerging as applicable in any country, across languages and cultures: (1) listening first, and not trying to control the conversations; (2) engaging in the conversations in a transparent fashion; consumers tend to remain much more rational when they know that the brand listens and responds honestly; (3) correcting mistakes and valuing feedback; it is amazing how fans are available to help out.