There are 23 officially recognized languages in the European Union alone. On top of that, there are several regional languages, slang words and so on. If we go even deeper, some subcultures handle their own rules across Europe by developing a set of acronyms and street words. In addition, the digital culture helps in promoting new cultural 'words' like 'brunch' or 'selfie'. All in all, the various communications barriers can make European markets are some of the most complicated to tackle for brands, in relation to content development.
While most US case studies tend to demonstrate a global approach that's then rolled out worldwide, they tend to underperform in European countries. Social clusters don't see the value proposals of overly global communications, or they're simply not on the platforms that brands populate.
Relevance means "glocal"
Some social channels - visual ones in particular - are perfectly suited for global translation.
Most big brands, for example, only have one Instagram account, and they work because users don't necessarily need to read the captions to understand the content.
However, call-to-actions are therefore limited as brands aren't able to ask questions or provide direction to their international audience.
In Europe, over half of Europeans (54%) are able to hold a conversation in at least one additional language, which means that they're unable to actively work around a social post. Relying too much on global accounts is risky to build up a relevant audience and shape a community for the future.
Beyond simple translations, there's a need to convey both a tone-of-voice and a set of content or activities that can appeal to local cultures. That doesn't necessarily mean that you need to focus on a majority of local content, and only use a minority of global assets - but is is important to create a content journey that's able to establish relevant ties.
Social relevance starts by real-life experience
A mixture of global content can go hand-in-and with local social activities. Nike Running clubs or running events across Europe give a sense of belonging to a wide diversity of people - like a sports game, the rules are more or less the same depending in each region, and the actual process remains unchanged. Because of this, Nike can develop a familiarity and community around such events.
Retail or hospitality businesses, too, also know how to grow through such familiarity without exploding budgets.
Boutique hotel Mama Shelter (part of Accor Hotels) has developed a brick and mortar identity through uniform staff training processes across the world, which means that from Istanbul to Paris, there's a strong consistency in the experience, as well as in the social media interactions that guests have with their hotels.
Social relevance starts by filtering "global" mentions and stop reading American-English
This might seem a bit provocative, but sometimes, the English language is the enemy of relevance.
When it comes to social listening, most of the monitoring systems overate American-English signals. The problem is that very few global social media managers filter by countries, especially when they don't understand the languages of these regions. But some of those nations are home to extremely powerful influencers: Poland, Netherlands, but also Latvia and Bulgaria have their own digital influencers that reach millions of users across diverse channels - Vine, Instagram, YouTube or VK, just to mention a few. Despite this, very few global campaigns highlight these individuals, leaving them to rely heavily on what would be categorized as 'traditional' digital influencers.
A good exercise is to be curious enough to dive into these regional areas and understand their influencers - could they be just as relevant for your brand or product?
Cracking the cultural dilemma: creating an empowerment system instead of constraining guidelines for local social media managers
After interviewing many of my peers, we all came to the conclusion that old-school guidelines are barely used or read in Europe, except if your company has invested little in creative and marketing clouds. Most brand managers play with low-budget tools: the good old Microsoft Office suite.
Therefore, social media guidelines can be perceived as an additional constraint coming from the 'HQ' instead of a pragmatic tool to rely on.
Consequently, organizations will often break the traditional flow of such guidelines in order to focus on a more collaborative process:
- Regularly highlighting local digital champions
- Regular optimization of local content based on results coming from other local social media teams
- A week in the life of... another local social media manager to bring cultural edges to the range of local teams
- KPIs based on progressions instead of big macro-numbers