Ask any English speaker to name the world’s biggest social media networks and the usual suspects would dominate the responses: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and possibly LinkedIn.
Most savvy brands, however, know that there’s a big world outside of that bubble. If it’s truly global exposure you’re after, then you need to look beyond Silicon Valley.
There are a multitude of non-English language networks with huge market share outside of the US, UK and other English-speaking nations. The thirst for social media in certain regions is seemingly unquenchable. In East Asia, for instance, a third of the world’s social media users live despite the area only having 22 per cent of the world’s population.
Before we explore some of the key questions brands should be asking themselves, let’s take a look at some of the largest non-English language social networks…
A South Korean network that peaked at 35 million users in 2011, Cyworld enables its users to connect with friends by creating avatars in a virtual world. It might sound out-dated (remember Second Life?), but it became a cultural phenomenon in its home nation. So much so that it attempted to go global, a project that ended in embarrassing failure. It’s still going but has lost significant ground to Facebook, as this chart so precisely illustrates…
Facebook and Twitter were banned in China in 2009 following a series of riots that the government partly blamed on the rise of social media. In their stead came Sina Weibo, a combination of the two but with closer state controls. The platform follows a micro-blogging structure (Weibo literally means ‘micro-blog’), with a familiar 140-character limit imposed on posts. In 2015 Weibo introduced ‘Radar’, a feature that, among other things, enables users to find deals and discounts in their area. McDonalds were one of the first partners.
Russian network VK, previously known as VKontakte, is one of the largest social networks in Europe with more than 85 million active users. Its interface is similar to Facebook, with users able to message friends, create pages and groups, share and tag images and also upload photos and videos. Brands can set up their own pages, but unofficial groups are often more popular. An independent Nike page, for instance, has four times as many members as the official Nike brand page. Intriguingly, advertisers can request to advertise in a relevant group at a price they determine; the group admin then approves or rejects it.
The system appears to be working. According to an Econsultancy post, “For a long time VK has been seen purely as a marketing platform to boost brand awareness. Over the last two years, however, it is increasingly being recognised as a revenue driving channel that is outperforming traditional marketing channels such as search and display in terms of reach and ROI.”
Another Chinese social media giant, QZone was launched in 2005 as a virtual world and social networking application for content sharing. Users can write blogs, keep diaries, send photos, listen to music, and watch videos. It had 846 million actives at the last count, though this is rather dubiously linked to the heft of its owner Tencent. The Chinese internet giant also owns other popular platforms (such as WeChat) and joining one automatically registers you for another. Despite this, QZone is an attractive social network for brands due to its flexibility. Companies can customise pages and integrate multimedia content and applications.
A Latin American network with Argentinian roots, Taringa! enables its 27 million registered members to share posts on topics as varied as technology, recipes, sport and life hacks. Users are rated depending on how well their content is received by others; if you’re brand new you’re a ‘novato’, with a total of six ranks open to normal users. Celebrities get their own special rank, while brands who pay to advertise on the platform become partners.
Another Chinese offering, Kuaishou was launched in 2011 as a video sharing app. Known for its Jackass-style stunt videos, it’s hot property and rumours suggest a US IPO could be in the offing later this year. Success has been rapid, with its 200 million userbase leading its owners to consider monetising content by setting up a short video advertising business.
Baidu is China’s version of Google, and Tieba was created in 2003 as a place for online communities to develop around a certain topic. It’s business model was sound: Keeping users within the search engine ecosystem gave Baidu the opportunity to target them with advertising, rather than lose out to external websites. Users can create or join groups, of which there are currently more than eight million covering topics such as film stars, books and movies. This very specific focus makes Tieba a tempting proposition for brands to target super relevant audiences.
Founded in 2006, this social discovery app actually has its headquarters in London but is most popular in Italy, France, Spain, and Latin America. The app enables users to search for others based in their area, which unsurprisingly means it is used predominantly by the dating market. Users can also find people they may have bumped into in real life; and once a connection has been made users can chat within the app itself. Businesses can join Badoo’s White Label program, which allows them to create a free branded design for their business. Brands can use the site to sell advertising and premium features to their customers.
This list does not include messaging apps such as Line and KakaoTalk.
Key questions brands need to consider
- What are the key markets for your brand? Whatever your answer, there will be a social network to help you reach them. Do your research and make a list of the networks that are most popular in the regions you want to target.
- What are the most relevant networks to your brand? Consider the demographic, language and culture of your target audience before you go charging in.
- How will you maintain these channels on a regular basis? Who will translate content and how much will it cost? What is the turnaround time for translations? How will you respond to enquiries from other time zones or in other languages?
- Are there local laws or regulations around products, advertising or promotions?
- What are the cultural and political sensitivities? Coca-Cola are one example of a brand that failed to do its research.
- Is it possible to manage your chosen non-English networks in your preferred social media management tool?