International Social Media Strategy: One Size Does Not Fit All

Remember when the search world was less defined than it is now? Your business was figuring out strategies for Lycos, Looksmart, Ask, YellowPages.com, Baidu, Excite, Inktomi, Dogpile, Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. Today, most companies focus on Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Baidu.

While the social media space is becoming more defined every day, it's still the Wild West; especially when you look to take your strategy international.

Don't fear these overwhelming amounts of international options. Embrace the opportunity, because it may not last long. Consolidation could be just around the corner.

However, we should still have a few years to "play." Many search experts will tell you that it was much more "fun" during the Wild West days because there were bigger payoffs.

Now, with everyone using similar PPC strategies on primarily three search engines -- with Google accounting for 70 percent -- there's less opportunity for that huge win. However, there are still huge wins to be made in social media.

This is particularly true when you take your social media strategy international. Just like search, social media is Silicon Valley-centric.

The U.S. and Canada are great areas to look at to see what is and isn't working and apply appropriately. While it's a good practice to look at the more progressive countries, be careful, as it's not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Vincenzo Cosenza took data from Google Trends and Alexa to compile a map of the largest social networks by country. Facebook dominates in most countries, and is growing, but social network Qzone, or QQ, still dominates in China. Some reports even indicated that QQ has more activity than Facebook.

Facebook was recently banned in China, so the folks in Palo Alto, California, are trying to determine the best strategy for playing in this giant market. Still, the company views the Chinese market as an opportunity.

So if, just like in the early search days, you roll up your sleeves and attack, you could win big. Stranger things have happened.

On the search side, Baidu still owns more than 70 percent of the search market, according to iResearch Consulting. In social media, Cosenza's map shows that Orkut is still strong in Brazil and India. Friendster has faded in all but the Philippines, and MySpace is trailing in all but Guam.

Consolidation is happening, and will continue to happen, in the social media space. Until then, where do you place your bets internationally?

If you don't have people on the ground in those markets, then talk with people who do. Many in the U.S. market could tell two to three years ago that the better money was on Facebook. This was done by simply looking at the technology limitations of MySpace at the time and, more importantly, listening to what the younger generations were saying and also doing (i.e., getting Facebook accounts).

Remember, this is a people-driven economy. The same can be done in other markets.

A consultant friend in India was recently looking for help in building out some items on Orkut. She was adamant that it had to be on Orkut. However, other friends in India told me they had switched to Facebook.

I asked her what social networks she used. She said she had an Orkut account, but primarily used Facebook. When pressed for why, she said it had better functionality and her friends were also on it. She then sent me a smile emoticon on Skype as she realized that Facebook may be the better play to test out right now.

This may fail, but that's OK. It was actually easier for her to try and build out and test a Facebook application, as her programmers knew how to do this. After weighing several factors, she realized her best first step was on Facebook.

She may still do something on Orkut shortly, or the market may have evolved further as well. But by keeping her investments light, she can remain flexible and not be paralyzed by "making the right choice."

I ran into something similar in Thailand, when I spoke with a woman who was on Facebook at the concierge desk of a hotel. At the time, Hi5 was the top network there. She indicated she used Hi5 but liked the functionality of Facebook a little better.

Keep in mind, Facebook wasn't translated into Thai at this point! Imagine that, she was putting extra effort in to work around the fact she didn't speak English. So if you don't have people in the markets it's imperative that you either visit or if that's too expensive, have at least some eyes and ears there for you.

Another good place to inquire is with the networks themselves. If you ask enough Facebook reps, you can determine that their growth markets in Europe are Spain and Germany.

The translation issue can be tricky as well, but who knows, maybe you can take a page from Facebook. They set up a Wiki to allow their users to translate the site from English to Spanish -- two weeks later it was done! Buena Suerta!

Erik Qualman's book "Socialnomics" will be in book stores August 26. For updates, follow him on Twitter @equalman.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center.