Localized Social Media = Global Commerce

by Rob Vandenberg, president & CEO of Lingotek

“Ich bin ein Berliner.” John F. Kennedy announced this famous phrase in Germany on June 26, 1963. Kennedy’s statement, which translates to “I am a citizen of Berlin,” has since become a symbol for international unity.

These days, U.S. based multinationals could be saying the same thing: they are selling as much or more abroad as they are at home. More than 50 percent of the S&P 500’s growth comes from overseas, and it is standard practice for corporations to have employees, partners and customers around the world.

As Kennedy knew, when there are international allies involved, good collaboration is a must. Today’s multinational companies are driven to adopt social media out of a need for international collaboration and knowledge sharing. A 2010 survey by Jive Software of more than 300 companies found that businesses can generate and capture more ideas and be more productive when they use social media. Social media enables companies to sell more to new customers, increase brand awareness and retain a higher number of existing customers, the survey found.

A 2010 McKinsey report also unearthed a correlation between social networking and increased market share. Companies gain market share “by forging closer marketing relationships with customers and by involving them in customer support and product-development efforts [as well as] … collaborating across organizational silos and sharing information more broadly.”

When content is freed from IT silos like email, employees can use the knowledge therein for years; increasing the content’s return on investment.

In a study by Stanford University, Senior Research Scholar Rafiq Dossani found that companies can best use social media in two ways. One is “to improve the reliability of information,” such as developing a blog to effectively communicate thought leadership to a market. The second is “to access new information,” opening the door for innovation.

Social media increasingly provides an advantage to companies to more effectively use existing knowledge and gain new knowledge.

Employees at all levels are adopting social media: 92M millenials (born between 1980 and 2000) are entering the work place, and these young people gravitate easily towards social media in the because they already use it so much in their daily social lives. Yet studies show that use of social media in the work place is not just limited to millenials. All generations of workers are increasingly using Web 2.0 to do their jobs.

If corporations haven’t already adopted social media, it is important that they start now. UIltimately, social media will likely surpass email as a more dynamic, powerful tool for collaboration.

Where in the world is your Web 2.0?

The adoption of social media not only spans employee generations, but also geographical location. Social media is exploding in throughout Europe and in countries like Indonesia, Japan and Brazil. Web 2.0 companies are meeting this trend by adapting their offerings to global regions. Google Orkut is translated into 48 different languages and localized for many of its markets. Internationally, customers are becoming highly accustomed to the adaptation of social media to their own culture, rather than as a “one size fits all” offering. For corporations to be truly global they need to work within this trend — both from a customer-facing perspective as well as internally.

Global companies need to leverage social media, from blogs to social networks, to effectively communicate with their customers around the world. Customer loyalty can be greatly enhanced specifically through culturally adapted social media outreach, which dramatically increases the effectiveness and impact of social media content.

From an internal corporate perspective, international employees are likely to conduct the bulk of their work in their own language. Social media such as Wikis, instant messaging, Web 2.0 learning tools and communities of practice, which serve to keep employees productive and engaged, also need to be culturally adapted in order to be effective.

In tandem with the globalization of business, the globalization of social media in the work place allows employees to communicate seamlessly and in real time, according to their country and language. This in turn optimizes knowledge and innovation, enabling global teams to accurately develop marketing materials and products that are relevant to their unique markets.

As mass adoption of social media occurs around the world, increased reliance on Web 2.0 in the global workplace will naturally follow. Developing a culturally adapted social media strategy will enable companies to keep pace in areas where social dynamics are critical. As a result, companies can:

    • More effectively establish global partner relationships.
    • Keep a pulse on global markets.
    • Develop localized communities of practice.
    • Share information within and across global offices more effectively.
    • Increase customer and employee loyalty.
    • Efficiently work within quickly changing global markets.
    • Enhance process efficiency.

In 1963, John F. Kennedy said “I am a citizen of Berlin.” Today’s adaptation for the successful global company may well be “I am a global citizen of social media.” Social media leads to communication, and communication leads to commerce. Likewise, to globalize is really to localize. Only when companies adapt their social media to fit the diverse cultural needs within their organizations and customer base, does commerce truly gain global traction.

Rob Vandenberg is president and CEO of Lingotek. Prior to Lingotek, Rob was one of the first 20 U.S. employees at INTERSHOP Communications where he helped build its worldwide business and helped make the INTERSHOP IPO one of the most successful enterprise software company IPOs in US history ($10B market cap). Later, Rob co-founded and served as the CEO of LocalVoice, which was acquired by HarrisConnect in 2005. Rob received a bachelor’s degree in political economics from UC Berkeley.