When you're communicating globally, it helps to think of social media not as a set of multilingual platforms to master, but as a bar where your fans pull
up a stool and chat over a beer.
In Russia and Ukraine, Facebook is an upstart against the established local Vkontakte. China is an ecosystem of its
own featuring Facebook and Twitter knockoffs.
But in every market, "the trends are all the same," says Maarten Albarda, vice president for global consumer connections at Anheuser-Busch InBev, which bottles Budweiser and
about 200 other brands.
"People love to connect. People spend large amounts of time on [social media]. People like to share things."
AB InBev, as it also calls itself, is one of a host of companies using social media on a worldwide scale. Coca-Cola maintains one primary Facebook page that looks different depending on the country where you
access it from, whereas Ikea has multiple sites organized by market and language. Its Facebook pages are
different in Canada and Australia, for instance.
China offers challenges of its own. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in the Communist state, so they are of little use in reaching customers
there, says Michael Kleist, founder of Tradesparq.com, a social network for global trade. Instead companies use
substitutes such as the Facebook clone Renren.com and the popular Twitter-like site Weibo.
"Typically, companies hire localization services or groups here in China that will create and manage pages in Chinese on the local popular social
networks," says Kleist, who is based in Shanghai.
"That is a lot easier than trying to build and manage a team just for social over here."
Starbucks, with annual revenue of $11.7 billion in 55 countries, has about 49 million Facebook fans across 42 global pages in different markets and language groups,
says Ryan Turner, director of global social media.
The company ensures a consistent message by following common policies across markets, with shared resources, brand guidelines, and metrics.
"The global team provides guidance and support, and markets drive execution and measure the results," Turner says.
AB InBev, which also bottles Stella Artois, must do social media for 200 beer brands around the world. It has
won 30 million fans, although the company puts a premium on quality of engagement, not numbers of "likes."
It's easy to drive up your numbers of so-called fans with a promotion, but these won't necessarily be the ones who stick around and buy your beer
long-term. Albarda prefers to focus on growing the numbers more organically, by engaging with true fans.
AB InBev's popular Brazilian brand Skol navigates both Facebook and Okut. Other brands take
competing sides in sports sponsorships: Budweiser is backing the U.S. Olympic team, whereas AB InBev's Chernigivske
is in Ukraine's corner.
The original social network
But social media is perhaps a little easier when you deal in, well, beer.
"We talk about beer as the original social network," Albarda says. "Beer's always been the thing people have in hand when they get together and they share
good times or they're having a meaningful conversation with their friends."
The Belgium-based company sets overall strategy internationally, making sure the messaging is on, Albarda says. But it allows local markets leeway to work
within their culture. In China, for one, AB InBev's Harbin and Sedrin both are active on Weibo.
In the U.S., Budweiser and Bud Light sponsor sports like major league baseball and NASCAR racing,
whereas in Britain the sport is soccer. The brewer has made its mark through the U.K.'s FA Cup, a soccer
tournament where teams from throughout the country compete, ranging from lowly amateurs to powerhouses like Manchester United.
On opening day, AB InBev live-streamed a game on Facebook between two all-but-unknown contenders: Wembley FC and Ascot Utd. The teams, which tend to draw
no more than a few hundred people watching a game, drew a Facebook audience of 30,000 people.
"So something really small can grow much bigger because of the whole social aspect," Albarda says.
Tools for monitoring
Albarda declines to state the size of his social media team. But for international monitoring, AB InBev uses Syncapse.com, which is also rolling out in China. In some markets the company augments this with local additional
resources, as well as Radian6 or comScore.
Coca-Cola—which posted revenue of $6.71 billion in 2010—operates a Facebook page that appears different in the U.S. and, say, Germany, the company reports.
It is supervised by a staff of seven in Atlanta, but employees in more than 200 countries worldwide decide on what the Facebook page will look like
depending upon where their customers view it, selecting options from content provided by the company.
The drink distributor has built proprietary tools enabling its agencies and marketers to schedule what they want to say in specific cities, countries and
This week Coke is busy posting and tweeting links on Facebook and Twitter to its YouTube site, where
it's broadcasting from London in advance of the Olympics.
International communications barriers aren't limited to language. There's also the question of what you do with social media when your fans engage. If
someone raves about you on Twitter, for example, do you thank them? Perhaps not in Germany, but in Brazil, engagement is expected, Albarda says.
Just as important as knowing the culture is being nimble and responding to the market. During the World Cup, AB InBev reallocated resources to the
Spanish-speaking world when it saw it was getting huge engagement there, Albarda says.
"The biggest challenge is, once you enter, you play it on a daily basis," he says. "You have to be tracking, monitoring, learning, adjusting. Because
otherwise, you'll miss those kinds of opportunities."
Russell Working is a staff writer for Ragan.com.