International Social Media Marketing: Addressing Cultural Quirks

With the news that Google and Bing take some data from social media sources into account when they rank pages, it seems that now’s the time to start factoring multilingual social media campaigns into your international search engine marketing (SEM).

The problem with international social media campaigns is that usage can vary greatly between cultures, with some countries very social-savvy, while for others social media is the domain of only niche demographics.

How do the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) use social media? Read on for some statistics and anecdotal evidence based on personal experience and conversations with other international SEMs.


Good news for online marketers with Portuguese language skills — Brazilians are massive social media fans. About one in four Brazilians uses social media, which equates to over 55 million people, with each spending on average between 5 and 8 hours on social media each month. Indeed, the average Brazilian spends twice as much time online as watching TV.

Google’s Orkut is far and away the most popular search engine in Brazil, with 80 percent market share — it’s the highest ranked website in Brazil after Google. Even so, it’s a fairly narrow market — half of Orkut users are under 25 and 80 percent are male.

The main point to note about Orkut users is that they are resistant to straight-up advertising in social media — when Google tried to monetize Orkut with targeted advertisements in 2007, they ran into hot water and had to withdraw the ads. Orkut Promote, the current Orkut advertising strategy, takes its cue from Digg and allows users to trash-bin ads they don’t like.

Considering the network’s community-based spirit, your best bet is to start a grassroots fan movement with quality, engaging content, rather than bombarding users with advertising.


Russians are very keen on social media, both for business and pleasure, with LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook all popular, as well as the Russian networking site Interestingly, one observation we’ve encountered is that many Russians tend to communicate on a personal level in English, but use Russian for all business-related posts. Just another good reason to have a Russian language social media presence!

One case study of a good use of social media to reach a Russian audience was Clearasil, who realized the best way to reach Russian teenagers was via an interactive group page on The page saw more than 500,000 Russian teens interacting by posting profile photos — and an increase in sales in Russia of 30 percent.


The web is still taking root in India, driven by the spread of Internet-enabled mobile phones, with research showing that the majority of Indian social networkers will first access social media using their phones — an estimated market of 72 million users by 2014.

India is currently the seventh largest social network user in the world, with Google’s Orkut leading the charge with 15.5 million users to Facebook’s 9.6 million — although Facebook is expected to take the lead within the next year.

Blogger, Twitter, and YouTube also garner significant audiences, as do Bebo and more niche social networking sites such as Ibibo, which is designed around online games, music sharing, and self-promotion.


The Chinese absolutely love social media, with the highest online engagement rate in the world — 92 percent of online Chinese use some form of social media. And seeing as China is the world’s leading nation in Internet use, that means if you’re looking to break into the Chinese online market, then dabbling in social media is a must-do.

The question, though, is which networks to target to find your demographic. China’s four biggest social networks are,,, and

Qzone is the biggest Chinese player, with a claimed 380 million users (although RenRen has the most active users). The demographics break down as such:

  • Qzone has 22 percent market share and is popular with teens and casual users, boosted by traffic from instant-message network QQ Messenger.
  • Facebook clone RenRen has 17 percent market share and is the dominant network for university students.
  • has 12 percent market share and is dominant among rural social media users.
  • While Kaixin001 also has 12 percent market share and is popular with white collar workers in first tier cities, thanks to its range of procrastination-friendly games!

Best of luck in your international social media marketing efforts!

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