Five Questions E-Businesses Should Ask Before Going Global


Five Questions E-Businesses Should Ask Before Going Global

By Liz Elting – July 25, 2011

For any e-business with an eye on international expansion, one question is likely to trump all others in terms of immediacy and relevance: Will globalization be profitable? E-tailers are understandably concerned about the investments required to tap into global markets and the potential return on those investments. With cost cutting in mind before strategic planning ever begins, it’s no wonder why so many e-commerce companies place heavy marketing emphasis on social media. Blogs can increase search engine optimization (SEO) rankings, Twitter is a direct connection to customers, and Facebook use is ubiquitous around the world. Better yet, these platforms are (seemingly) free. Despite the attractive qualities of this kind of marketing for international outreach, there are five important questions organizations should ask themselves before pinning their global goals on social media.

1. Can social media efforts carry my international marketing campaigns?

The short answer to this question is, “no.” The longer answer is more complicated. Social media has had a profound impact on the way marketers view global campaigns. Particularly for organizations that have successfully moved closer to domestic customers via Twitter and Facebook, the temptation to build international outreach efforts on these platforms is great. However, despite its accessibility and hype, social media alone can’t support an otherwise faulty international marketing plan. It’s important that businesses view social media as one part of an integrated approach created with sound international search engine marketing (ISEM) strategies at its center.

2. What is ISEM?

ISEM starts with research into regionally relevant keywords. This activity should be spearheaded by translation and localization experts who understand the nuance of regional dialects and colloquial speech, as well as the parameters of preferred search engines. In most of the world, the latter means Google. However, in China, for example, website visitors are more likely to use local search engine Baidu, which uses different algorithms than Google.

3. How do I incorporate ISEM into my international marketing strategy?

With the most effective keywords selected, businesses can begin building multi-pronged efforts in new markets. This might include targeted pay-per-click ads, relevant landing pages, multilingual rich media, adapted banner ads, out-of-home advertising, experiential marketing with people on the ground, philanthropic community involvement, and events like launch parties and networking functions, as well as social media outreach, if appropriate.

4. If I choose to embrace social media abroad, how can I ensure adequate ROI?

For those that determine social media should be one of the elements in branching out internationally, there are a couple of needs to consider. First, social media requires human management. Complete reliance on machine translation is rarely a good idea, but it can be a real problem in social media, which requires ongoing engagement. If social media is part of the marketing mix, hire a local translation expert who is knowledgeable about the company’s international messaging, as well as about regional cultural norms and search engine algorithms.

5. Is there a quick way to tackle social media and check it off my to-do list?

Social media is not a one-and-done activity. Direct connections between brands and prospects work best when they are tended over the long term. Blogs, for example, need fresh, relevant content several times per week. Twitter accounts must be updated multiple times per day, customer communications should be responded to immediately, and Facebook walls need to be monitored and updated.

If e-businesses could ask only one question before beginning strategic planning for international expansion, perhaps that question should be, “What activity will influence my success most?” The answer won’t be social media outreach; it will be ISEM. When multiple languages and disparate regional norms are part of the mix, e-tailers must follow best practices for international search engine market before they undertake any other initiatives, including social media.

When done right, social media can deliver ROI, but not all industries reap these rewards. It pays to analyze the behavior of domestic customers and weigh that into the decision regarding international social media investment. Regardless of whether social media is part of the final international marketing strategy, a sound ISEM foundation is essential to attracting new visitors in target regions, engaging prospects and customers, encouraging brand loyalty and boosting conversions.

About the Author

Liz Elting is co-founder and co-CEO of TransPerfect, the world’s largest privately held provider of language and business services. Elting oversees the day-to-day operations of the company, headquartered in New York City.


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