Centralised vs Localised Social Media Presences for International Brands

When marketing an international company the old adage ‘think global, act local’ is often coined; but does the same ring true for social media? I was recently asked by a client to make some recommendations on how to handle their social media presence given their international audience; and I thought that I’d also share my thinking on this here.

Essentially the client was asking whether they should have a single central account, or have accounts for each of their individual markets. As with most questions of this sort, there’s not necessarily a single ‘right’ answer. It really depends on each individual company’s situation - for example:

Is there a compelling reason to suggest that more than one single social account on each platform is required?

Examples might include:

  • Language differences
  • Cultural differences
  • Deliberate differences in messaging / tone of voice
  • Differences in promotional activity
  • Differences in social media platform usage from country to country
  • Is sufficient resource available to maintain more than one presence?

If there’s not a compelling reason to justify a localised presence then a centralised presence is almost certainly the most appropriate solution.  However, I think that regardless of whether or not a company elects to run localised social accounts it’s a good idea to take ownership of all localised variants of their brand, and use the variants to push users to the centralised account.

If a localised approach is preferred clear signposting to all the other localised accounts is beneficial to help direct users to the most appropriate account for them.

 

Pros & Cons of Centralised vs. Localised Social Media Presences

Beyond these key considerations I think that there are pros and cons to both the centralised and localised approach, which I’ve outlined below:

Centralised Pros

  • Consistency of messaging
  • Ease of management
  • The potential to build accounts with high numbers of followers
  • Easier for users – i.e. there’s only one account to follow

Centralised Cons

  • Multi-lingual accounts may turn off users (and of course there are differences even with US and UK English so even if an account isn’t truly multi-lingual this may be a problem)
  • Localised offers / promotions are difficult to communicate effectively and as not all messaging will be relevant to your entire audience your community will likely be less engaged

 

Localised Pros

  • No language barriers
  • Easy to run local initiatives (e.g. country-specific promotions)
  • Assuming your audience is following the correct localised account all messaging will be relevant to them and this is likely to lead to a more engaged, healthy community

Localised Cons

  • As your audience is split across a number of accounts it can be difficult to build up accounts with high audience numbers (this is particularly pertinent on platforms such as YouTube)
  • Harder to control centralised messaging / tone of voice
  • More complex to manage
  • Potentially confusing for your audience – e.g. they may end up following the wrong account

 

Examples in the wild...

McDonalds – Localised & Centralised Accounts

McDonalds have elected to go with the localised approach (although they have some issues in that they don’t have control of the McDonalds UK twitter handle) and they also have centralised ‘McDonalds Corp’ accounts too.

Twitter

McDonald’s USA

McDonald’s Canada

McDonalds UK (sad trombone)

 

Facebook

McDonald’s USA

McDonalds Canada

McDonald’s UK

 

YouTube

McDonalds USA

McDonald’s Canada

McDonald’s UK

I am aware that the world extends far beyond USA, Canada and the UK - I just picked these as examples :)

 

Plus the Centralised accounts…

In addition to their localised accounts McDonald’s also maintain ‘McDonald’s Corp’ accounts on YouTube; Facebook and Twitter which seem to be there to support global brand messaging.

 

Why all the McDonald’s talk? You after free burgers or something?

Free burgers are always welcome.

Actually though it’s because I think that overall McDonald’s are doing a reasonable job of managing their social presence (UK Twitter issues aside). The social accounts are fairly well differentiated – as such users shouldn’t find it too difficult to follow the appropriate account. Plus these localised presences allow them to tailor their messaging appropriately.

The addition of the centralised McDonald’s Corp accounts also allow for global messaging (although arguably this could be fed down and pushed via the local accounts instead).

 

Aston Martin - Centralised Accounts

Aston Martin have elected to keep things clean and simple with centralised social media accounts. This makes the management of the various accounts much easier, and of course it’s easier for their consumers, as there’s no danger of them following the wrong account. That said this approach doesn’t allow any flexibility in terms of ‘local’ messaging.

Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

 

Lessons from Coca Cola

In sharp contrast Coca Cola seem to have themselves in something of a pickle.

They have a mish-mash of centralised, localised, campaign-specific and product-specific social accounts. The result of which is they are likely impacting their potential reach and confusing consumers.

Twitter

In the UK on twitter there’s the UK account and a campaign specific account for Coke Zone. There’s also the centralised account which occasionally seems to have a US bias, although there are tweets in other languages via that feed too. Then there’s the Coke Zero account which you’d be forgiven for thinking was Global, but is apparently North America only. Oh dear.

Facebook

It looks like they’re trying to tidy things up a bit here - but nevertheless they have a Coca Cola page, and a Coke Zero page simultaneously trying to target everyone, everywhere. Oh wait, then I found a page for Australia... It all feels a bit messy.

YouTube

What’s this? At first I thought they had just one account.

But then I found an Australian version and a version for Spain... And I’m a bit lost again. It seems that UK and USA are targeted simultaneously, and yet Australia gets it’s own country specific presence. The Spain differentiation I understand completely, but the US / UK / Australia thing? Baffling.

In fairness to Coca Cola, they seem to have generated more engagement via YouTube than McDonalds with this, their main account, so they’re clearly doing something right.

 

Takeaways

Don’t make the mistakes that Coca Cola have and let your social media presence become too diluted with large numbers of accounts.

There’s a reasonably strong argument to be made for a single, centralised (and therefore strong) account on YouTube (or if you’re multi-language having language specific accounts only) to maximise reach.

If you are going with a localised approach make sure that you have sufficient resource to manage these accounts in each market. Also make sure your ducks are in a row with regards to social media policy so the brand ‘sounds’ and ‘behaves’ the same in each market.

 

And so dear readers over to you - did I miss anything? Are there other pros or cons to localised versus centralised social media accounts? Do let me know via the comments :)

 

Social Media Image credit - http://kexino.com

 

Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith

Hannah joined Distilled in September 2010 as a Consultant and is now on the Content Strategy team. Prior to this she spent over 7 years in offline marketing (point of sale, press advertising, direct mail & sponsorship), until her fairy godmother...   read more

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14 Comments

  1. Thanks for the insights, Hannah. The Coca Cola things is crazy - one of the world's biggest brands but seemingly without a concise social media strategy? This is obviously one of those situations where area managers/directors take the reigns with certain elements, leaving their colleagues in other areas behind, but without communicating it to the rest of the brand. It's pretty shocking for a company of Coca Cola's size & wealth, with a history of strong marketing.

    Out of interest, what did your client end up going for?

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  2. Hannah

    Hi Mark,

    Yep, Coke do seem to be in a bit of a mess :(

    As you say, in big companies it can be difficult to implement a strategy across many products, countries etc.

    The client elected to go with a mash-up of localised and centralised - very much like McDonalds :)

    reply >
  3. Great read Hannah,
    you've covered so many points that we continuosuly try convey to our clients. With Social Media, the importance of delivering a strong and consistent message to a relevent audience is key. I know you talk about large brands such as McDonalds in the above article, but I think it's also an interesting topic for small to medium size brands. With smaller brands the task is often to build up a core audience through a centralised strategy, but along the way as the audience builds up, there's a temptation to switch to a localised strategy. I'm not saying for one minute this is wrong, but sometimes the transition needs to be planned and delivered more carefully with a detailed strategy in place. I'm sure you'll agree that the last thing a brand wants to do, is to lose its identity or alienate its audience. Thanks once again for article. Mat (@OneNorthernSole)

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  4. Hannah

    Hi Mat,

    Thanks so much for your comment :)

    I'd definitely agree it's a challenge for brands both big and small; and you raise a really interesting point re transitioning to a local strategy - definitely a case where careful planning and communication is needed.

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  5. Hi Hannah,
    I enjoyed your talk last week! This is interesting - but you don't talk much about having one central Facebook account, but using Facebook's targeting to send different content to different markets. We update our Facebook page in 4-5 different languages, but people in each country only see the version intended for them. Have you any experience of this. We are never 100% the right people are seeing the right messages, and it means the page info and branding is centralised. I've also had cases of people located in the UK, with 'UK English' as their language setting not seeing our UK posts, so I don't exactly trust Facebook's targeting. I also wonder how the setup effects our edgerank. Would we have different edgerank in different territories, or would targeting only a small territory actually reduce edgerank overall due to the lower level of engagement (in terms of total numbers that is).

    reply >
  6. Hannah

    Hi Jessica,

    Thanks!

    No I didn't talk about the Facebook targeting option largely because it's pretty difficult to see if individual brands are doing it. (If I understand it correctly), if they've implemented location targeting I'll only see content targeted at the UK.

    As a feature I think it's pretty good - as it makes it easy for your audience to find you - just one account; plus you can serve them appropriate content; so it's simultaneously centralised and localised; although there are obvious drawbacks - as you say, you have to 'trust' that Facebook are serving the right content to the right people.

    However, I'm guessing 'some' targeting is better than none.

    Regarding edgerank - my understanding is that edgerank is not a global score - it's 'assigned' at an individual level.

    Let's imagine I'm your number one fan. Your edgerank score with me means almost everything you post appears in my timeline. Conversely, another person (let's call her Janice) only thinks you're ok. She liked your page once, but hasn't interacted since. Your edgerank score with her is low. Next to nothing you post appears in her timeline.

    What I like about the location targeting feature (plus you can also target by other options like age, gender etc) is that because you'll likely be pushing out more relevant posts, you'd hope for more engagement; and of course more engagement means a higher edgerank. Makes sense?

    Thanks for your comment :)

    reply >
  7. Hi,

    I really enjoyed the article, but couldn't help but notice that you aren't really comparing apples to apples. Of course Aston Martin is going to be centralized! Most people who can afford those cars are going to speak and read at least some English.

    McDonalds has to be localized, because they localize everything...I recently read an article in HBR by Nataly Kelly explaining this in detail. It is a good read, check it out for sure.

    IMO, localized is the only way to go. It is just like your website. If you are going to operate in different markets, speak to them in their language, using their venacular and idioms. Not doing so makes it seem like they are not a priority.

    Anyhow, glad to see international issues get some play on this blog, thanks for that!

    reply >
    • Hannah

      Hi Zeph,

      I wasn’t claiming to be comparing apples with apples; just using examples of international brands to illustrate a point – like I said, I don’t think there’s one ‘right’ answer – it depends on the company, their resources and the markets they work in.

      I’m not too sure what you mean by this – “Of course Aston Martin is going to be centralized! Most people who can afford those cars are going to speak and read at least some English.” …But I’d be surprised if that’s the reason Aston Martin keep a single social media presence.

    • I just read my comment and realized that it could be meant as a critique. Totally not the case, I just hadn't had my coffee yet. :)

      Maybe the Aston Martin example isn't a forgone conclusion, but it seems logical to me that as a luxury brand, most of their potential customers would speak and read English.

      Since I was feeling bad about coming off as grumpy (sorry about that) I did a little research: Aston Martin has 125 dealerships worldwide including Russia and South Africa. It appears that they operate as franchises, meaning that your examples are far more similar than I might have imagined. As you say, the choice is probably more strategic that my first analysis.

      As someone who works exclusively in a secondary language, my perspective is always going to be localized is better. The fact is that no matter the budget, there are solutions that can work that don't involve a whole lot of resources. Of course there are situations where this is not the case, but just like your client, I always suggest that a local touch can go a long way.

      Anyhow, thanks for the case study, and I look forward to buying you a beer and discussing this in person at a conference sometime!

  8. Hey Hannah,

    Excellent case study. This is true that centralized and Localized brand will have a difference in followers or fans. You have put the great insights here for McDonald's. I have seen that McDonald's home page is also giving a link back to Facebook page of USA so it seems that they are not interested to give a link to Canada branch or any other.
    Same is the case with Astro Martin that they have more traffic from all around the world rather then a specific country.
    It seems that most of the targeted traffic can give you more benefit as you are targeting the fans according to your needs.
    If i have these kinds of big brands, I will always go for targeting my specific need or specific area. :)

    Thank you

    Zane

    reply >
  9. Thanks Hannah, all good points! Appreciate the feedback!

    reply >
  10. Hannah

    Hi Zeph,

    Thanks for your second comment - hope to bump into you at a conference sometime :)

    reply >
  11. wow! didn't realize Coca-Cola had such messy social presence despite being one of the biggest brand in the world. Go get 'em distilled!

    reply >
  12. Tom M

    Thanks for this article Hannah, I appreciate it! Nice to see who's succeeding!

    reply >

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