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3 Ways to Adapt Your Social Media Strategy for Europe

Ann Marie Taepke.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to hear Bastian Scherbeck from We Are Social speak about how social media in Europe differs from the US. Being part of an international team of 180 people in eight offices puts Scherbeck in a very unique position, as he constantly sees both the major and minor differences between social networking in different countries. Below is a summary of his presentation touching on differences in three areas: norms and beliefs, values and traditions and platform perceptions.

1. Mind the Gap

There are certain norms and beliefs with European countries that boil down to attitudes—essentially, what is right and what is wrong to people socially. They can be defined as 'gaps' in the way we, as Americans, think about online activity and social media versus Europeans.

Private domain gap: This concept refers to the strict divide most Europeans have between their personal and professional lives. Typically Europeans will have less contacts in social networks, and are very selective in who they choose to interact with. There is also a higher resistance to sharing compared to Americans. Therefore, campaigns that incorporate a sharing element need to have a higher incentive to share.

Data privacy gap: A key cultural difference between US and Europe, especially for Germans, is the hesitation to share information with a 3rd party. Europeans value their data privacy as a universal and individual right. In contrast, US social networks share as much user data with 3rd parties as they possibly can.

Availability gap: European workplaces typically have strict access to social networks and other socially enabled platforms. Roughly 31% of all US companies restrict social networks compared to a whopping 60-80% of European companies. Consequently, there is considerably less desktop usage time during daylight and working hours. This does, however, provide a slight lift in mobile traction during that time.

Quick Tip: Europeans are more selective in social media with what information they share, and who they share with.  European business are also more likely to block social networks than US ones.

2. Respect Cultural Values

Similar to North American strategies, the way you talk, the time you post and the images you use can all affect your success or failure as a brand in social media.

For example, the language barrier of how to say 'you' in languages like German, French, Spanish or Italian can be a crucial decision. All of the languages mentioned have a formal and informal version of the word 'you,' which makes choosing your tone of voice very important. A great tip to help you choose which tone is best: observe how users are talking to the brand, then mirror their language. This can be especially important in crisis or customer service issues because if you have been talking to them in a less formal way and an issue arises, you can use the more formal voice to create a serious tone.

Europe also has a stricter time schedule, so it is important to observe these cultural differences to optimize engagement. Between 2 and 5pm, Spain typically holds siesta, and in the Netherlands, it is rarer for people to work after 6pm since family life is highly valued. Summer holiday between the months of June and August should also be minded, as most countries observe some sort of extended vacation at that time.

Color choice can also be a point of consideration, as different hues can signal certain statements. For example, using the color orange in your new Facebook cover photo could be great for a brand heavily concentrated in the Netherlands since it’s the color for the Dutch Royal Family, but it may not be as well received in other countries due to their political affiliation.

Quick Tip: Before any execution, extensive cultural research should be done to determine formal and informal language differences, color sensitivity, and time of day, week and year norms.

3. Understand Platform Perceptions

Facebook

European Facebook users account for the lowest share of fans in the world, only following an average of 12 brands. There is some telling survey data that reveals why this is the case. A large percentage of Americans said they would interact with a brand on Facebook because they were a regular customer already, or it was a company they felt strongly about. Europeans on the other hand said they would only interact with a brand if they had a customer service issue. The survey also revealed that Europeans saw Facebook as a quicker way to be heard and get help. And when asked about sharing experiences regarding brands with friends, Europeans said they would prefer to share a positive brand experience on social media rather than a negative one.

Twitter

Not every country embraces the use of Twitter. The Germans view Twitter as (for lack of a better translation) a bunch of hot air. German celebrities do not use the channel as much as American ones, and the character count doesn't always work with the average length of words in their language. Most Europeans also only share with people they know.

Quick Tip: Interacting with a brand for a customer service issue is the most likely reason Europeans will interact with a brand in social media.

Key Takeaways

In conclusion, the first steps to a successful social media strategy are to:

(1) acknowledge that Europe is different

(2) roll out a strategic process based on specific research on your particular target country

Scherbeck recommends following a five-step process to listen, plan, realize, integrate, and adapt. I personally believe this continued analysis should be implemented in any strategy or promotion. No matter what country your brand markets in, social media is a changing landscape and cultural "norms" tend to shift with platform evolution.

What cultural differences have you seen in social media? Share your anecdotes in the comments!


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