Facebook use is fairly high among expats, even in regions where internet penetration is in the single digits; click to enlarge

A majority of expats use Facebook as their social network of choice, according to HSBC’s 2011 Expat Explorer Survey. Even in countries where only 3-4% of locals use Facebook over half of expats are on the site a couple times a week.

Overall, 69% of expats use Facebook and 52% use it once a week or more. LinkedIn came in second at 40%, followed by Twitter at 14% and MySpace at a meager 2%.

But can businesses targeting expats turn this trend into cold hard cash?

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According to Alex Alpert, Business Development Director at Wheaton Worldwide Moving, brands can improve their image by portraying human qualities on social media.

Let’s face it. There are industries consumers simply love to hate (ahem: banks, insurers).

For these industries, the brave new world of social media has proven challenging, to say the least. Younger people are particularly difficult for these firms to reach.

The problem is these companies are viewed as impenetrable, faceless monoliths. So insists Alex Alpert, Business Development Director at Wheaton World Wide Moving and joint re-Founder of remobilize.org (a new movement for relocation professionals that aims to create professional development workshops and networking events young professionals actually want to attend).

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70% of comments on US health insurers across social media are negative; click to enlarage

International health insurers and banks get little love from social media, according to a recent report from Amplicate, which monitors topics and opinions across social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Amplicate found 70% of all opinions expressed on US health insurance companies over the last 12 months were negative.

Aetna earned the unwelcome distinction of most hated insurer. Only 9% of users expressing positive views of the company in the last year. Believe it or not, however, the industry has actually fared worse on social media in the past.

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Lukas Ritzel has spent more than 15 years helping companies coordinate media projects. He also lectures on media at IMI University Centre and other schools.

Young expat professionals do not respond to traditional campaigns. They’re not interested in photos of dressed up models  or sanitized PR speak.  What they crave for is authenticity, says Lukas Ritzel, Marketing & Web Strategist at Switzerland’s IMI University Centre–and they’re looking for it on social media sites. In an interview with Expat Marketing, Lukas explains why traditional marketing managers are struggling to cope.

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Expatriates on TwitterTwitter, the popular micro-blogging website, has seen a phenomenal rise, and in just under five years has reached over 200 million users (56 million of them active). Over 200 million tweets are generated per day, and the website handles 1.6 billion search queries daily. Clearly, Twitter is an influential tool.

This is especially true if you’re looking to target expats as there is an active expat community on Twitter. They talk about various subjects from their experience abroad, to daily life and their holidays. But most of all, they’re willing to amplify brand messages.

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Social media has seen Social media logosan enormous growth. According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, 65 per cent of adult Internet users claim to use a social networking site.

The rise of social media has forever changed the way that customers expect to interact with brands. To prove this, Nielsen published a report looking at the time Americans spend online. It found that e-mail’s share of time declined 28%, behind online gaming. Meanwhile, social networking climbed 43% and is the number one online activity in terms of time. While the data is for America, this trend  is seen worldwide.

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Anne Lutgerink is Communications Officer at Nuffic. She is heavily involved with the organization’s social media presence.

Social media is one of the most powerful, yet also most frustrating tools available to an expat marketeer. For every success story there are countless firms (especially small businesses) that utterly fail to develop a social media presence.

So what separates the successes from failures? Expat Marketing talked to Anne Lutgerink, Communications Officer at the Netherlands Organization for Cooperation in International Education (NUFFIC).

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In the wake of survey results showing dissatisfied Facebook users and a sharp rise in advertising costs on Facebook, it would not surprise if many expat marketers were hoping for alternatives to Facebook’s monopoly. There are high hopes for Google+, which–despite being the product of a monopolist in another market–seems to offer at least a supplement to a Facebook-dominated social world.

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The cost of advertising on Facebook is rising fast, according to marketing firm TBG Ditigal’s Global Facebook Advertising Report for Q2 2011, with cost-per-click (CPC) rates up an average 74% across the US, UK, France and Germany. The figures could raise eyebrows among companies marketing to expats, many of whom leverage heavily on social media to build connections with the online expat community. Said the report:

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