Having thrown themselves into a new situation, expats are naturally on the lookout for information which can aid them in their foreign life. This demand helps to fuel strong expat communities within which information is shared and people are generally keen to help each other.
Starting afresh in new surroundings takes away opportunities for brand loyalty, which means as a marketer, if you manage to get one expat onside you’ve got the potential to get many more as a direct result. Because of this, expat communities provide a unique opportunity for expat marketers.
The social media revolution
Traditionally online expat interaction took place through forums. However, fuelled by the social media revolution much of it has gravitated to sites like Facebook and Twitter. In fact, according to expatforum.com 60% of expats said they regularly use Facebook, and the many flourishing expat pages on the site are testament to the expat demographic making its mark. Some of these successful pages include InterNations, who easily get over 200 Likes on many of their posts and have nearly 100,00 Likes on their page itself. They manage to keep people engaged very effectively, mainly through the use of pictures and interesting facts and information.
Of course this is something marketers are taking note of; according to marketingprofs.com, 62% of advertising and marketing executives expect companies to increase their spend on Facebook marketing in the next 12 months. This shift begs the question: which tool is more useful for expat marketers, Facebook or forums?
Although 60% of expats regularly use Facebook, the amount frequently frequenting forums is only just over a tenth of this amount, according to the same Expat Forum figures. As such Facebook signifies a bigger audience who can be targeted more often.
When harnessed properly this can be incredibly effective, as HSBC showed with their Expat Explorer Survey campaign. This study gathered data from 5,000 expats across the globe and collated it into a table and map of statistics, making it the biggest survey of its kind. Through using primarily social media it managed to reach 200,000 people across the Internet upon its launch, with no advertising spend at all.
A similar strategy to target expats on sites like Facebook was used by American sports channel ESPN when it began its European operations. Here the idea was to create a buzz powered by the strong opinions that many people have on sport. After launching a campaign targeting American expats in the Netherlands and France, its overwhelming success led to a subsequent expansion to include Switzerland and Germany.
It can be helpful to consider brands in a similar way to family and friends for expats. When they move away, they use social media to keep in contact with loved ones at home, why should their favourite brands be any different? Social media can be an effective way of bridging the previously mentioned issue of expats lacking brand loyalty, by acting as a tool to keep in touch with them wherever they go.
Despite the unprecedented rise Facebook has seen in recent years, there are still many reasons why forums remain the go to choice for lots of expats. Plenty of forums are still flourishing, with sites like expatforum.com getting over 1 million hits on a monthly basis. One of the main reasons for this is they have much more efficient ways of categorisation and archiving. The problem with Facebook can be having to trawl through hundreds of unrelated posts before finally finding whatever information you’re after.
Another issue for marketers can be Facebook’s terms and conditions. Especially when setting up your own page you of course remain subject to the company rules. Issues can come with the fact they ‘reserve the right to reject or remove Pages for any reason. These terms are subject to change at any time.’
There have been many examples of pages being removed without explanation. As such, to avoid losing all of your hard earned networking progress, it’s best to thoroughly familiarise yourself with their terms and conditions before setting up a page or taking out any adverts with Facebook.
Overall, whilst there’s no doubt Facebook has become a remarkable and unique tool for marketers, it hasn’t entirely swept in to replace forums for expat netizens. Whilst its extra functionality as a way to keep in touch with friends and family no doubt serves as a big attraction, it still struggles to match forums as an efficient and reliable source for information. As such marketers looking to target expats online need to look into a healthy mix of both, supplemented by other social media sites and more traditional methods in order to maximise their online presence.