David and Goliath, a colour lithograph by Osmar Schindler (c. 1888), United States public domain

David and Goliath, by Osmar Schindler. United States public domain

There’s a silent David vs Goliath battle going on the past few months. It’s something that was given as a fact to many brand managers on local markets, and few voices have spoken about.
With Facebook reaching 1 billion, some brands took notice of the audience available when adding all the numbers from local markets , deciding it was best to migrate these local presences into one big global one. Examples include Heineken or Martini, that recently consolidated their Facebook presence.

Look at all those tab views. Too bad some people don’t know English.

Usually this process a brand representative with a large media budget negotiating with Facebook for a gradual migration of fans that previously followed the local brand Page (e.g. Heineken UK or Lâncome Brasil).
Migration is usually smooth with fans unaware of it, which if I find not very transparent and trustworthy. If someone follows a local Page, they should be allowed to know of the change and whether they would like to keep the affiliation on a global level.
Before the migration happens, local teams (clients and agencies) are usually trained on a social media management service that allows them to localize content for their countries. Popular enterprise solutions include BuddyMedia (recently acquired by Salesforce), Vitrue (recently acquired by Oracle), Syncapse, Lithium, Shoutlet or Adobe Social (formerly Context Optional).

Which bring us to the big question: is a global presence better than a local one?

Local beats global

Being from a small country, I could advocate for global presence if resources and experience actually became available going global. Which almost never happens. It often happens that local markets are much more advanced in regards to content production and community management, and even if local teams are briefed initially on social media best practices and guidelines, it’s rather superficial and condescending. Global has perhaps more resources (or deeper pockets) in analytics or social business, but that’s not what we’re really discussing here, is it?

It’s not even for debate if community management should be done globally (can you picture the cultural clash of someone who doesn’t live the culture of the country daily), as the social media management solutions at least allow wall publishing, localized per country.

These are harsh criticisms, but I’m not alone. Brian Solis previously adressed the subject, claiming that “in 2012 and over the next few years, going local will only improve engagement, resonance, and ultimately commerce in the last mile”, after looking at the data from T-Index that shows how the US will no longer be the center of the social media world, or at least English is not necessarily the language of a global presence.

The relevance of local pages is even more striking through the lens of community management. As Sarah Hansson of Dannish agency Mindjumpers states, “for international brands, tactics should include to leverage local community management in order to connect and engage local markets with authenticity.”

And it’s not only opinion, but also data showing that staying local pays off:

Disclaimer: Fullsix is a SocialBakers Trusted Agency Partner. Which actually makes it much harder to ignore the data.

Federated Or Distributed

Currently, we have two major models of managing a Facebook presences globally, which I caracterize as Federated and Distributed.
I) Federated or Global
Local markets are managed from a single global presence, using geolocated wall posts on Facebook, respecting global social media guidelines.
Global content can sometimes be reviewed by local markets, with vendor solutions providing editorial roles for local markets and corresponding publishing permissions.
Examples include Heineken or Martini.

II) Distributed
Local markets have their own presences, with access to complete set of Facebook features, respecting global social media guidelines.
Global content can be distributed to local markets with vendor solution, with local review and translation, published on scheduled date by global.
Examples include Ben&Jerry’s (disclaimer: client) and Starbucks.

From my experience of managing over 30 brand pages in Portugal, I’ve found some serious problems when using a Federated approach:
a) Reduced scope of native Facebook features: Album, notes and event creation not possible but only wall posts.
b) Rollback not possible: one cannot decouple after going global
c) Customer service hell: if someone comments in portuguese on a global post, local markets can’t reply.
d) Severe limitations regarding the use of Facebook Platform: tabs are usually limited by country (if even possible), with reduced visibility and usually confusing users
e) Economies of scale don’t work on people: Resources and setup for coordination between global and local markets actually increase

If you’re trying to convince global headquarters to stay local, if showing the problems above is not enough, there’s still Facebook. The rumours of Facebook testing the feature to keep local pages, while aggregating the fan count and insights and management on a global level, might just save brands that kept local presences.

No, Lâncome Portugal hasn’t 3.1 million fans. Or it would potentially reach almost 80% of online audience in Portugal. But Lâncome Global has, while still keeping local pages.

Lâncome was the only presence I could find that indicates this is going forward (drop a comment if you know more), showing that brands that took the risky dive of merging all the local markets, no longer have the chance to rollback. Those who were keen to see the value of local markets can now benefit the best from both worlds: globally aware but locally engaged.

Recognizing this problem is one thing, more difficult is to actually try to find a solution that solves the current situation. From loss aversion to the invested resources, there’s not much interest on changing things as they are, but we can at least could avoid doing the same mistakes on brands that haven’t decided yet to take the leap to global social media management.
For those lucky ones, there’s hope on what we learned so far:

  • Start by organizing globally but gathering feedback from the more advanced markets. They have a lot to contribute and a more tactical approach that usually provides valuable feedback on practical problems.
  • Build a global content hub. Not mandatory, but rather based on assets legally approved and with localized permissions (e.g. accessing marketing materials for products that aren’t available in local markets)
  • Keep content and creative local. It shows when you just craft global content that means nothing to local markets. This is specially relevant for sponsored posts and Facebook ads, which are the least practical thing to do globally, except for worldwide events such as the Olympics.
  • Facilitate knowledge sharing, either formally (wiki or intranet) or informally (email). Global management can audit and analyze best practices, sharing them to all markets.

This discussion should involve clients and agencies, and not so much vendors that are keen to push their solutions despite having no control over the platforms where brands are. Watching their recent rush on being acquired, I’m rather suspicious if their commercial interests are in line with what brands really need. In the end, brands and agencies should be having this discussion with Facebook, finding solutions that would benefit both parties.

One of my core beliefs in social media marketing is “making your customers feel awesome”. I see no evidence of how having a global presence managed with a social media service helps me do it better. Discuss.