Think Socially; Act Locally

John Yunker (@johnyunker) is co-founder of Byte Level Research. Since 2000, he has worked with leading global brands to provide web globalization training and consulting services. He has pioneered best practices in global navigation and is author of the books The Art of the Global Gateway and Think Outside the Country. He is also known for the annual Web Globalization Report Card.


When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, the stick-up man Willie Sutton reportedly answered, “Because that’s where the money is.” 

Accordingly, companies invest heavily in creating content specifically for social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok — because that’s where the people are. According to research from Statista, internet users world-wide spend an average of nearly two and a half hours on social media every day.

Developing content for these platforms — across languages and locations — leads to many questions, such as how to best organize the content so it is readily discovered by users on these platforms. This article provides recommendations for how to manage content across social media to be best aligned with your overall website globalization strategy.

 It’s a Facebook, Google, TikTok world 

Social platforms are walled gardens, which means they set the terms for how companies can advertise to, and provide content for, their users. For this very reason it is important to spend the necessary time up front to understand how each social platform manages content from a global and local perspective. 

It’s also important to understand how other companies deliver content across these social platforms. The most common mistake companies make when working with social platforms is assuming that they are organized by language only. Appearances can be deceiving. 

On the global gateway for Facebook, visitors are asked to select their language. While some languages are more closely associated with a country and region than others, one might assume that Facebook cares only about what languages its users prefer. 

However, if you look under the surface, Facebook follows a locale-based architecture, organized by a combination of language and country/region. This is often represented internally by a locale code. Examples include “es-ES” for Spanish-Spain, “es-MX” for Spanish-Mexico, or “ja-JP” for Japanese-Japan.

You can see how Facebook organizes content by studying Facebook URLs, such as with Germany: or Japan: Notice the locale strings in both of these addresses.

Why is the locale model important? Because it means that Facebook organizes content by both language and region, which allows companies or advertising agencies to do the same. For example, instead of planning to develop “Spanish for the world” content, they might narrow their focus and target specific Spanish-speaking markets, localizing the content to best fit each market.

 Twitter, languages, and locales 

Twitter also presents itself as a language-oriented application, giving its users the option of viewing Tweets in a variety of languages. Once again, this “leading with language” approach may give the appearance that Twitter is solely concerned with the user’s language.

But Twitter, like Facebook, also takes a locale-based approach to its content and its users, as can be seen in in figure 1. Global brands are wise to align their strategies similarly. 

While the number of followers within each of these countries may be far fewer than that of the global Starbucks account — which has an impressive 10 million followers — these feeds give Starbucks the ability to engage with customers locally and in their preferred languages. I would imagine that the engagement level is likely to much higher and more relevant to consumers within each market, because each account is targeted to customers based on where they live as well as keeping their primary language in mind.

 YouTube & global navigation: three approaches 

YouTube provides documentation for how to best organize video content, outlining three high-level ways to organize your content:

  1. Host one “global” channel for all content, including multiple languages and locales.
  2. Host multiple channels, each one dedicated to a specific locale and/or language.
  3. Use one “global” channel along with separate local channels.
  4. I typically recommend option number 3, which has been visualized in figure 2.

This also happens to be the most challenging model to implement because it takes coordination between headquarters and the regions, and a good degree of time and resources to ensure that all channels are robust and well managed.

Several global companies follow this model, such as Netflix, Cisco, and Apple. 

The local Netflix “channels” on YouTube are presented as  country-specific. Netflix, as a digital commerce company, must carefully manage users by country/region as well as by currency. And because digital entertainment is typically licensed accord-ing to countries and regions, this model is ideal for Netflix.

Cisco provides another good example of focusing on specific markets, such as France, shown in figure 3 as applied for YouTube.

The YouTube addresses used by each market are not as consistent or as localized as they could be. Here is a selection of addresses:


Ideally, CiscoGermany should have been registered as CiscoDeutschland to be in the local language. So as you begin creating channels, consider both localization as well as global consistency in the naming scheme.

Finally, looking at Apple’s many channels showcases just how complex this global/local model can be.

It’s nice to see Apple support local scripts, e.g. for South Korea and Th ailand, as well as local country names such as “Deutschland”. Apple also supports two channels for Canada, separated by language.  

You naturally want to avoid uploading duplicate videos as this can dilute the effectiveness of the channels. By localizing videos via subtitles or voiceovers — or both — you can upload a “global” video across multiple channels. It’s not an ideal solu-tion, but it’s a step in the right direction. Over time, I’d love to see Apple invest in more “local by design” videos.

 What about Tik Tok? 

TikTok is the latest social video platform to surpass a billion active users. The app supports 40 languages, which is a major contributor to its growth. The company has smartly invested in influencers in each market to generate locally relevant content.  

There are early signs that brands are testing the waters with local accounts, such as seen in figure 4 with BMW USA and Starbucks Spain.

 Don’t overlook the local website 

Finally, just as it’s important to support local social accounts, it’s equally important that you dedicate space on your localized websites for promoting these accounts. 

For example, Ernst & Young excerpts tweets from its German feed on the Germany home page. Th is creates a virtual circle of people discovering the local Twitter account which  leads to more followers and more return visitors to the website.

Based on nearly two decades of studying the evolution of global websites through the Web Globalization Report Card, the vast majority of websites will ultimately support a locale-based content model. Those companies that may begin their globalization efforts thinking language-only, often mature into locale-based models.  

As you begin to expand your social and video content, your first impulse may be to organize by language. But I would recommend planning now for a locale-based organization. By combining a language with a location you can be better aligned with your customers around the world.

 Go where the people are 

I feel for any social media manager who must navigate the ever-changing media landscape. It’s not easy to stay on top of each new trending app, let alone develop content for these apps. 

But if your goal is to reach people, then this is where they live. And when you meet them with the right content in the right languages tailored to the right locations, you are best positioned to succeed.