Reaching Beyond Borders With Web 2.0, opportunities abound for small businesses to target customers far and wide.

By Rachel Meranus

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The explosion of Web 2.0 has impacted the way people gather information and communicate. Large audiences around the world, as well as those with very specific interests, have equal access to information through social networks, virtual worlds and video sharing sites.

While some may find Web 2.0 fragmented, confusing and uncontrollable, the social nature of blogs and community websites offers the opportunity to communicate beyond one's target audience at a fraction of the time or cost of traditional techniques. Geographic and socioeconomic borders have little meaning online, allowing information to be targeted to an array of groups that may be interested in your company.

For small-business owners, this represents a potentially exciting opportunity to generate attention--and business--from customers who never would have had the chance to learn about your products or services.

Tips for Communicating Globally
Web 2.0 is about reaching a mass audience on an individual basis and encouraging an exchange of ideas that enflames interest and promotes passion. Blogs, social media sites and video sharing portals enable companies to connect more directly with their customer bases and create an organic flow of information where the consumer becomes an owner of your message. This leads the consumer to bring others to your message, triggering viral campaigns that build and multiply.

Global communications, however, involves more than just the widespread delivery of a message. To take advantage of the global interaction that Web 2.0 offers, communicators must learn to speak the language--both literally and figuratively--of more than their core audiences. Although the nature of social media requires companies to surrender some control of their messages, companies must still be disciplined in their approach and understand the nuances of communicating to audiences of varying languages, beliefs and motivations.

Careful research into target audiences--how they perceive your organization, its products, services, brands, as well as those of your competitors--is an important first step of any campaign but is even more critical as you broaden your reach and engage a wider array of groups. Before reaching out, monitor what's being said about your organization, as well as where those conversations are taking place.

Knowing your influencers--who they are, what motivates them, where they get their information, and whom they trust--enables you to optimize your messages by anticipating the topics that will stimulate discussion.

Social media allows spans cultural and language barriers if created and positioned correctly. But to be successful--and avoid embarrassment--companies should consider how the words and intentions of their messages will translate. What may be a catchy slogan in one country could be offensive in another.

While it may be unrealistic to envision all interpretations of one's message, failure to consider potentially inflammatory outcomes could have dire consequences. As effective as social media is at creating positive attention, unflattering information tends to spread twice as fast and twice as far.

For companies targeting specific countries or cultural groups, it's also important to understand the subtleties of each country's language and beliefs. For instance, in America the number 13 is considered unlucky. However, in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese cultures it's the number four because when spoken aloud the word sounds similar to "death." As a result, many international companies avoid the number four in their product lines entirely.

As with language, knowing the holidays and observances of your target audiences can be crucial. Companies should be aware of the dates and traditions of significant holidays and, when appropriate, utilize the information to their advantage. Festive occasions offer an ideal time for building positive exposure, whether your company is celebrating the holiday or is an ocean away. Conversely, companies should refrain from language that references somber or deeply religious observances. A harmless reference in one person's mind could be blasphemous in another's.

Avoid times when large segments of a population will be unavailable or uninterested. For instance, if you want to make a splash in Western Europe, steer clear of August, when most people are on holiday. Similarly, if you're looking to reach an audience in China, avoid the entire month surrounding the Chinese New Year (late January, early February).

Now it's time to get your message out. The press release remains one of the primary vehicles used to communicate messages to broader geographic audiences. Organizations that want to reach a number of worldwide audiences should take advantage of newswire international distribution and translation services to get the optimum global exposure. Also, companies can reach more markets by creating a multimedia news release enhanced with video, images and Web 2.0 tools, potentially increasing online visibility.

Harnessing the Power
Web 2.0 and social media are ever-evolving, and communicators who choose to leverage these tools have the opportunity--and sometimes the obligation--to direct their messages to a global audience. The internet is an open playing field. It has no borders, allowing information to flow freely from person to person, no matter where those two people reside or the different lifestyles they may lead.

Given this reality, companies must recognize that parties beyond their target audiences have immediate access to their story--for better or for worse. People who are miles apart geographically or financially are neighbors in the online world. As a result, companies want to broaden their reach using Web 2.0 must consider messages that will resonate with audiences beyond a company's conventional borders and speak to audiences of varying ages, ethnicities and languages.

Rachel Meranus is vice president of communications at PR Newswire, an online press release distribution network based in New York. Get more information about PR Newswire and public relations with their PR Toolkit for small businesses.

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