When big brands want to hear what you have to say about them, they go to social media and ‘listen’ to your public conversations on Facebook Facebook and Twitter, scanning millions of sources to find the person complaining about their flight or the shoppers in the market for a new laptop. But many haven’t been able to do that in two of the world’s biggest markets: China and Russia.
That’s about a billion social media users and potential customers inaudible to big brands like Ford and Lenovo—until today. Salesforce Marketing Cloud announced Thursday that it’s brought its Radian6 listening coverage to the Russian and Chinese markets through relationships with each country’s leading social networks.
For a Chinese headquartered brand like Lenovo, the ability to track sentiment and check for potential customers on Sina Weibo and Tencent, is an obvious business boost. The same goes for any Salesforce client doing business in Russia, where there was no listening capability on leading site VKontakte, a Facebook clone.
You’d think brands would have been impatient to reach those sites for some time given how the services have largely held off Facebook and Twitter on their respective home turf. But Salesforce Marketing Cloud chief Michael Lazerow says that developing relationships in those countries was more difficult than with platforms in the United States, though not for the reason you might think.
Marketers have to build trust with each platform in those countries individually, and the programming interfaces vary from one to the next along with the staff enabled to pass on such APIs. “Facebook has a whole department for partner management, but as we went into China and Russia, you have to create relationships with each platform individually without the template of that Facebook ecosystem,” Lazerow says.
Salesforce claims it can pretty much listen to consumers around the world now, as Russia and China were the last large remaining markets with their own networks. Lazerow also touts this move as a demonstration of his new division of the software giant’s commitment to new products for 2013; the unit launched an app, Social.com, back in April.
But it’s still a bit bizarre that such listening tools have taken so long to get to Weibo and VKontakte. VK has been Russia’s leading social network for several years. Weibo didn’t reach 500 million users overnight. And Tencent’s reach doesn’t just cover much of the Chinese Web community—its WeChat chat service already has 70 million users outside China.
I asked Lazerow if politics and different user privacy policies may account for the slow entry into the Russian and Chinese markets, but Lazerow says there weren’t any roadblocks there. “Big brands are welcomed into these countries, and we [marketing partners] are an extension of that. Our clients are comfortable doing business in these countries and they have to be.”
Instead, Lazerow says slow coverage to China and Russia is just a matter of resources and priorities. Salesforce has had Radian6 to play with for over two years, but Lazerow’s only been in charge for a few months since taking leadership of the new Marketing Cloud unit through the acquisition of his Buddy Media last summer.
Salesforce isn’t opening any new offices or infrastructure in either China or Russia as part of the new listening work. The company says it supports 22 languages and tracks 650 million sources including social networks, blogs and forums, but could not provide a coverage map of remaining social networks internationally that have yet to be turned on to its listening tools.
[Update: Since posting, other services have contacted me to note that they can also provide listening services for Weibo, VK and others; one, Synthesio, claims to best Salesforce’s language support with over 50 languages across 100 countries. As ever in social marketing, Salesforce is playing in a crowded space.]
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