Content for an international audience

International Content Marketing

How does one piece of content succeed internationally?

Can you create a piece of content that’s successful and targeted at multiple markets and cultures? Or, can you only create something for a specific market? I believe that you can create one piece of content that draws an international audience, or more accurately a multi-national audience. That said, it may not always be the best way of creating content for different international audiences. An international piece of content may look similar to a piece of content that’s solely targeted at one country, but I think there are characteristics within a piece of international content that are essential for it to become successful with audiences in different countries. In this post I wanted to look at pieces that have received international success and identify why they’ve done well internationally and what can be learnt from them.

I looked at five pieces of content that have achieved huge success across the web:

  • The first is called Distance to Mars, an interactive piece that shows the user how long it would take to travel to Mars using pixels as a scale.
  • The second piece is an interactive map from the NY Times of baseball fans across the US which takes Facebook user information to show which teams have the largest support in each part of the country.
  • The third piece of content is from an hotel booking site called Concert Hotels. This is an interactive infographic which displays the vocal range of famous singers, past and present.
  • The fourth piece is from Ohio State University and it’s a post that summarises research findings that men who post a lot of selfies show signs of anti-social traits.
  • The final piece is from the Daily Beast and an article which highlights that your Samsung TV may be recording private conversations that you weren’t aware of.

These five pieces are all very different and the level of budget required to design and produce each will vary, but they share common themes which enabled them to achieve international success.

Exceptional Content

Each example clearly demonstrates traits of what makes a piece of content successful. There’s something new about each, whether it be a new piece of research, a new story, a fresh design presenting existing data, etc. There’s a story behind each piece of content and it’s communicated in a simple way. With the concert hotels piece the story is about that age old desire to compare the contemporary with the past and argue which is better, whether that be musicians, athletes, politicians, etc.

Arguably, if you want to achieve success with your content, you need to combine something new with a simple concept that journalists and bloggers can find an angle to write about. That’s true whether the piece is for a local market or an international market. The difference is, with an international market the bar is raised. The competition for space is much fiercer. If you want to get coverage on a publisher site with international reach, let’s say Mashable, you need truly exceptional content. An infographic produced with a £500 budget may get you onto a local publisher site if the design and content is good, but it’s not going to get you onto a major publisher.

If you’re looking to create content were the freshness about the piece is the visual way in which you display it, the standards are high. Publishers like the NYTimes and Bloomberg have their own departments of designers, developers and data scientists that produce this kind of content. That’s what you’re up against when you want target something at global publishers.

Research pieces will usually need to be conducted by a credible source, and most options available for producing international standard content will require a decent size budget. It is possible to create a piece of content that receives global recognition on a small budget, but you’ll need to think creatively. The piece on the ‘Spying Samsung TV’ was created by a journalist finding the story by reading through the terms and conditions for the Samsung TV.

A Story with global appeal

If you want a piece of content to gain global coverage across the net, it needs to have global appeal. Regardless of who your targeting with content, a user will share or link to that content if they care about the story you’re telling. An international piece of content needs to find a topic and an angle that people from various countries care about.

The five pieces of content I’ve used as examples cover topics that have global appeal. The piece from Concert Hotels covers the vocal range of singers that are internationally recognised. Earth to Mars, spying Samsung TVs, guys posting selfies; they all have broad appeal to an international audience. It’s debatable whether or not you consider the NY Times piece on baseball fans across the US to hold international appeal. I’d say that although this is a US sport presenting an interactive map of the US, the sport still has global appeal. Most North American sports, be it baseball, NFL, NBA or NHL have global appeal even if the majority of the audience is from the US. The point is, each of these content examples tell a story that holds mass interest.

Not only is the bar raised with international content because of the standard of the competition, but also because of the volume. Topics with large global appeal attract large volumes of content. You’ll need to be creative to come up with a content idea for a large international topic that hasn’t been done already.

International Publishers

Ultimately, what will determine whether a piece is internationally successful is based on the publisher coverage that your content receives. There aren’t a great deal of online publishers that have a large international appeal. The majority are English language, and many are based in the US. You want international coverage for your content, you need to get it covered by an international publisher. How do you get their attention? By creating a piece that their audience is interested in, and although their audience is international, the majority will be from the US. Therefore, much of what they publish will have a US angle. A really good way to find out what content does well on a target publisher is to use a tool like Buzzsumo or Social Crawlytics that will show you the most popular content pieces on a site according to the number of social shares. Finding out this type of information is a really good way to find out what type of news is popular, and therefore what type of content the publisher is likely to publish.

One last point on the US factor is that US culture has an impact on every nation in the world, some more than others. That’s why US sport has a niche market in every country, why US TV shows, music, and films are universally recognised. International content doesn’t have to be created in multiple languages. You can create internationally successful content purely in English.

If you look at our example pieces of content, each has been covered by a publisher with an international audience. Places like Huff Post, BBC, Mashable, NY Times, Buzzfeed, have covered these pieces. It puts your content in front of an international audience and your content starts getting shared around the World. If you create content designed to gain attention internationally, it’s essential that you get coverage from an international broadcaster.

Why do you want to go international?

Before you create any piece of content, it’s really important to have clear goals and metrics for that content. If you’re trying to create a piece with global appeal, really have a clear idea why it is you want that international exposure. It’s incredibly challenging to create something that’s an international success. You need to find the sweet spot between creating something with broad appeal and something that your target audience is interested in. If it’s to broad, the danger is that you create something that’s vanilla (i.e. no one likes it, no one hates it), if it’s narrowed down to your specific audience, the big publishers won’t care about it.

Creating something with an international audience in mind is a bit of a gamble. If you’re trying to sell a product around the world, you can reduce the risk of a creating a flop by targeting a specific audience within one country. If that piece is a success, localise it and maybe translating it for a new market. Going for the international piece usually requires a bigger budget and a bigger gamble as it’s much more challenging to create a piece that is popular with multiple countries and cultures rather than one.

If we take the baseball example, that piece of content could be localised for several markets. Change the sport, the country and maybe the language and you have a new piece of content for a new market. If you’re a an ecommerce store selling sports equipment, rather than creating one piece of content with the aim of reaching a global audience with that content, you could trial it in one market, and if it’s successful role out a localised version for different markets. You don’t get the big share figures that were present with some of the example content, but you create something that is likely to resonate to a much greater level with each market and customer. You also need to bare in mind what the key metric and goal for the piece is: links, referral traffic, social sharing etc. If you have an ecommerce store and you want greater visibility in multiple markets, say the UK, Canada, and US, you could create one piece that tries to target all three, or create a localised version for each that is more likely to gain links and coverage from each country.

It is possible to create a piece of international content as the example pieces prove, but it’s challenging. You have a greater chance of getting your content out to the target audience by creating it with one market in mind, and if it’s successful, localising it for different markets.

Image credit: Circus Benneweis, Denmark 2010 by Dirk Jan Ranzijn under CC BY-ND 2.0

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