Social Media has made the world a smaller place. Despite often being thousands of miles apart, expats are able to keep in touch with loved ones easier than ever before. When Social Media first hit the market a few years ago, many believed that social media was just another fad and would eventually die out, yet social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have clearly established themselves as key communication channels of the twenty first century.
These Social Media platforms have had an enormous impact on the global mobility industry and changed the face of relocation, especially international assignments. Expats have often been amongst the earliest and most active users of new communication tools in the attempted bid to reduce the distance between their families and friends.
A recent survey of 3,000 expats from across the globe demonstrated the true importance of social media to those on assignment. The research, conducted by HSBC, highlighted that whilst email is still the most popular way for expats to stay in touch with friends and family, modern communication tools such as Facebook and Skype have become indispensable for keeping up with all the news from home and sharing the news from host.
52% of participants said they used email twice a week or more to catch up with loved ones, 39% stated that they used Facebook the same amount, while 36% relied primarily on the voice and video calls via Skype and various phone applications such as Viber.
This trend is robust across the world and social media is particularly popular with expats. The most popular channel is Facebook used by nearly 7 in 10 expats surveyed, with 52% using it at least once a week or more. This was closely followed by career Sell digital products networking site LinkedIn, of which 40% of expats said they were members. Although micro blogging site Twitter has seen enormous growth and currently has around a 70 million-strong user base, only 14% of expats confirmed their usage.
The survey also confirmed the demise of traditional communication methods, such as landline telephone calls and letter writing (sometimes jokingly referred to as ‘snail mail’), with the main reason being that “new technologies are cheaper to use” and time can be cut down. Cost has become a huge influence in the use of social media by expats, as those earning higher incomes are less likely to use Social Media to get in touch with friends and family on a regular basis, preferring to call or text instead. 50% of expats earning less than $60,000 use Facebook at least twice a week to contact friends or family, while only 28% of those earning over $250,000 do the same.
Facebook penetration among expats is fairly consistent in all regions, even in locations where Facebook has a low volume of users, suggesting that expats continue to use channels they are familiar with from their home country.
Additional research conduct by Skype found that 50% of people are more willing to move abroad than they would have been in the past, largely because technology has made the transition and staying in contact easier.
The Hydrogen Group, a Global Recruitment firm, recently released their Global Professionals on the Move Report which was cited by the IESE Business School blog on one particular question: “Do employees on International Assignment use Social Media to get over home sickness?” 37% answered “definitely yes” as opposed to only 3% who said “definitely no”. However it could be noted that sites such as Facebook could pose potential detriment to the settling in process, as it can keep some expats tethered to the people and communities they left behind. This can be especially difficult for teenagers who have built up a tight circle of friends in the home country, as they are provided a regular update of how great life is back at home through a collection of photos, videos and ‘status updates’.