The Power of Social Media for Expats
By Russell Ward
Originally published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 23 | March/April 2016
When I left my homeland to live in a new country in 2003, there was no Skype or WhatsApp, and Facebook was still in its infancy. We relied on phone cards to keep connected with family and friends back home, and the quality of communication was often hit and miss, particularly at certain times.
Today, the online world looks quite different. We can talk face-to-face, network online, share our latest adventures, thoughts and feelings, and keep loved ones in step with our travels and moves wherever they may take us.
Now I’m in the throes of yet another international relocation, this time to Vancouver, and I’ve realized just how much technology, and social media in particular, has the power to transform how we relocate from one place to another. When you’re keen to meet new people and immerse yourself in a new culture but might not have the language skills or the on-the-ground ability to do so, social media can help you discover local favorites, research vital information, network with others and establish yourself without ever having left your home country.
Social media has become invaluable for us expats. We no longer jump into the unknown, unsure of what awaits and how we’ll get on. The power of social media can literally transform our expat experience. As an expat, here’s how you can get the most out of it.
- Understand your new expat life before you arrive
As well as being able to keep up with the news at home, social media is a great way to keep up with news about the destination you’re moving to, and a valuable source of local gossip and regional updates. You can find out about the best eateries, listen to what people are saying about the weather and track latest trends related to property, schooling, financial matters and employment rates. Even subtler differences, such as cultural nuances and language variations, can be discovered through social media channels.
Platforms like Pinterest are great for visualizing your new home – look for pins related to your chosen area and build your own boards around the way of life you desire. Follow tourism companies on Facebook to discover where the locals are hanging out and what’s coming up over the next year, or explore Instagram and see your new world through the eyes of expert photographers or mere IG-enthusiasts.
- Establish your online profile and network
Social media can also be a powerful tool for building up your online profile and using this as a means of networking for business and job opportunities. For setting up my writing business, The International Writer (www.theinternationalwriter.com), in North America, I’ve used LinkedIn and Twitter as a way of reaching out to potential customers and partners. I know my target audience is hanging out on these platforms so I think and act as if I’m already living overseas – I ask questions, begin a conversation and build a relationship. This way, my work is halfway done before I’ve even set foot on the territory.
Your LinkedIn network will be smaller in your expat home than it might have been in your home country, so you’ll need to search people out in your new location. You can also join expat LinkedIn groups to learn from others or get in touch with recruiters to find out about employment opportunities. Some people prefer to use business and personal blogs to build their brand and create trust with possible employers or customers. Whatever your preference, the beauty of social media is that you can market yourself for free and be anywhere in the world without it mattering to the person on the end of the line (as long as your work is of high quality and the other person is happy to keep the conversation virtual for now).
- Find a community and reach out to people
Social media is invaluable for helping expats settle into their new homes, particularly when it comes to making contact with other expats – in other words, “‘experts” who are over there – and using social media as a way to interact in a new social circle. You can use platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to search out relevant groups and hashtags, whether you’re looking for a place to stay or somewhere fun to take the kids to, and then ask direct questions of those people actively commenting on these topics. What’s more, these people could eventually become your friends over there.
My own wife recently joined a local Facebook group in Vancouver and has since become a vocal member of the community, regularly asking questions about best schools in the area, the cost of housing, where to buy supplies, how cold the winter has been and even where to go for a safe family night out. You can find expat-related organizations with local Facebook pages and jump in to find out when their next meet-up is. What’s great about social media is that the people using it are openly sharing information and are generally happy to field enquiries from you.
- Hit the ground running
As soon as you land in your new destination, it’s important to entrench yourself in the area. One of the first things you can do is to update your social media profiles with your location to reflect the fact that you’ve arrived. Then start to let people know – those friends and acquaintances you previously met on social media channels will be inclined to get in touch and you’ll also start receiving geographically-relevant information over the different platforms.
When I started my expat blog, In Search Of A Life Less Ordinary (www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com), not long after moving to Australia, I was surprised at how many people got in touch to share their own ideas and tips for life in the land down under, and also how easy it was to connect and then meet face-to-face with followers of the blog. It gave me comfort to know that others like me were available to chat and willing to share their own experiences.
Follow these actions and you will adapt more easily and settle faster into your new life. Moving abroad can be rife with challenges and issues that can crop up at any point in the journey. By actively using social media to build your profile, network online, establish yourself before you arrive and discover more about your new environment, you can reduce the anxiety and isolation associated with a big international move and replace it with excitement for your new life.
[Photography © Calli Sifonios; courtesy of Russell Ward]
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