Mobike: How to Localize Your Global Brand Through Social Media

Mobike has sought to bring biking back to the city, starting in Shanghai in 2016 and going international in March 2017. The bikes can be found in more than 200 cities across 15 countries and have won design awards internationally including a 2017 Red Dot Award, the iF Design Award in Munich and the Champions of Earth Award from the United Nations.

Mobike has won awards domestically as well for its activities abroad, recently winning the Overseas Communications Excellence Award (OCEA) from People’s Daily for its World Cycling Day social media campaign. PBB visited the Mobike offices and had a chat with Global Social Media Manager Georgia Yexley who kindly shares her views below on how global brands can manage and localize their brand identity in different markets without breaking the bank.

(L-R) Mobike Global Social Media Manager Georgia Yexley with Founder Hu Weiwei and Lead International Designer Carla Hajjar at ‘Ride for Earth’ Event. Courtesy of Mobike.

PBB: Mobike is just two years’ old. Tell us more about your division and how its evolved.

Georgia Yexley: Well, I am employee #4 in the international team so I’ve been here almost from the beginning! When I came in, there was neither a social media team and little to no social media presence. In just over a year, we’ve evolved into a 15+ strong team around the world with boots on the ground in each of the countries we’re in. We now have more than 45 social media pages in 8 languages and have dramatically scaled our department. At the beginning my job was geared more toward just getting posts out on social media. Now we’re a lot more process-driven. Our focus has shifted to developing global brand. This requires alignment through the entire global social team as well as cross functional teams such as PR and Design.

PBB: What about the global alignment of the Mobike brand, has it been difficult localizing it to your different markets?

GY: For us the thing is that our brand identity has been very clear from the beginning on what Mobike’s vision is, to bring bikes back to the city and contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle. We communicate that overseas as well so as not to have a departure from one identity to another or kind of creating different identities around the world. What we’re hoping to do is communicate the global brand identity and vision in a way that addresses the needs of local communities, that’s been at the core of our brand from the beginning.

PBB: What does brand localization look like within the scope of social media?

GY: It’s first understanding your users’ needs and how they differ from market to market in terms of preferred channels and the manner or method of interaction. We value the insight that our local team members have of their communities, you can’t get that from an entirely remote team. We have local teams covering everything from operations management to social media, all working closely together. So for instance, the people answering tweets for us on our regional pages are based in that city and are sitting next to designers and data specialists and are even out redistributing bikes with our ops teams. This allows them to address any issues our users have in real time and with a deep understanding.

PBB: Has this approach had any impact on product quality?

GY: Immensely! People in our newer regions see that the bikes have been tailored according to their needs and feedback and that there is a two-way conversation going on. So what we were able to do is use the classic model at launch, collect feedback with newer models being at times larger, or sturdier, some equipped with gears; basically tailoring the products to the needs of the city and the user.

PBB: Which has led to your awards, a virtuous cycle.

GY: Exactly, we’re very proud of the awards that we’ve won as the design of our bikes and of course the bike itself is our core business. The quality of the product and the design aspects have always been at the heart of the brand. It’s always been about producing a highly functional, high-tech but also stylish, beautifully designed bike. We’re only at the point where we can receive these awards because it’s been in our DNA since day 1.

It’s benefited our social media as we’re able to put out a lot more content about the product itself.

Mobike Lead International Designer Carla Hajjar Holding iF Design Award. Courtesy of Mobike.

PBB: Still though, Mobike is a big brand, in some views conquering foreign markets. What are the main challenges you’ve faced in establishing trust in your communities?

GY: The last thing we want is to come across as a big company from OTHER that is coming into a community and is not concerned with speaking to, or more importantly, listening to its members. That’s why our focus is on being approachable and open and demonstrating though our actions that our service is providing something positive for our local communities. There are different concerns arising in each place and it comes down to localizing and making people feel comfortable in their concerns being heard and actioned; and having the information on hand to make sure they are reassured that the service they receive is tailored to their needs.

PBB: Your division was not always so big, how can brands with a limited social media budget carry out effective community engagement?

GY: Any startup knows that you’ve got to try and achieve maximum impact with minimum spend and we’ve managed to do it quite well. We’re not working with enormous budgets to create content. It comes down to thinking of more user-oriented and creative ways to generate the impact we want. For example, the Ride for Earth day campaign (More below), we gave a strong enough call to action, a genuine enough reason to ride that people went out and rode which impacted our business positively. It didn’t cost use huge sums and the ROI was very positive. It simply took the time and collaborative effort to think through something that would to speak to our Mobikers.

PBB: Has this approach been scaled or are you going for a glitzier social media offering?

GY: Scaled for sure. We concentrate on owning the conversations that align to our brand values. For instance, our “Ride for Earth” Campaign was one of our first completely integrated global online and offline campaigns where both national and international design, marketing, and social teams– in every region worked collaboratively. What we were doing was putting a call to our Mobikers around the world to take the action to “ride for earth” and for every 100 KM ridden overseas, we would plant a tree so as to double the impact and tie it into our core values, making an impact on the world and make sure bike-share is contributing positively to that impact. Many regions saw a record number kms cycled that day.

PBB: Social responsibility seems a big value in the Mobike brand. How’s this resonated with your community?

GY: We find that the way people interact with us, they not only feel like they have a stake in the product and how it’s working in their city, but also how bike-share on the whole can improve communities. Bike-share is something that belongs to a community in a more nuanced way than a traditional supplier  customer relationship, there’s a level of ownership. For instance, 2,300 trees were planted as a direct result of Mobikers action during the “Ride for Earth” campaign.

Social responsibility is also required in our day to day operations. For example on Earth Day, we invited other operators to join our pledge – to no longer add bikes to an already sufficient fleet; only replace older bikes with newer bikes and ensure we’re consciously maintaining a fleet size that works for the city.

Mobike Ride for Earth Poster. Courtesy of Mobike.