These days, no matter how far from home people go, one thing remains largely the same: social media availability. As long as the region has Internet access, there are bound to be individuals who spend their time using social platforms to make business connections, stay in touch with friends and relatives, and learn valuable local information. For employees on international assignment or even companies undergoing a full-scale corporate relocation, social media networks can be crucial tools for acclimating to a new place and maintaining relationships.

With that said, like all things in life, social media use abroad is about balance. There are certainly significant benefits to using these platforms, but those advantages are moot if expats don’t get out and see the sights, meet the people and experience the culture. In its best incarnation, social media empowers employees on international assignment to learn about their surroundings and maintain connections but also encourage them to become involved in their new surroundings.

Social media can help expats share their experiences abroad.Social media can help expats share their experiences abroad.

Keep expats tethered to home base
It’s easy for employees on international assignment to feel as though they’re not really a part of their company anymore – especially if it’s only an individual person working abroad. Organizations should avoid those circumstances because the goal of global mobility is to connect the company with clients and people abroad, not to alienate employees and sever ties with loyal workers. Social media can be the way employers keep their expats in touch.

That’s because platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and others are more personal than just email services or other company channels. Messaging tools allow for easy, real-time communication. Other workers can look at pictures, read blog posts or otherwise stay in touch with what their international coworker is doing. That keeps connections strong and helps the organization feel like a cohesive unit – not a collection of individuals in different locations.

It’s important for individuals to feel relevant to their company when the home base is across the ocean. Conversely, it’s also important the company doesn’t lose that individual’s expertise and insight when he or she is far away and less of a presence on a daily basis. Fortunately, social media can even allow expats to participate in meetings via remote conferencing technology like GoToMeeting and Skype.

“Social media can help expats ease from one culture to another.”

Ease the stress of fitting in
When employees transition to living abroad, the risk of culture shock can be high, even in relatively ‘similar’ areas like the U.K. and the U.S. or Australia. The fact is, moving is hard – even between two different parts of the same country. What social media can do is help those expats ease from one culture to another, holding on to the things they miss through the Web interface as they gradually get used to a new way of life.

Additionally, social media offer valuable tools for finding events, local resources and meeting new people. They can even help with the logistics of a move by providing tutorials and videos.

“With Twitter, for example, the ability to choose people whose tweet topics are of relevance or interest can be invaluable for an expatriate,” Emily Ruck-Keene, a British expat in Paris, pointed out to The Telegraph. “Whether you are looking for accommodation or tips about your adopted country, Twitter gives you instant and direct access to people in the know – people who are likely to be willing to help because they have actively put themselves out into the Twittersphere. The Facebook ‘group’ is a similar principle.”

Still, nothing replaces good old-fashioned human interaction
These advantages of social media lose their worth when employees abroad start using them as a crutch. It’s important to strike the correct balance between social media use and actual exploration out in the streets of the new location, according to Denmark’s news source, The Local. One particular danger is that expats may be drawn to other expats or compatriots rather than reaching out to new people, making strong connections and acclimating to the culture.

Blogger Melane Haynes of Copenhagen wrote in The Local, that kind of thinking “breeds a fear of exploration and creates a closed way of thinking about ‘us’ and ‘them.'”

The generation of Internet users who rely heavily on social media will miss out on the advantages of traveling and working abroad if they can’t go explore their surroundings, ask a local person a question or take a chance on a new cuisine or activity. Haynes explained that, in general, locals are happy to help expats and travelers. To be fair, Danes are known for their hospitality, so that comment comes as no surprise.

Overall, social media platforms are excellent tools for employees working abroad to stay in touch with the people and connections from home while also reaching out to new contacts in the new setting. They just need to make sure to get out there and hit the streets from time to time.