When Social Media Gets Lost In Translation

This is a guest post by Christian Arno, founder and managing director of professional translation-services provider Lingo24.

It’s hard to find a part of the world where social media isn’t popular. One ninth of the population has a Facebook profile, while hundreds of millions of tweets circle the globe each day. The opening of a Facebook-themed nightclub in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon illustrates the network’s reach.

So it’s not surprising 90 per cent of marketers think social media is important for their business, according to a recent industry report. With Google’s decision to take social searching into account, this is likely to rise.

Yet most are failing to step out of the English-speaking bubble. The Twitterverse is an increasingly multilingual place, with half of all tweets now in other languages. English is fast losing its online dominance, as the numbers of Chinese, Arabic and Russian users surge.

People overwhelmingly prefer to browse, network, tweet and chat in their native languages. By not translating their social media, marketers are ignoring a huge potential audience.

There’s no doubt social media is a great way to engage customers all over the world, and get people talking about your company. It can also drive traffic to your website, helping it climb the search engine rankings. And with few companies bothering to take their networking global, it’s a way to stand out from the crowd.

Of course, a few dos and don’ts will help on the way to international social success:

Different countries, different accounts

Mixing two languages on the same Twitter feed just doesn’t work – and confuses people!  It’s also best to have separate feeds for each country. It might be tempting to have a single one for the whole of the Spanish-speaking world. But this ignores linguistic and cultural differences between Spain and Latin America. Plus, Mexican readers are unlikely to be interested in updates from Madrid.

Facebook and Twitter aren’t always the top dogs

Despite Facebook’s 800 million (and growing) subscribers, it faces homegrown competition in many countries. Japanese users love to chat on Mixi, while Brazilians are still hooked on Google’s Orkut.

A little homework will help you find the market leaders in your target countries, and how they’re used. For example Chinese users like to send instant messages via Renren, while  many European professionals  use Xing for networking.

Different countries use social media in different ways

Even on the same social network, not everyone uses it in the same way. Researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center found big cultural differences in Twitter use.  French and German users tended to share more news and links, while Koreans and Malays were more likely to hold conversations.

Another study found Americans and Germans had different views on how much personal information they’d post on their Facebook site.

Keep it local –  and social

Juggling multilingual social media feeds can be a tough balancing act. But it’s best to go beyond a simple translation of your English updates into other languages.

The key to engaging followers is to keep it local, relevant – and social! Researching current trends and including popular cultural references will help, as well as taking time to reply to comments. Hiring a local social media manager is an easy way to keep on top of it all.

Lingo24 was launched in 2001, and has more than 160 employees spanning three continents and translated more than 60 million words last year. Its clients in 50 countries include MTV and the World Bank.

Image: ilolab via Shutterstock