Love it or hate it, social media has changed the way we interact, advertise and engage with our target markets. Even the chances that you made it to this article through social media are high – a recent study found almost 9 in 10 businesses use social media for marketing purposes.
And why not? It’s free, it’s effective and you can reach people all over the world in a few simple clicks.
But to truly reach global markets, you need to speak their language, and there are a few essential tricks you need to know to make it in the heady world of multilingual social media.
Think like a local
To appeal to locals you’ve got to act like a local. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean swanning off round the world for many vacations (though that would be nice). What you will need to take into account is exactly where people are hanging out on the internet. You may have spent a lot of time and effort on smartening up your Facebook page, but consider that potential customers in a country like China (where Facebook is banned by their infamous censorship regime) won’t even be able to see it, even if you take the time to translate and localize it.
Instead of poking and liking each other, in China, QZone is home to 480 million Chinese-speaking members, while over in Brazil, orkut (incidentally owned by Google) is the favored social network for around 66 million active users. Portuguese use online has grown by 990% in the last eleven years, and can partly attribute its success to ever-increasing user numbers in Brazil—an emerging market that is proving popular with marketers world-wide.
Talk the lingo
While it’s a given that you need to speak to those overseas in their own language, sometimes this is easier said than done. The first step that many will take is to head straight to online free software like Google Translate or Babelfish. If you’re planning on doing this, do it with the knowledge that machine translation is rarely without errors. While it’s sophisticated technology indeed, it’s just not clever enough to be able to interpret slang, idioms or subtle linguistic nuances that come with, well, not being a machine. Many years ago Pepsi had a famous (and highly embarrassing) mistranslation when its ‘Come alive with the Pepsi generation!’ slogan allegedly translated in Chinese as ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead!‘. Hiring a professional translator will eliminate any potential red-faced moments, as well as being able to help you localize.
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Keep your messages relevant
Speaking of localization, if you’re going to broadcast your message across numerous languages to many different countries, you’re going to have to make sure your message is tailored to your audience and their locale. Nothing makes people reach for the ‘Unfollow’ button faster than having to read messages that just don’t apply to them. Remember that they’re reading your updates because they think you have something interesting to say, so keep them local! Follow their local news, keep up-to-date with industry gossip in your target language and avoid any cultural references (like celebrities, national holidays, TV shows etc) that might mean nothing in other countries—remember that while you sit down to a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, the rest of the world are in the office!
Management is Key
With so many different languages across social networks, it’s important you find a way to manage them all effectively. The first thing is to establish different accounts for different languages, as broadcasting your message in a dozen languages from the same feed is guaranteed to alienate your audience. Just take a look at any major corporation and see how they do it. Air France, for example has at least 13 different multilingual Twitter feeds (Here’s an interesting French fact: you’re not allowed to mention Twitter on the TV in France).
Remember time zones too—while you might have that Friday feeling, it’s already Saturday in Japan. There are some great tools like Hootsuite that allow you to schedule Tweets to be sent whenever you choose, so you can target the right people at the right times.
Once you’ve got going, you need to keep up the momentum. Don’t be daunted when your followers/fans/customers start talking to you in a language you don’t understand. If it helps, you can use machine translation to get the gist of what they’re saying, and respond in an appropriate manner, using the same method you do to translate your social network updates in the first place. If you’ve got the resources, it can really be an advantage here to have a native-speaking staff member on your books, as they can respond in a timely (and accurate!) manner.
Taking your social media multilingual can be a scary thought, but with a little planning and expertise, it can really open up a world of opportunity for you and your business… and we certainly all ‘like’ that.
About the author
Christian Arno is the founder of Lingo24, providers of professional translation services and multilingual SEO. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 150 employees spanning three continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over sixty million words for businesses in every industry sector. Follow Lingo24 (@Lingo24) on Twitter.