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July 25, 2019

How to Develop a Multilingual Social Media Strategy that Works

English no longer dominates the internet like it once did. The share of web pages in English are giving way to a number of other languages, including Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese. Indeed, although some 55% of web pages are in English, Statista reports that just 25.3% of users prefer to browse in English these days. Chinese is the second most used language, accounting for 19.8% of all internet users. As such, companies looking to engage with customers to build their brand internationally need to use translation to communicate in multiple languages – and not just through their website, but through their social media channels too. 

Why translation and social media go hand in hand

Broadly speaking, younger people use social media more than older people. Looking at the US as an example, 66% of adults use one or more social media sites every day. Among 18 to 29-year-olds, that figure rises to 88%. This means that brands that want to engage as fully as possible with future generations of customers need to have an active social media presence. And for companies that operate across international borders, that means developing a multilingual social media strategy that builds in translation as a core part of the business’s approach. 

Localization versus transcreation 

Doing so is about more than merely using translation to deliver posts into different languages. Each country’s audience will respond differently to things like the use of humour, informal language and images. This means that localizing your content is a key part of a successful multilingual social media strategy. Localization is a key part of marketing translation. It is the process of shaping content to suit a particular audience. Rather than translating a tweet directly, a professional translator tasked with localizing the content will adapt it while still maintaining the original meaning. 

Translation services can go a step further than localization when required, as some clients will benefit from transcreation as part of their social media marketing strategy. Transcreation involves a more wholesale revision of content than localization. It still delivers the messages that the brand intends, but everything from copy to the company logo can be changed in order to adapt it for maximum impact with the target audience. A good translator will be able to advise when transcreation might be more appropriate than localization. 

Social media platforms by country 

One way in which content will need to be localized as part of the translation process is by adapting it to suit the different social media platforms that are popular in each country in which the company plans to operate. Think of social media in the UK or US and no doubt Facebook and Twitter aren’t far from your thoughts. Indeed, Facebook remains the world’s favourite social network in broad terms. Social media strategist Vincenzo Cosenza has mapped usage around the world and found that Facebook is the most popular network in 119 out of 149 countries, with 1.8 billion active monthly users.  

However, social networking varies from country to country. A business that’s serious about cracking the Russian market, for example, will need to focus on how to use V Kontakte effectively as well as on accurate translation and localization. Those looking to tap into the emerging economies in Africa, on the other hand, will need to pay most of their attention to Instagram and LinkedIn. In China, it’s QZone that dominates and on which businesses must focus their efforts, while Japan is the only country in which Twitter tops the ranking of most used social media sites. 

Knowing which networks to use in which countries doesn’t take a vast amount of research time but is a core part of any multilingual social media strategy. After all, the best translation in the world won’t help a company that is focusing its energies on the wrong social media channels. It’s an area where the time investment is minimal, but the payoff can be huge. 

Translating cultures as well as copy

Different cultures respond to marketing materials in very different ways. It’s something with which those working in the translation industry – and particularly in the field of marketing translation – are certainly familiar. A campaign that has been well received in one country can fail totally in another. How ‘salesy’ the marketing copy is, how heavy on (or lacking in) images it is, how jokey the messaging is… all of this has a direct impact on how customers respond. 

This is why market research needs to take place long before the translation process begins. Market research can reveal how audiences are likely to respond to social media advertising campaigns, as well as to the products themselves. This will then become an important component of a brand’s social media strategy. 

Understanding the different ways in which audiences use social media is also important. Thousands of shares and likes are all rendered rather pointless if they don’t convert, so companies need to make understanding localized user behaviour a key part of their approach. 

Don’t only use translation professionals for translation

Thankfully, professional translation can help here too. Translators have a wealth of cultural as well as linguistic knowledge, so are an excellent source of advice when a business is targeting a particular country. As such, engaging a translation agency before developing your social media strategy can make the whole process flow more smoothly. A little input early on in the process can save both time and money later on. It can also help to iron out any cultural misunderstandings and avoid any potential miscommunications, all of which can damage a brand and lead to it becoming known for all the wrong reasons – which is precisely what a well mapped out and considered social media strategy is there to avoid.


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Ofer Tirosh is CEO of Tomedes, a translation agency that provides language and interpretation services to support companies around the world to connect with their customers through social media channels, websites, marketing materials and face to face.

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