The following is a written by Christian Arno. He is the founder and managing director of global translation company Lingo24. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 130 employees spanning four continents and clients in over sixty countries.
The Social Network might have hammered the Facebook brand even further into the public consciousness but, even without this rush of publicity, the bigger social media sites are difficult to avoid. This means right now is the ideal time for businesses to ramp up their social media marketing -– and do it across all their language markets.
Econsultancy’s 2010 Social Media and Online PR Report indicates that 83% of marketers are planning to increase their spending on social media this year, yet only 26% plan to run campaigns in more than one country.
Considering that the benefits of localization and internationalization are widely accepted within the business world (Common Sense Advisory studies show an average return of $25 for every $1 spent on localization), it is surprising that more attention is not being paid to approaching different cultures via social media.
It’s certainly true that cross-cultural social media marketing is still an emerging discipline, and there are as yet few quantitative studies spelling out the benefits. Additionally, social media is often used for PR purposes, rather than direct sales, and these benefits can be harder to measure.
If it’s taken for granted that social media marketing in general is beneficial, then limiting your efforts to English means cutting off the majority of your potential online audience as English accounts for only 31% of language use online.
Which networks to choose?
As of July 2010, the fastest growing languages amongst Facebook users were Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish. To some extent this reflects the rapid growth of internet usage in general within Latin America and Arabic-speaking countries.
Here are two graphs that accompany more detailed Facebook language statistics:
There are, however, social media sites active (and indeed dominant) within other markets that are not widely known outside their own spheres of influence.
In China, for example, Qzone claims to have a staggering 380 million users and, while it’s thought many of these could be dormant accounts, it’s still a vast potential audience. The Facebook-style Renren, meanwhile, claims another 120 million users and is popular with students.
Clearly a site like Qzone would only be useful if you had, or were hoping to have, business interests within China. If so, it would be the single most important resource, especially given the intermittent bans imposed by the Chinese authorities on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
A little research is all that’s required to find the most appropriate and important social networking sites for your target market. You can then adapt your English social media marketing campaigns for each language and network.
The benefits of social media marketing
While website localization often has a direct sales objective, social media platforms are more commonly used for public relations purposes, including brand placement and promotion, obtaining direct feedback from consumers and managing and monitoring brand reputation.
In a published article on public relations, noted PR expert Professor James Grunig opined that organizations with successful PR strategies…
…should be more likely to develop relationships with their publics that make it possible to achieve organizational objectives, develop a positive reputation, and reduce the consequences of poor relationships on the implementation of management decisions.
In some ways, public relations has not been changed by the revolution in digital media.
In essence, the rules of the game are the same, but social media sites offer a fully interactive and increasingly more prevalent way for organizations to communicate with their customers and other stakeholders.
Cross cultural communication
According to Internet World Stats, only around a quarter of internet users use English as their primary or native language. Multilingual users may access websites and information they consider to be important in a secondary language, but they are less likely to engage in social media in anything but their own native language.
As such, you’ll need to have your social media content translated for use across a range of languages. While this can be achieved via machine translation programs such as Babelfish and Google Translate that are often built into social media sites, machine translation is prone to mistakes.
While it’s usually fine to get the gist of comments, and other non-critical content, machine translation programs don’t yet have the finer understanding of language and nuance that human translators do. As such machine translated copy can result in serious miscommunications, or simply make your copy look amateurish and unprofessional.
Bringing in a native speaker with experience in social media marketing to translate your content will help ensure that your message hits the right note in every target market –- in a medium as personal as social media, getting the right tone for your audience is absolutely crucial, and could be the difference between a huge social marketing success and a dismal failure.