Why multilingual social media isn’t as impossible as you think

About 9 out of 10 companies are using social media to promote their brand — but the vast majority do so in only one language.

While most internet content is in English, most users are not native English speakers, and the vast majority of users prefer to browse in their own language. At the same time, internet use in non-English speaking countries is growing rapidly.

If you’re not reaching out to customers in their own tongues, your company could be missing out on huge potential markets. Eastern Europe, Russia, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East all have hundreds of millions of social media users.

LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are all multilingual. Are you?

Social media provides a platform for your business not only to advertise, but to interact and communicate with clients and potential customers. It’s an informal, yet highly-visible setting where clients can give you feedback on your product or rave reviews, and share your content with their own networks. But if you don’t speak their language, how will you effectively communicate with the majority of users who aren’t native English speakers?

Getting your message to potential customers on social media in their own native language before the competition could result in a series of “likes” or retweets that could lead to greater visibility and profitability for your company.

You get the picture: If you do business in diverse international markets—or you would like to expand into new markets—and you’re not multilingual yet, now could be the time to diversify linguistically.

So how can you manage social media across multiple languages?

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While multilingual social media marketing has its particular challenges (rapid updates, getting followers), it has a lot in common with traditional multilingual marketing campaigns—like the need for good translations and being culturally sensitive. While marketing in different languages may seem like it would be a lot of extra work, social media can make the process a lot simpler than traditional marketing campaigns. Translating and posting a tweet is a lot easier than buying advertising space in a country’s local media to reach that market. Social media makes entering new language markets much more accessible, even for small businesses.

Work with pros

Don’t leave your multilingual marketing to a machine (or a novice translator). Even with the advances made by Google, these translations are often incomplete or very confusing. With machine translation (and bad translations in general) people can’t trust the accuracy of what they’re reading, and if you’re presenting your product or service, trust and credibility are key components. If you don’t make an effort to effectively communicate with a potential market in their language, they’re not going to interact with your content.

One option is to hire an in-house multilingual social media expert to manage your company’s social media websites (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) in language markets your company is targeting.

If you’re only targeting one or two languages, this option could make sense, however it can be difficult to find a multilingual social media manager, and there is no need to hire an internal expert for this job. Rather than hiring a multilingual individual or team to manage social media marketing, many firms are finding it more convenient to outsource this task.

Professional multilingual social media/marketing firms can offer you the services you need to effectively communicate your language in English and multiple other languages.

Professional translation services, content developers, and marketing services can manage your multilingual social media campaign for you. These companies will work closely with you, your marketing department, or social media manager to translate your original content or create new content for your marketing campaign according to your company’s needs.

Keep things simple

For most updates, you’ll find you can use your original (primary language) content and adapt it into multiple languages, so that you don’t need to create new content for every new market. Most experienced translators know how to adapt the message—not just translate the words—so that it comes across naturally in the target language.

That said, there may be occasions when you want to tailor your content for a specific market, emphasizing aspects of your product or service that might be more attractive in certain countries. For example, in a market with less disposable income you may want to emphasize competitive prices, while fast-paced cultures may be more concerned with speed of delivery. Accommodating such preferences doesn’t need to be complicated, however, and doesn’t require creating entirely new campaigns or content for each market.

With multilingual social media, it’s easy to simply alter or add posts to highlight different qualities of your product or service. If you want to invest in tailoring your social media, some market research can help you determine these factors, or you can consult a marketing specialist in your target market. But remember that for most of your content, a simple quality translation is all that’s necessary.

Determine your target markets

Be strategic and focus on a few markets where you want to expand and where you see potential demand for your product. While 2-3 languages may be manageable at first, 10 might be overwhelming. Once you’ve got the hang of multilingual social media marketing, you can expand to more markets. And by using professional localization services, you can vastly minimize the resources you expend on expanding your social media reach.

Be culturally sensitive

A good translator or multilingual marketer should take cross-cultural and linguistic considerations into account. It pays to know what’s trendy in your target market. And your content not only needs to make sense in another language, but be natural and attractive. This is true for any multilingual marketing campaign.

Bad translations have made for some pretty funny—and embarrassing—marketing campaigns. Many multilingual campaigns have gone amuck when a slogan translates in an awkward or nonsensical way, because the translator or marketing team was unaware of a cultural context. A good translator will not just translate the words, but translate your message in a way that is effective and appealing in that language. This is why it’s essential to work with professional translators who are intimately familiar with the native language and culture of your target market.

Know your social media

Facebook and Twitter don’t function exactly alike, and knowing the ins and outs of these websites (as a social media manager or marketing expert should) is important to maximize your reach. In addition to different styles that will determine how you communicate with followers, note the different settings and options. For instance, you need to know how to use language filters on various websites, and on some sites, like Twitter, you may need to set up different accounts for different languages.

Make the leap and go multilingual

If you do it right—hiring professionals, knowing your audience and being social-network-savvy—you’ll be glad you did.

Also check out our previous articles: 6 common myths and misconceptions about translation and Beware of Google Translate: Humans beat machine translation every time


Still got doubts. Get in touch with our dedicated multilingual social media team to discuss a solution 

Why Google Translate isn’t always your friend, and some tasks are better left to humans

As machine translators like Google Translate become more widely available, you might think that professional translation is growing less important.

Google Translate certainly has its uses; nothing is easier than plugging in an article summary or an email from a coworker overseas and getting instantly caught up. Still, it’s not an effective replacement for professional translation. We’ll show you the benefits of hiring a good translator—and how cutting corners with machine translation might actually hurt your business.

For companies looking to make their content or business’s products and services available in markets where different languages are spoken, high-quality professional translations might mean the difference between reaching audiences in new markets and, well, sticking your foot in it (or your leg, if you’re using the Spanish equivalent expression).

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Style and tone

There’s a good place to start. More than being bilingual, good professional translators have a thorough, nuanced knowledge of the source language they work in. That means they’re aware of the complex web of meanings and connotations in texts that are persuasive, literary, journalistic—you name it.

Take a phrase like “Quien malos caminos anda, malos abrojos halla.” 

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Google Translate takes it a bit too literally. A professional translator thinks to themselves: “Looks like a cautionary proverb to me!” I know people don’t use it much these days, so to a Spanish-speaking reader it would sound a little bit old-fashioned. To preserve the meaning and its connotations, a professional translator might use, “The chickens have come home to roost,” or, “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”

Accuracy

Even if your content doesn’t contain turns of phrase, ordinary sentences and even technical texts can give machine translators trouble too. Take the phrase, “las cotizaciones internacionales de las materias primas de referencia.” The machine translator spits it out as “them quotes international of them materials raw of reference,” which is far from helpful. Among the benefits of hiring a good translator is that they can effectively pick these elements apart to see that you really meant to make a statement about “the international prices of benchmark raw materials.” In cases like this one it’s also special familiarity with specific industries or subjects that gives human translators an edge.

For more examples of where machines can go wrong, check out our article, “Language matters: 6 translation myths debunked.”

Language variations and localization

When adapting content to a market in a different country or region, another enormous advantage of hiring a good translator is their intricate knowledge of how the use of a particular language differs geographically. Just as Americans and British people speak and write differently, a text translated for European Spanish-speakers may not sound fully natural for a Latin American reader. Wait—but isn’t it the same language? Yes, but there are countless differences in vocabulary and usage that contribute to whether or not the reader feels comfortable as the text’s intended audience. This is always important, but especially so in the case of help content or any text dealing with a more sensitive, personal topic, such as health or security.  

Cultural sensitivity and nuances
For instance, last year I was working on a translation and localization project dealing with email help content, and a Latin American language expert cautioned against using the word “tráfico” to translate the phrase, “unusual traffic on your account.” He explained that, especially with this sensitive topic, it’s best to avoid the word “tráfico” for its association in Latin America with narcotrafficking. He opted for “tránsito” or “circulación” instead. It’s this expertise that professional translators bring to make texts sound fully natural.

Privacy and confidentiality
Plugging something into Google Translate and handing it over to a professional translator are quite different acts when it comes to privacy. CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools with machine translation functionality allow professional translators to work faster and more accurately than ever, but unlike Google, our tools keep your information confidential. You may not know it, but Google Terms & Services state:

“When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”

Clearly, working one-on-one with a translation service you trust is the way to keep confidential documents under control. At VeraContent, we’re always willing to sign a nondisclosure agreement to protect clients’ sensitive documents and information.

If you want to guarantee consistently high-quality content, and especially if your project involves special challenges in localization or confidentiality, you can’t risk leaving it to Google Translate. That’s a job cut out for a professional translation service that will give your text the attention to detail it deserves.