Why actively managing an international follower base of your brand is something worth looking into? 89.5% of brands are using social media, but the vast majority only do it in English. Whilst 55.5% of all web content is in English, only 20% of the world’s population actually speak English, and furthermore, just 5% of the world speaks English as a native language.
As a social media and content director handling some of the biggest global accounts I can tell you that internet use in non-English speaking countries is growing rapidly. That means that if you’re managing an international follower base on social media and you’re only doing it in English, you’re missing out on a huge piece of the pie.
Eastern Europe, Asia, Russia, Latin America and the Middle East have hundreds of millions of social media users. Social media is already multilingual, but is your brand meeting the needs of its audience?
When we talk about the evolution of language on social media, there is no better example than the number one social media network, Facebook. Facebook now has over two billion users but back in 2007, Facebook was only available in English. Of course, this was a significant barrier to Facebook’s mission to connect every person on the planet.
A hackathon at Facebook produced a community translation tool that allowed users to translate the service into their native tongues. Released in 2008, the tool asks native speakers to submit translations of phrases and then calculates their votes on which is the most accurate. Fast forward 10 years and Facebook is now available in 101 languages with over 300,000 users helping in translation. It provides multilingual targeting options, posting and page support.
(Charts by Visualizer Lite.)
Still not convinced? These stats recorded in March 2017 paint a very clear picture:
Here are some of my first-hand tips for making sure you’re rocking your multilingual marketing plan on social media:
Before you get all excited and decide to start publishing your social media posts in Indonesian, stop and look at your target social demographics. If you’re an online shop providing global shipping then there’s a good chance your followers won’t all be English speakers. If, however, you run a cake shop in England, then your target customer is one who lives close by and will probably be English. This is an important point to note because you shouldn’t be marketing in multiple languages unless you need to. Check your social media demographics for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin by visiting your page settings and viewing your users. This is the Facebook user demographic for my agency Contentworks and the Twitter user demographic for me.
Pro Tip: It is also worth noting down the gender insights – with 85% of my Facebook page fans being male, this could be significant for future campaigns.
If you’re planning to run multilingual marketing campaigns then don’t rely on machines or novice translators. Even with the advances made by Google, these translations are often incomplete or very confusing. I once used Google translate to email a colleague in Romania and my inputted phrase “Happy Birthday, it’s a pleasure working with you” became “Wishing you a happy pregnancy”. He’s male and it became the office joke of the week. Thankfully it wasn’t a client! If you are going to target multiple languages then you need to consider all associated costs for doing it properly. These could be an in-house or remote translator or a translation agency. You also need to consider the time involved in managing these translations.
When Pepsi translated their message “Come Alive with Pepsi” for an ad campaign in China, it became “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead!”
Pro Tip: Always perfect your English update before sending it out for translation. That means running it past your legal or compliance teams if you need to. At least then you will know that the translations are based on something that is correct and approved. Avoid English colloquialisms or phrases such as “Kill two birds with one stone” or “make hay while the sun shines”, trust me, they won’t translate properly!
Great multilingual marketing is all about thinking global and acting local. That means that you need to really understand your target audience and pay attention to their trends, sensitivities, celebrations and customs. In most cases, translating your message into 50 languages just won’t be good enough.
A good translator or multilingual marketer should take cross-cultural and linguistic considerations into account. Here’s a few of the cultural differences I learnt in recent years:
Pro Tip: If you’re planning to run one marketing campaign in numerous languages then pay attention to each culture to ensure you will not damage your brand.
Facebook users select their language preference when initially setting up their account, which means that as an advertiser, you can accurately target based on language. Similarly, Twitter has language filtering available in 20 languages, determined by both the users’ selected language and the language of their activity on Twitter. When you are posting on your Facebook page, you can select global, perhaps for all your English messaging. You can also choose to select custom languages, as shown below:
Pro Tip: If you’re managing an international follower base then don’t forget to localize your images too! Posting a French update with an image showing English text shows that you don’t really care. A quick fix for this is to design images that only contain your logo or that illustrate a point without words. Similarly, over on Twitter, your hashtags would need to be in other languages too!
Creating multiple social media channels for your different audiences can be amazing, but it can also be a disaster. I know a number of big brands do this, but there’s your first clue, “Big Brands”. You can be sure that they have additional resources for managing their regional pages.
Notice how the regional pages allow BuzzFeed to localize their designs, messaging and video content. However, it can be a disaster for brands with a smaller budget or those with only one social media manager (I’ve been that person!). In fact, if you don’t have the resources, all that will happen is your additional pages will be neglected, or you will just be copying content from one page to another, which really defeats their purpose.
On the plus side, having localized pages allows you to celebrate local customs, holidays and news stories. This might mean that your English page runs Christmas, Easter and Halloween campaigns whilst your Middle East page runs Eid, Ramadan and the Islamic New Year.
Pro Tip: Let’s lay it down. If you have less than 50,000 social media followers on your page, don’t make another one. Once you pass 50,000, look at your language demographics and carefully consider your resources. Only create a new page if you’re confident that your business can maintain and grow it.
Video is one of the fastest growing social media platforms and whether you are uploading straight to your social feed or via YouTube, you can localize your videos to reach different audiences. Firstly, make sure your video doesn’t involve speech as this can be insulting or annoying for non-native speaking viewers. You also want to follow general best practices for Facebook video marketing.
Next, add translated video titles and descriptions to your videos to make them more accessible to fans outside of your home country. Your fans can then find them via search on the platform and anywhere else on the internet. Learn how to upload localized text files right here. When posting videos to your Facebook Page, you have the option to upload .SRT files for multiple languages. This will allow your video captions to be translated into your viewers’ preferred language.
I’m a huge fan of Canva, the free image creation tool which is just perfect for social media. One of the big benefits of Canva is that it’s easy to replicate an image and then change the language for each one. Check out my example below:
This means that you don’t need a designer to quickly and easily create images for your multiple language social channels. Remember, the only text that can be the same in all languages is your logo, if your website is available in different languages then you should add the relevant URL.
If you’re managing an international follower base then you need to watch your time zones. With social media feeds moving fast, posting at the wrong time will leave your message buried and can massively reduce interaction – and the best time to post on social media is different in various parts of the world. This is where you will need to schedule your posts and social media updates to hit your target audiences when they are awake and ready to respond.
Revive.Social offers a great tool for sharing your content to multiple networks at different times, check it out here. But remember that there’s only so much you can automate your social media without killing engagement. You need to check these pages every day, and the best way to drive international engagement is to have a customer service agent working in their time zone so they can respond in a timely manner.
Remember that the mainstream social media networks such as Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook are not available in all countries. For example, Chinese users are blocked from using Facebook and whilst many access it using a proxy, it’s not the most popular social network for this region.
Similarly, in Turkey, the current regime frequently blocks Twitter and Facebook making it a somewhat unreliable means of communicating with fans. If your main audience uses an alternative social media network such as Weibo in China, then you will need to sign up and familiarize yourself with the rules.
Managing an international follower base on social media will require additional resources, which include time and budget. It’s important to do your audience research first so that you can ascertain exactly how you will proceed. You can then make a plan which involves budget for design, translations, posting and video. Create a localized social media team, and watch your international engagement grow.