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Why bother with multilingual translation of social media?

For most companies the answer is easy – they don’t. But they could be making a big mistake. Social media is seen as an essential part of many marketing campaigns. At the same time, English is losing its dominance on Facebook and Twitter.

Multilingual translation of social media feeds is an easy way to reach a huge audience. It’s also a great way of engaging with customers in  countries where you have a website – without the expense of setting up an on on-the-ground presence.

Last week, Twitter launched its new version in Swedish, after thousands of volunteers helped produce a translation through crowdsourcing.  It’s now available in 21 languages. But this underestimates the diversity of its 300 million users, who tweet in far more languages. Fewer than half of tweets are now in English.

There are plenty of signs this trend will continue. A 2010 study on Facebook found the number of Portuguese-speaking users was growing roughly three times as fast as English speakers. And some people might be surprised to learn that Indonesia is the most Twitter-addicted nation.  This eye-catching map illustrates how it spans the world.

What does this mean for social media marketing? Most users don’t want to plough through content in a language they don’t fully understand. For businesses who are already marketing in foreign countries, translating social media feeds is a way to share news, build their brand and interact with customers.

Multilingual translation can support existing websites and marketing campaigns. It’s also a good way to increase search engine rankings of websites, since Google now takes social media links into effect.  And because few international companies do it, it’s a way to stand out from the crowd.

Of course there are a few golden rules to follow. It’s essential to set up separate pages or feeds for each market – switching between languages on a single Twitter account will just confuse users. And localisation is also key. A native-speaking social media manager can ensure that updates are relevant and  timely, and fit in with the country’s culture.

It’s also important not to forget other social media platforms such as Mixi in Japan or Orkut in Brazil. It might seem a lot of effort, but with hundreds of millions of users within reach, it’s definitely worth it.


Christian Arno, Founder and President, Lingo24

Christian Arno is Founder and President of Lingo24. He started the company in 2001 after graduating from Oxford University with a degree in languages. He has won numerous awards including HSBC Business Thinking and International Trade Awards (2010), and TAUS Excellence Award (2012) for innovative technology. He contributes to leading industry publications and has been featured on the BBC, in the Financial Times and other media around the world.

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