Trends in Social Media Translation - 11/02/2011

By Liz Elting

Electronic Retailer Magazine – July 2011

Retailers and marketers give a lot of weight to the power of social media in both domestic and international campaigns. In some ways, it’s easy to see why. Blogs can increase search engine optimization (SEO) rankings, Twitter is a direct connection to customers, and Facebook use is so ubiquitous around the world that an Egyptian recently named his daughter after that platform in honor of its role in his country’s revolution. Yet, for all of its glamor, social media alone won’t save an international marketing plan. In some cases, it might not help a company achieve its marketing goals at all. Instead, retailers who want to expand internationally should focus on integrated campaigns and tried-and-true search marketing, and then include social media strategy if and when it’s appropriate.

Does Social Media Generate Leads?
In some industries, tweets drive customers to landing pages and directly affect conversion rates. In others, Facebook posts create viral conversation among potential customers, ultimately impacting the bottom line. Still, others might find that blogging pays off in terms of other marketing goals.

For internationally focused companies, these activities are time and resource-intensive, since multilingual social media cannot be managed by machine alone. Consider the fact that 140 characters in English, in the case of Twitter, do not neatly translate into 140 characters in Chinese or French. Human experts are required to oversee that process, as well as other social media outreach, such as responding to wall posts on Facebook or answering messages on a blog.

Before retailers invest in these activities, they should consider its potential value and ask several key questions, including:

There is a growing demand to get traffic to international sites, and companies are going about it in a number of ways. However, what is crucial is that they look at where they’ll get the most value. Sometimes, that is from social media, but not always.

Social Media: the Hype and the Facts
Social media is attractive in its simplicity: A business puts out a 300-word message in a blog, a 140-character message on Twitter, a short statement on Facebook, or a video on YouTube. The company controls when the message is released and via which platform. It sounds easy. Globalization, however, complicates matters.

Effective localization and translation require more than plugging words into a bot that spits out literal interpretations. This is certainly true for global websites, but the importance of connotation intensifies, as communication gets more compact. Twitter’s strict length parameters, for example, make every character choice a critical one. Translating for this kind of platform requires not only timesaving software solutions, but seasoned human translators, as well. Additionally, crafting those short texts and broadcasting them frequently takes ongoing local support, since the basis of social media is not one-way communication but one-to-many and many-to-many conversation. For companies looking for a marketing effort that can be completed one time and then replicated endlessly, social media is an inappropriate choice.

When Social Media Makes Sense, Employ Best Localization Practices
Despite its drawbacks, social media should be at least a consideration within retailers’ international search marketing plans. If an organization decides social media can, in fact, pay off internationally, it needs to factor translation, international messaging, cultural norms, local news and events, and localized search engine parameters into its planning.

At home and abroad, social media itself is not a marketing campaign; instead, it should be viewed as an element of an integrated approach. For example, retailers should look at the way all available media and mediums can function together to reach a clearly articulated goal. Once that is accomplished, companies should keep several best practices in mind.

The greatest return on blogging, Twitter and Facebook comes from posting fresh, relevant content on a frequent schedule, monitoring other blogs, tweets and posts in the market, and commenting regularly. Local ownership of these tasks is often most beneficial to insure that language nuances and cultural practices ring true to area prospects and customers. Of course, that requires the presence of an in-region, marketing-savvy writer with time to take on content creation and blog management.

Real ROI Stems from Integrated Marketing
When it comes to international outreach and localization, the real return on investment comes from a well-integrated campaign that potentially includes social media as one element. Other common elements include targeted pay-per-click ads tied to a comprehensive international search engine marketing (ISEM) campaign, culturally relevant landing pages for fast conversions, multilingual rich media, adapted banner ads and marketing, out-of-home advertising, experiential marketing with people on the ground, philanthropic community involvement, and events like launch parties and networking functions.

Unfortunately, too many companies see that their website traffic is low, and they respond rashly. They run some hastily translated ads or employ machine translation to recreate their domestic blogs in international markets. Both of these activities fail to achieve their overall marketing goals – building business globally, generating new leads, and spreading awareness about products and services. The digital aspect of integrated marketing must include ISEM. ISEM is more nuanced than the quick-hit actions associated with social media. It starts with:

Careful creation of keywords: The list of keywords a retailer uses to inform its integrated marketing strategy needs to be carefully researched and region-specific. Literal translation does not work for keyword creation, as slang and local vernacular play a significant role in regional search practices.

Selection of dominant search engine: Google is king in most of the world, but not everywhere. If, for example, a company wants to sell shoes online in China, it should learn the algorithms of the local favorite search engine, Baidu, and create the keywords, ad placements, website content, and tags most likely to boost its local rankings.

Adequate resources for target markets: Many retailers funnel the majority of their marketing budgets into their English language sites, then parse out what’s left to support international sites. When these resources are spread too thin across too many languages, the results are often poorly performing sites. Business must designate adequate resources to developing regional marketing materials, targeted messages, pay-per-click (PPC) ads, and other supporting elements in order to drive conversion rates and penetrate new markets.

There are few markets in which anything short of an integrated campaign makes sense. If a retailer drives prospects to a landing page that is not relevant to the ad they viewed, conversion rates suffer. If a business fails to employ high-quality localization, the effect might be felt not only in disappointing search engine results, but also on the registration page or in the shopping cart.

Social Media Finds its Place in International Marketing
Social media has captured the attention of consumers around the world. In many markets, it can be a powerful element in a larger, more complete marketing campaign. Alternatively, it can be a time-consuming, resource-intensive process with little pay-off. The determination of social media’s value is market and business-specific. Instead of focusing squarely on social media, retailers with international aspirations should consider their higher level needs first. Every aspect of global marketing expansion – honing local messages, developing keywords, and creating SEM tactics – must meet the overall goal of driving new leads and business. To that end, retailers should communicate with their international prospects and customers in the language that resonates best and via the platforms that matter most.

Liz Elting is co-founder and co-CEO of

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