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Fuschia Hutton

6 questions to ask before you translate your social media posts

For years, social media has been an integral part of your marketing plan. It’s a quick way for brands and businesses to connect with customers both existing and potential.

If done correctly, it can help move potential customers through the marketing funnel, from awareness to consideration to conversion.

If you operate in more than one market, sharing social media content in another language is near essential. It will show your customers in those markets that you care about them.

But let’s say you’re a tourism business, or an online retailer based in one territory but wanting to attract foreign clients. Translating your social media posts could be a savvy move.

Of course, you could decide to translate into ALL THE LANGUAGES, but that’s not necessarily a smart move. Your social media feed will be cluttered, and the market may not even be there.

But translating social media posts into English could be. Remember that many people do have a good passive knowledge of English and consume English-language media. Even if they aren’t confident speakers of the language.

Here are a number of questions that can guide you in your decision to translate your social media posts.

Question number 1: Is it worth getting a professional translator to translate your social media posts or should you do it yourself?

Like many questions I get asked, this really depends. It depends on who you are, who your audience are and what their expectations are, and what the risk of getting it wrong is.

Think about the investment you already make in your social media marketing and strategy. If it’s a lot, then don’t undo the hard work and investment with a shoddy translation.

Question number 2: are you an individual or a company?

If you are a big brand expanding into new markets, you can’t afford to get this wrong. Just like your website copy, adverts, and any other public-facing communications, you need to impress your new market if you are to succeed.

That includes communicating in a way that resonates with the new audience.

But social media isn’t just the realm of big, international brands. It is also where influencers and celebrities hang out.

Often, influencers whose first language isn’t English include commentary in their native language and English to reach a bigger market. Often, they will write the English themselves, and my personal opinion is – great! When there is an individual and a face behind a brand, there’s no reason to expect the English to be perfect. In fact, little idiosyncrasies can add charm and character.

Social media, unlike websites or adverts, is ephemeral, so any inaccuracies will be washed away with the morning tide.

Although on that note, sometimes the posts that go viral can take you by surprise. So, if a big brand’s communications have been translated by Google or the intern, they are unlikely to generate the effect as they deserve.

Question number 3: what does the rest of our marketing plan look like?

There’s not much point translating your social media if you don’t have the infrastructure to support users of that language.

If you posts in English, but your website is only in German, it will likely frustrate non-German speakers who stumble across you on social media.

Question number 4: will the translation be shared with the original text or will you have separate social media feeds?

Decide whether the translated content will be posted with the original content. As mentioned earlier, this is quite a common tactic with social media influencers on Instagram or Facebook.

On these platforms, where there is a lot of space for text, this can be a good idea. Make it easier for readers to identify their language by using flag emojis.

However, this can make for a cluttered post, and on Instagram it means you can’t fully take advantage of the hashtag limit for each language.

The other option is to manage several different accounts by language. This is particularly common on Twitter, where there is not enough room to tweet in both languages. Followers could be put off by seeing a tweet in a language they don’t understand.

Question number 5: will you be able to understand and respond to the responses and comments?

Again, depending on the size of your business, you may want to employ a native social media manager for each of the territories you wish to target.

A social media manager will not only ensure that the content is appropriate for their target audience, but they will be able to engage and respond to comments from followers.

After all, there’s nothing more off-putting than a brand that posts and runs, never responding to any of the commentary. It makes you look like you don’t care.

Question number 6: is translation really the most efficient way to communicate in different markets?

Another question worth considering is whether translation is something you need, or if you need a service that goes further.

If you’re a French brand posting about Bastille Day, you may need to take a different approach when targeting non-French speakers. At the very least, you will need to include some kind of explanation to give context to non-French speakers.

An increasingly common approach is to work with a translator-copywriter to transcreate social media or blogposts. The translator will not simple translate the content, but will take the main ideas and create something from scratch that makes sense to the new audience.

This could mean that the social media feeds for the UK, Italy, Germany, and Spain all look different. And you know what? That’s not a bad thing!

Being specific about your brand persona will help ensure continuity in translation.

So Fuschia, why don’t you post social media in Italian?

Anyone who has followed me on Twitter or Instagram may wonder why on earth I don’t translate my social media posts into Italian. Surely that’s a huge missed opportunity?

And you know what? You’re right.

The truth is, I’m a little on the fence about this one. While I feel individuals don’t necessarily need to worry about perfectly polished social media commentary, as a language professional, I feel that any public commentary I make in Italian should be flawless.

Yes, as a translator, I only write in English, my native language, so grammatical inaccuracies in my written Italian aren’t that relevant. And yes, I am more than happy to jump on a call or send client emails in Italian.

But I feel that if I start posting Italian and some little errors slip through then it could potentially undermine my message.

Maybe the public is more forgiving, but until I have the resources to work with a translator or proofreader for my social media and blog, they’ll remain in English.

  • Hi Fuschia
    Your posts are always very pleasant to read. I agree with you that itranslating our socia media is a difficult topic…It all depends on everyone. Some will feel more confident in doing it… Personally I think like you that I will prefer to have a proofreader if I decide to translate my social media posts… You are right when you say the readers can be forgiven if they know the posts are not in your native language… not easy for me as I am French and at the moment ally posts are in English. .. Maybe 1 day there will be in French too.

  • Hi Fuschia!

    Thanks for another great post.

    On question number 5, you’re absolutely right. It’s pointless to post in another language and think that’s enough. Brands need a community manager who reads and responds to users’ comments. I learned that last summer, when I got to do some community management for two video game franchises. I was in charge of monitoring their FB page for Spain and, although it’s not always pleasant to deal with angry people (tons of haters out there!), it certainly shows that the brand cares and is willing to invest in their customers abroad.


      • No, I hadn’t seen the link! Thanks =)

        As for the negative comments, (un)fortunately the company’s policy was to ignore them and focus on those users’ who had something positive to say. Easier for me as the community manager, but I felt terrible most of time because I thought all users – whether happy or unhappy – deserved an answer.

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