Social Networks -- Talk to the Locals

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Media marketers around the world are tapping into today's burgeoning social networks to grow their businesses among culturally-different online communities. Nicholas Goh, CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd - a leading language services provider headquartered in Singapore, highlights that this boils down to rendering the business appeal to local users through cultural variations in brand messaging.

Social networks are outspreading in multiple dimensions and the world is becoming more "local". Customers, entrepreneurs, influencers and stakeholders are using Friendster, Facebook, Twitter and numerous other sites to source ideas, opportunities, relationships and deals. Media marketers located anywhere in the world, from Europe to India to China, are ready to venture beyond their familiar geographical and virtual boundaries and expand business with culturally-different online communities.

Nicholas Goh, CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd - a leading language services provider headquartered in Singapore, highlights that "the growth of social media sites comes down to appealing to local users where cultural variations in brand messaging can be significant."

Digital Value of Social Beings

Much emphasis is being given to customising content that connects with the volumes of 'multilingual locals' located everywhere in the cyberworld. According to EMarketer, User Generated Content: Will Web 2.0 Pay its Way? June 2007, "by 2011, UGC sites are projected to attract 101 million users in the U.S. and earn $4.3 billion in ad revenue". Local market experts aim to grasp the cultural underpinnings of another culture's background and development.

Decoding the Message

Social networking has caught on universally in lightning speed, but English, the original language of the Internet, is still not spoken in many parts of the world. Localization experts aim to tackle language discrepancies by working on certain key areas:

  • Language usability
  • Conversion issues
  • Cultural norms
  • Communication strategy
  • Maintaining the original context and structure

Communication mismatches can have dire straits. For instance, Punjabi audiences booed UK food manufacturer Sharwoods for launching their £6 million dollar campaign 'Bundh' sauces that actually read as "arse" in Punjabi. A department in the Boston Medical Centre encountered at least 396 interpreter errors in their hospital related to omission, false fluency, substitution, editorialization and addition.

Even the English language is floating in various accents, degrees, lingos and slangs, across the English-educated nations of the world. People use net-jargons and acronyms like "cul8" for "collate", "^RUP^" "read up please" as well as "ttyl" for "Talk to you later". These may not always be easy to decipher. So how will the non-English educated understand?

Visual-evaluation also plays an important part. White may represent purity in Western cultures, but in China, it is the colour of death and mourning.

Think Global, Act Local

When the cyberspace becomes a marketplace, the keyword still remains - "Place", where the end-user is located. According to a study conducted by Forrester Research, about 50% of Internet users do not speak English. 50% of online purchases are made outside the USA. New users typically look for content in their own languages or leave the site. Twice the numbers of users stay as long as websites talk their language. The likelihood of their online purchase thus actually quadruples.

Localization of social media is the process of converting all branding communications slotted on social networking sites into different languages by staying linguistically and culturally relevant to the region it is addressed. Multinational companies who want to capture local markets and maintain a social presence target niche segmented communities with a strong internal localization strategy.

Content with Content?

Localizing involves decoding the message while bearing in mind the country's language, culture, humour and social customs. Some of the localizing solutions currently available are:

1.     Machine translators

Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) software, and several other machine translators like Google Translators and Voice Recognition, support and facilitate the translation process. These methods, however, only use algorithms to translate sentences into a language, and often fail to interpret complex documents, abstract language and idiomatic phrases.

2.    Crowdsourcing

This concept allows websites to be translated for free, or sometimes with a reward, by voluntary motivated translators from the online community. When Facebook started using their user base as a way of tackling localization, "crowdsourcing" triggered several arguments related to proofreading, usage of culture-specific slangs, relevance and privacy.

Crowdsourcing can be a temporary solution for stringent budgets. But when a company wants to establish itself as a global brand, showing "unprofessionalism" in brand management can prove expensive. The translations suggested by the undefined self-proclaimed translators will have to be verified.

3.    Professional Multilingual Translators

Professional native translators are adept at examining local connotations for language, colours, shapes and symbol. They raise the bar in terms of:

  • Accuracy
  • Accountability
  • High-quality standards
  • Ability to translate heavy jargons and technical terminologies
  • No shoddy ideas
  • Professionalism

Digital Value of Being Social

The global competitive challenge calls for the greatest voice that engages its potential customers with a strong force of content, community and influencers, all in the language of their choice. Companies can use appropriate language-specific business keywords for identity and optimisation as a valuable marketing strategy.

Being socially relevant is a great way to increase prospects of monetization. Clients also earn valuable goodwill by adopting culture-based content and design on the social networking site. The payoffs for corporate social media involvement are huge.


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Nicholas Goh
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