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How to Use Translation Services to Avoid Losing Half of Your Audience on Social Media

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51 percent of social media users state that they would unfollow brands if they post irritating posts, according to Smart Insights. That’s a pretty staggering statistic. It goes to show how important intelligently connecting with your audience is as a brand.

One key way to alienate your audience is to use poorly translated social media posts when you’re interacting with customers and potential customers overseas. Social media translation fails range from being comical to downright offensive.

Below, I’ll look at the growing importance of social media and how social media translations can get it wrong. I’ll also look at how to prevent these mishaps, like finding professional translation services that can help you avoid social media localization blunders through expert advice and guidance.

If you want to know whether your business is getting it right when it comes to translation and social media, check out this article. 

How to Use Translation Services to Avoid Losing Half of Your Audience on Social Media 

Social media has become a mainstay in how brands interact with current and potential customers. For example, Lyfe Marketing has shared these great statistics to show just how influential social media has become for brands:

  • 70 percent of the U.S. population has a profile on at least one social media site. In other words, brands can interact with a large segment of the population by using social media.

  • 71 percent of people who have had a good experience with a brand on social media are likely to recommend that brand to others. In other words, get it right on social media and your customers will do your marketing for you.

  • If you’re looking to target the 18-34 age demographic, they comprise 95 percent of the people who follow brands on social media. That’s right – 95 percent!

  • 78 percent of people who complain about a brand on Twitter want a response within one hour from that brand. In other words, customers expect brands to be incredibly quick to respond to their needs on social media. Addressing their concerns swiftly can therefore help you to retain or convert customers.

  • 59 percent of Americans believe social media has made customer service easier for them.

  • Pinterest drives 25 percent of all website retail referral traffic.

As you can see, social media has become an imperative part of marketing for brands. All of these statistics illustrate how important it is to get social media right for your valuable customers.

The Dangers of Poor Social Media Translation

Another staggering statistic is that 46 percent of social media users will unfollow a brand if they feel that brand posts too many promotional messages. In other words, you could lose almost half of your social media followers if you get it wrong. Lyfe Marketing recommends that a third of your posts should be promotional in nature. The rest should share relevant information on topics related to your brand, like articles or posts encouraging engagement.

An article in Entrepreneur on the value of branding put it perfectly:

“We live in a world where your online reputation can be your strongest asset or your biggest liability.”

The article states that reputation damage is the number one risk concern for business executives – 88 percent of them said they’re focusing on reputation risk as a major business challenge. Meanwhile, 87 percent stated that reputation risk is more important than other strategic risks for the company. And 41 percent of executives who went through a reputation risk event said loss of revenue was the biggest impact they faced.

The Importance of Social Media Localization Services 

One key way to lose face as a company is to make a localization snafu. Translating online text comes with its own unique challenges. For instance, East Asian languages can be hard to translate due to the number of different writing systems that are in use. One example is the difference between simplified and traditional Chinese, both of which are used in different regions.

Furthermore, Chinese uses groups of characters to assign meaning. That means without spaces, which impedes analysis when looking for trends and repetition as part of the translation process.

Translation can be complex. It’s not just about turning words in one language into words in another. There are specialist areas of translation and a range of translation types, as well as localization and transcreation services.

Localization is the process of tailoring your message to appeal to the sensitivities of the new audience. It takes the nuances of different cultures into account so that brands don’t accidentally offend people of those cultures when marketing overseas. When you hear about chain restaurants tailoring their menus to different cultures, that’s an example of localization.

The lesser-known term, transcreation, refers to taking the message and recreating it to appeal to certain regions. The process keeps the emotional impact or overall goal of the message alive, but everything from colours to copy to brand names to images can be changed as part of the process.

These are delicate undertakings that require a heavy dose of cultural knowledge and awareness. And when companies get it wrong, it’s damaging to the brand in massive ways.

Examples of Bad Social Media Translation and Localization 

Translation fails have become something of a fad online. After all, who doesn’t love to laugh at the menu offering “spicy cold children” instead of (presumably and hopefully) “spicy cold chicken?” However, being on the receiving end of this laughter often reflects badly on the brand that made the gaffe. I’ll show you some examples.

A high profile case that was making the rounds on social media in 2017 comes out of Singapore. A sushi chain released a new sushi meal called the Maki Kita. The dish was supposed to celebrate Singapore’s National Day, and Maki Kita was a pun off the opening line of the national anthem. The problem was, in Malay it means “curse us.” Naturally, the internet had a field day with the cursed sushi meal. The restaurant had to delete the post from Instagram the same day they posted it, but the damage had been done.

 A bad French translation from a Twitter comment by the president of Telus Quebec made the news earlier in 2018. In English, the inspirational message read: 

“Take a deep breathe, ground yourself. Go kill it.”

This wasn’t even grammatically correct in English, but the French version was much worse. It read:

“Take a deep breath, grind yourself. Go kill him.”  

The tweet reached such infamy that it became a cat meme – the ultimate sign of online fame. The agency that handled the tweet was fired from Telus, and apologies went out to French-speaking Canada.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for when social media translations go wrong. These stories illustrate how poor translation and localization services can disrupt well-intended marketing campaigns. They can mean wasted money, people getting fired and all-around embarrassment for the brand. Not what you’ve got in mind for your company’s overseas marketing campaign, I imagine.

Offline Translation Fails Come Online  

Not even physical documents are safe from online fame when it comes to translation fails. A note in a physical print can stir up a backlash on social media very quickly. Such was the case with DC Comics in 2016. The editor’s note in a Superman/Wonder Woman annual said that some text was translated from “Pakistanian.” The official langue of Pakistan is Urdu. “Pakinstanian” is as much of a language as “American” is.

The company was taken to town on Twitter with comments like, “Here’s why @Marvel is winning over @DCComics – the latter thinks we speak Pakistanian.”

DC remained largely quiet about it, refusing to comment even when the matter was discussed in the Guardian. Their silence means that the error sits as a permanent, culturally insensitive black mark against DC as a company.

Translation Isn’t the Only Way to Alienate Your Audience

Nor does it stop with poor language services and bad cultural sensitivity – there are plenty of other ways to alienate your audience. You can actually lose your audience by posting at the wrong times, according to the Fox School of Business at Temple University. Their research found that posting during peak online traffic hours of (5-8 pm) left the consumers feeling “fatigued and frustrated.” This sort of posting increased the likelihood that people would unfollow the accounts by over 300 percent.

Other social media don’ts, according to Fast Company, include:

Don’t rely too much on auto-posting: Abusing these tools can lead to over posting and scripted-sounding messages that can alienate followers.

Keep an eye on tragedy: Often social media is the first place a natural disaster or a tragedy such as a school shooting might break the news. Try to keep posting down during these times – followers are unlikely to be in the mood to hear about a 50 percent off coupon.

Be mindful of trending topics: Only use a trending hashtag if you have something real and relevant to contribute. Otherwise, it looks like a sleazy marketing tactic, especially if that topic is of a sensitive nature.  As you can see, social media use is a complex minefield requiring correct translations, sensitive cultural acumen and smarts about when and how much to post.

Below I’ll take a deeper look at all of these issues and share some more insights on how to avoid losing your audience through social media faux pas.

How to Avoid Bad Social Media Translation  

If you’re a global company, you’ll need to focus on strong localization practices – and those start in the planning stages. Right off the bat, make sure you’re researching your market. You should find out who your customers are, their interests and their locations. Part of that research will involve looking into those locations and assessing whether your messages will work across different cultures.

As touched on above, you should keep up with local events in the places where you’re marketing. For instance, Amazon ran into some trouble when it tweeted about a “Cereal Killer” bowl, right after the Pulse nightclub shootings in the summer of 2016.

You should also become familiar with which countries are most active on which social media platforms. Remember that certain areas in Asia cannot access Facebook, for example.

You can check your social media demographics pages to check on where your followers are located. That can help you understand which areas and cultures you need to focus on.

Don’t try to go it alone, however! If you’re planning a large social media campaign across different cultures, you’ll most likely need a strong translation agency or professional translator to keep you on track with both cultural sensitivities and language nuance. While Google Translate can make it feel like the future is literally now, it loves to create some truly comical hiccups and shouldn’t be relied on for professional purposes.

You can find a good professional translator or translation company with a few tips:

  • Ask the translator to provide references and samples of previous work. They should have a strong portfolio of social media campaigns, as well as advertising and marketing projects.

  • Ask them how they perform their translations. They should be open and honest about the process. Pro translators tend to use computer aided translation (CAT) tools that allow them to create memories or glossaries, and work well with style guides. Make sure they have some kind of system in place to ensure that they are keeping your notes and guidelines organized.

  • Take note of how well they communicate. When you work with a translator, the process is a two-way street. You don’t merely submit the material and magically get a perfect text back. The translator should be open to notes, revisions and additional instructions (within reason, of course!).

  • Pick an agency or translator that also has a strong background in localization. Because they’ll be working in the social media ecosystem, they’ll need to know about cultural sensitivities, how different cultures are likely to receive certain images, and what is trending in different nations. All of that falls into the realm of localization services. You’re looking for someone to tend to your brand in a new culture, not merely translate the text.

  • Finally, look at how much the agency or translator knows about social media itself. Do they know the best times to post without alienating an audience? Do they know how to make posts that engage their readers? A true professional will be able to give you details on campaigns they’ve worked on in the past, the tools they use to create posts and the statistics that guide their posting habits.


There are many moving parts to a multilingual and multicultural social media campaign. Remember, flubs can mean losing or alienating a full half of your audience, so it’s important to balance great social media translation and localization with smart social media use. Being educated at your end about what works and what doesn’t, along with hiring great translation and localization help, can lead to a successful social media campaign in multiple countries.

Now over to you – how have you fared so far with your international social media engagement attempts? And what will you differently after reading the tips above? Leave a comment below to share your experiences!

Author Bio:  

Ofer Tirosh, CEO of Tomedes translation and localization services.











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