Translation and intercultural issues in social media

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Since Tuesday’s IABC France/Lunch Club panel on the use of mobile technology in the marcomm mix, questions about translation and intercultural communications in social media keep popping into my mind. The 4-person panel covered the range of experts in the field, from smartphone manufacturer (Bertrand Dupuis, Nokia),  mobile app developper (Marc Pholien, Neorexo), digital media designer and developper (Patrick Bosteels) to social media strategist (Marta Majewska, Porter Novelli).

I knew – unsurprisingly – that France is way behind in the use of social media, but did not realize quite how far behind. Many of my clients are not on Twitter, LinkedIn and Viadeo – the major professional platforms. Many of my freelance colleagues don’t even have a website. And so on.

“What you see depends on where you sit,” one of my professors at university said frequently during his International Negotiation lectures.

What type of translation needs will social media trigger? How will they be fulfilled and delivered? What are some of the key intercultural issues in their wide adoption and use? What core values do they touch on?

What would you, readers, like to discuss?

It would be great if you’d contribute your thoughts, ideas and questions so that we can kick-start a useful dialog on how our roles as language and culture experts may evolve as social media becomes more prevalent in our corporate clients’ marketing and communications strategies.

Over to you!


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Comments: 6

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  • Hi Patricia,

    Sorry I missed the event — and meeting you face-to-face!
    But I’m glad to get the run-down via your blog.

    Let me know the next time you’re in Paris.


    • Indeed, it was excellent. Starting to think about a follow-up. How about brainstorming week after next, if you’ve got some time – it’s about time we met IRL 🙂

  • Hi Patricia,

    I have not yet done any translation meant for smartphone readers but I imagine that there are many constraints. We would probably have to cut down texts down the bone. If you have any tips or links about mobile-friendly translation, please share them! I’d like to learn more.

    Right now I’m revising the English version of a website and I’ve been asked to take SEO into account. Fortunately, the keyword research has been done. My challenge now is to incorporate these keywords as I see fit.

    As more companies turn to social media sites to advertise their products, I wouldn’t be surprised if more translation assignments have SEO requirements.

    • Good comment, Catherine! I’d raised that very question with some web app developers I know, plus the website and blog redesign project I’m in the midst of has enriched my awareness immensely. From what I can gather, it’s more websites’ bells and whistles and complex design that get cleaned up (or out!) for smarphone surfing. The text still needs to be prepared so as to achieve its goals – long or short texts, abundant or few headings and so on.

      The bigger issue in my eyes is social media translation – how companies with a strong international social media strategy and the community managers to run it will deal with the challenge of 140 keystrokes, the timeliness of postings and the cultural variables at play for example – and broad social media adoption/use in the face of cross-cultural differences pertaining to what is public/private/intimate or national legislations (including related to consumer protection and fair competition laws as we have in France).

      On the web copywriting/translation SEO front, the more I learn the more I am convinced (we advocate specialization, right?) that the ideal approach is the partnering of two professionals: the translator/copywriter and SEO/referencing specialist. There is so much more to SEO when ranking is critical than putting the right key phrases in the right place and achieving just the right density that focusing on just the words (translators/copywriters) is half the picture. As translators and writers, we are far removed from the other half – the choice of domain name, the website’s arborescence, netlinking, coding and so on. Not to mention keep track of and understanding the constant evolution in search engines’ algorithms. And ranking will become increasingly difficult (as if it weren’t already) simply because each day millions of new sites and blogs come on line.

  • I don’t do much marcomm translation, but I do think it’s interesting that France is on such a different plane when it comes to social media. When Eve Bodeux and I did our social media presentation for the SFT last year, I felt that people were really receptive to the idea, but it also seemed that social media is not yet ingrained into the business culture in France. I’m not sure if it’s because the French biz culture is so much more relationship-based (people would rather call someone they know than cold-contact someone on LinkedIn/Viadeo)? For example, people seemed pretty blown away when we showed them that in the US, almost every large business you can think of, no matter how conservative it is, has a Facebook page or is on Twitter. Definitely not the case in France; it’s an interesting study!!

  • Hi PatrĂ­cia,

    You’ve raised some very important issues there. I agree that ideally companies would need their translators, copywriters and SEO specialists to work closely together to put the right words together in their social media campaigns. However, I believe that for this to be optimum, the copywriter would have to be an expert in the company’s culture and positioning; the SEO specialist would have to be an expert in the new “culture” emerging through social media, and the translator would have to be an expert on the target culture -by expert I don’t mean just native, but someone who’s actually aware of their cultural aspects, how people think and how their ideas are construed. I am aware that this won’t always be practical, but I believe that the closest companies get to this “dream team” the more effectively they’ll communicate through social media. Just some food for thought…