Global social is a term that I use for the practice of having a social media presence in more than one country/culture/language. For companies that sell products outside of their own borders, having a social media presence abroad can drive a tremendous amount of revenue. It is a marketing channel that everyone wants to take advantage of.

Unfortunately, as many companies will attest, global social media content is quite problematic. Here’s why.

The Art of the Now

In order to be effective, social media needs to be instantaneous. It needs to be constantly creating a buzz or reacting to an event of some sort. Social media cannot wait for a long and involved translation process. To be in the moment, the content either needs to be translated instantaneously or created fresh in each language.

You Cannot Translate Instantaneously

“Okay,” you say. “I will take my tweets and send them through Google or Bing Translate. That way, I can have an instant translation at my fingertips. Then, I’ll just post the Czechoslovakian translation of my tweet right away.”

Not so fast. Let’s remember a bit about machine translation (MT) and the old “garbage in / garbage out” adage. Google and Bing Translate both rely on statistical machine translation (SMT). In order to use SMT effectively, the SMT engine needs to be trained using a lot of content. Once trained, it uses statistical algorithms to predict the best way to translate source content that you type in. Take a random tweet, such as this one from tonight:

Walking down memory lane! On the Oscar stairs! #Oscars

Here is the Japanese translation according to Google Translate:

メモリーレーンを歩いて!オスカーの階段で! #Oscars

The translation is kind of, sort of correct. But not really. The problem is that “memory lane” is a colloquialism. Google Translate does not know how to substitute the Japanese equivalent of memory lane. So, the translation simply uses Memorīrēn, which sounds like “memory lane” when you say it, but doesn’t mean “experiences from my past” or “experiences that I remember.”

In addition, many tweets are not written in English. They are written in a new language that we’ve all been using on Twitter. I call the language “Tweet”.  In Tweet, it is okay to use abbreviations, such as fav for favorite, and words that run together such as Oscars2015. These types of words do not necessarily translate or translate accurately.

Social Media Must be Culturally-Aware

Even if your Google Translate is able to reword your tweet, in order for social media to be effective, it needs to be culturally relevant. And what is culturally relevant for you, in your country, in your demographic, is not necessarily culturally relevant for someone else.

Let’s take an example. For the entire time period between the end of November to December 25, people in the United States are bombarded with Christmas content of all types. Tweets, Facebook campaigns, Instagram, Vine, you name it. If you take that same content, translate it into Arabic and send it off to a Muslim audience, you are likely to miss the mark. Badly. Translating Christmas content into Hebrew and providing it to an Israeli audience is also likely to fall flat.

On the other hand,  Chinese New Year is an important holiday in Korea. Missing out on engaging customers around Chinese New Year would be a lost opportunity. A full-blown campaign about Chinese New Year in, say, Argentina, is probably not going to mean a whole lot to that audience.

Demographics play a huge role in effective social media.

What’s the Solution?

Given that global social media marketing content needs to be:

  • Culture-specific
  • In the moment
  • Accurate

how are companies handling the task?

I checked in with the directors of localization for a number of large technology companies in Silicon Valley. Each person had the same answers:

  • Global social media marketing is a problem.
  • The best solution at this point is to have a social media marketing team in each region.
  • The solution is expensive.
  • Although sometimes social media marketing content can be shared, each region is empowered to act independently. This means that social messages can be quickly disseminated, but headquarters loses control over the content.

Of course, most companies aren’t large enough to have a social media presence in every region/language/culture that they want to target. Most companies don’t have social media marketing teams outside of headquarters. And most companies are either unable to take advantage of social global or are doing it poorly.

Does your company have a different way of addressing global social media marketing? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.