Social Media and Translation Is the Key to A Global Brand

Last Thursday, I attended The Social Consumer 2012, a half-day conference put on by BDI, featuring case studies on how businesses like The Wall Street Journal, JetBlue, Century 21, and Tasti D-Lite use social media to build their global brands.

Most of these companies went from a haphazard, thrown together social strategy to a refined, successful strategy based on customers’ needs. Take JetBlue, for example. Jenny Dervin, VP of Corporate Communications at JetBlue, outlined the evolution of JetBlue’s Twitter strategy, from stalking (following anyone who mentioned the airline) to customer service (a dedicated team monitors mentions of JetBlue to help customers in a myriad of ways). That’s what their customers wanted, Dervin pointed out. Customers didn’t want company news and corporate information, which is what the company pushed on Twitter in the early days. So, JetBlue asked the customers, “What do you want from us?” The rest is history.

Thinking about this, I couldn’t help but wonder why companies aren’t asking this question to consumers who speak languages other than English. Hearing from the presenters and fellow attendees, social media and translation didn’t seem to be on their minds. I found this surprising. Some of these businesses are expanding to countries outside the U.S. but their online presence is solely in English. The majority of internet users speak a language other than English, so why aren’t these businesses considering website translation? (Even U.S.-based companies should consider offering their online content in two languages: English and Spanish.)

It reminds me of a recent NY Times article about shipping to foreign consumers, which featured this mind-boggling paragraph:

The Macy’s Web site will soon detect the location of international visitors, and show them a welcome screen in the local language that explains how international shopping and shipping works. After the welcome screen, the shoppers browse the English-language site used by shoppers in the United States, but at checkout they get a final price, plus shipping costs, in their local currency.

I’m not sure how this makes sense. Macy’s is offering a welcome screen in the local language and the shipping costs in the local currency… but to make a purchase, the consumer needs to understand English. It’s as though companies are moving forward with expanding globally but deferring the localization option. “Go global now, worry about translation later,” seems to be the motto. Or maybe it’s, “Don’t worry about translation at all.”

Businesses that follow this motto are missing a huge opportunity to reach customers across the world. People prefer to interact online in their native tongue – whether it’s posting to a social network or buying a product. That’s why foursquare, GoPro, IMVU, SurveyMonkey, Threadless, Webs and others are using our translation management system to go global without breaking the bank.

About Team Smartling

Smartling is a software company with the mission to make the world’s content multilingual.