Although both “international SEO” and “multilingual SEO” have become popular keywords for all types of agencies to target in their own self-promotion efforts and are popular type-ins of the relevant domains, “international social media” isn’t yet anywhere on the radar. The term “social media agency” is searched for in Google just 1,900 times globally per month compared with “seo agency” which hits 9,900. Perhaps the buzz lags behind the reality? Why so? Too difficult, perhaps?
At a recent conference I watched a debate on whether it was possible to ghost write the CEO’s views in a Twitter account. I thought the discussion intriguing as I personally spent 10 years writing for CEO’s in the days when they were distributed to journalists in the form of a press release with a stamp on the envelope. I’m sure that many PR folks have done the same.
Forget ghost-writing, let’s translate
Nor did the approach proposed by the panel pass muster on my test as to whether it could be adapted as a service to solve the multilingual needs of clients, namely “can you deliver the service in fourteen languages?” Fourteen is roughly the average number of languages that multilingual SEO projects use. By asking if you can run a service in fourteen languages you start to make visible otherwise hidden barriers of language, management, logistics and, most significantly, cost. Having fourteen CEOs write for Twitter might work for some, but not many organizations will have either the resources or inclination to go that way. In fact, many organizations would not dare let their CEOs loose!
So, if you can’t write for the CEO in English, it must be equally difficult in French right? In fact, some CEOs are already carefully crafting their tweets and then having them translated or, worse, auto-translated without them batting an eyelid simply because of the “out of sight, out of mind” rule, which means if I can’t see it, can’t understand it and it’s not bothering me, and therefore it must be OK. This is like lighting a long fuse to a dynamite store and saying, “it hasn’t blown up yet..” (To be fair, this happens to be the commonest international SEO strategy too!)
Did you say my company sucks or what?
Does this all mean that no-one is effectively undertaking international social media campaigns? Definitely not—there are some examples of great strategies but it is certainly not the norm and many corporations and small businesses are struggling with the issue.
Take social media tracking tools, for instance. There’s a wide range of fantastic tools on the market for tracking mentions and sentiment in the online space. The problem is that they are all designed to help managers who speak the same language as their customers or audience. It’s all very well realizing that someone says, “company B sucks” in English but what if they said, “Empresa B es pésima” in Spanish, “firma b ir kaktu kantoris” in Latvian or “” in Mandarin—then what would you do? If you can’t track effectively, how on earth can you manage a campaign.
Perhaps you will say, “The company will rely on its people locally or use local agencies in the target country…” There are two reasons why this doesn’t happen in very large global companies:
- Only a small percentage of “global” companies have their own company representatives in every country.
- Managing a network of local agency offices everywhere and having them report on the same basis is virtually impossible.
So, on the basis that the first step in any social media marketing activity is “listening” and finding out exactly what’s going on, most will fail on the launch pad. The only way to do this effectively, is to use the same tracking tools—choosing ones which work with any character set for any language—and then deploy a team of native-speakers of all the relevant languages to interpret the findings of your tracking and report back to you.
Now it’s talkback time
Once you know what’s going on the next challenge is to appropriately respond. If a brand or reputation is verbally under attack, this will take some careful planning and sensitivity to local cultural issues. However, the rules of response—transparency above all else—are in many ways easier than those required for active promotion where the scope to fall over oneself are greater.
Many social media promotional campaigns are based around success in English, then “translating” into the local language. They don’t begin at an international standpoint. For instance, suppose you started a post on a social media site with the words, “Google, following the success of its advertising during Superbowl….” your post will fall on deaf ears for many outside the US and is very difficult to “translate” (I’ve never understood how bowling managed to be such a big deal for Americans anyway!). The result is your post or tweet referring to “Superbowl” may have to be rewritten. The best option is to begin from a neutral perspective ignoring the local (US or UK) cultural context.
Successful social media strategies also require a high degree of understanding of the differences in importance between social networks locally. You cannot target Brazil without including Orkut nor work in Russia while ignoring Vkontakte. Then you need good properly developed keyword and influencer research to orient your strategy. Not surprisingly both of these require native understanding of the local language.
International social media definitely poses many challenges but there are solutions. Fortunately, its very difficulty means the door of opportunity is wide-open for those who choose to give it a gentle but well thought out shove.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.