Today’s world is becoming increasingly digital and “online”, and the impact of social media on our cultures and societies is certainly a testament to the pivotal role the internet plays in our day-to-day lives. Think about the Arab Spring: who would have thought that a social media platform like Twitter could become one of the tools that enabled and guided protests in such a powerful way? It is therefore hardly surprising that social media is nowadays one of the favourite marketing devices used by big and small companies alike to analyse and influence customers’ behaviours.
Most social media platforms were conceived and developed in English-speaking environments, but limiting your social media efforts to the English language can put a brake on your brand’s revenue. Translating your social media campaigns into a different language and adapting them to the target market are necessary for broadening your audience in an effective way. The thing with social media language, though, is that its innate simplicity actually conceals a complexity that is often hard to replicate in a different language. Read on to find out about some of the challenges of translating social media content.
We all cheered in November 2017, when Twitter decided to double their character limit from 140 to 280 for all languages except Chinese, Japanese and Korean, giving their users more space to express themselves. Nevertheless, space limitation remains one of the biggest challenges to tackle when translating social media content into another language. Translation from English often results in a phenomenon known as language expansion, i.e. when the number of words and/or characters in the translated text is higher than in the text being translated. Hence, when working with platforms such as Twitter, which imposes a physical limit to how much we can write, social media translation becomes problematic.
Length can be an issue even if we are communicating via Facebook or Instagram, where the character limit is much higher and therefore easier to comply with. Indeed, although on these platforms it’s possible to write longer posts or captions, this choice might not go down well with the audience. As shown in this article by HubSpot, shorter posts are often the ones likely to produce the highest engagement. This means that, even when translated social media content respects any pre-imposed character limitation, the experts’ advice is to make the content as short as possible.
Social media language has its own conventions and hashtags are definitely an exclusive feature of online communication. First introduced on Twitter, hashtags are now used on most social media platforms to find posts with similar content shared by other users. Hashtags can be made up of one or multiple words and are always preceded by the hash symbol “#”.
Hashtags can constitute an obstacle when translating social media content into another language, the first challenge being deciding whether hashtags should be translated at all. Syntax may also represent a hurdle, for instance in those languages where case endings are attached to words based on their role in the sentence. Often this means that hashtags cannot be incorporated into the sentence and need to be placed at the end of it instead.
When the strategy chosen for a certain market is to translate hashtags, it is also important to keep in mind that a direct equivalent of the word or words that make up the hashtag is usually not the recommended approach. Hashtags are all about consumers’ thoughts and behaviours, so the best technique is to find hashtags regarding the topic in question that are equally popular in the target market.
Like any other community, social media has a peculiar jargon that also changes depending on the platform being used. Since as mentioned above most social media channels were created in English, so was their jargon, which often carries syntactic characteristics that are typical of the English language and hence make social media terminology quite difficult to translate.
The highly desired “likes”, which are a feature of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are one example of social media jargon that can present issues when translated. The verb “to like” is for instance transitive in English (i.e. it is followed by a direct object), which makes its use as a noun fairly easy to accomplish. The same however cannot be said of other languages, where nominalising this verb is not so straightforward due to the different syntax it presents.
When such terminological and structural barriers are faced, the solution is to consult experts in the field who can advise on the prevailing trends and ensure the most idiomatic translation possible. Here at Creative Translation we have a vast amount of experience in translating social media campaigns, and we work with a large pool of linguists who are based in the target market and hence are always aware of the latest developments in their field. So if you need to step up your social media efforts, give us a call on +44 (0)207 294 7710 or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to help!