“Word of mouth is back. When society cut the close personal and business ties that existed in older, smaller communities, people became like ants scattered around on a picnic table – really busy, really strong, but too far apart from one another. Now, the power of social media can allow all the ants to gather under the table, and they’re strong enough to haul it away if they so choose”
“The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuck
Gary Vaynerchuck’s excellent book suggests that the growth of social media has truly empowered the individual, giving each of us a voice which can reverberate around the world. But what should we say, and how should we say it?
Social Media gives us the right to speech, the right to meet new people and the right to learn new things. With Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and many more, there is no doubt social media is a global phenomenon. Businesses are able to communicate with customers and customers are able to communicate with each other as never before. But are they reaching out to a wide spectrum of languages?
I frequently use LinkedIn to search for voice artists and interpreters. Yesterday, as I was browsing on LinkedIn, trying to find a Mandarin Interpreter, a Chinese guy commented on one of my group discussions and suggested I use Sina Weibo, China’s popular Twitter-like micro blogging service, to search for Chinese interpreters in London.
However, the site was in Chinese.
Contrary to what some people might think, English is not the dominant language of the internet. It is estimated that 50% of social media users communicate in languages other than English. As the numbers of Chinese, Arabic, Russian and Portuguese internet users grows, English is fast losing its online dominance.
At the turn of the 21st century, 36% of online communication took place in English. That figure is now 27% and falling. For the past two centuries English has been the global “lingua franca”. The rise of social media and of the multitude of global “voices” suggests that as the 21st century progresses, there may be no such thing as a universal business language. Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Brazilian Portuguese are increasingly prevalent.
Businesses that do not cater to such languages are missing out on good opportunities to establish a presence in vibrant emerging markets. It’s all about bridging the language barrier and making social media content accessible to international audiences.
To maximise your chances of achieving this, you need genuine localization, expert translation from qualified native speakers and a message that your audience will understand and embrace. You need to get to know your audience and just as importantly you need to make sure they get to know you. Social media has given a voice to the people of the world. Make those voices heard, in any medium and any language.