Social Media, connections

The Challenges Involved in Social Media Translation

Communication and engagement via social media is booming. From Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to LinkedIn, we now have more ways than ever to have conversations with others from across the world.

With an amazing opportunity within social media to increase their customer base, most businesses and organisations have also decided to get ‘social’ and connect with their audiences from across the globe on these platforms too.

To increase engagement success, translating content into the local language is essential. However, translation of social media copy is not as straightforward as it may seem. In our blog this week, eSense Translations evaluates the difficulties that arise when translating social media posts and reviews the strategies developed to overcome them.


One of the key stumbling blocks when translating social media content is the way in which language is used. By its very design social media communication is relaxed. It is social. Formal grammar, word use and sentence structures are not expected and are replaced by slang, idioms and new, up and coming language use.

eSense Translations has written before about words that are ‘untranslatable’, where in another language the equivalent simply doesn’t exist. These means that translators need to get creative. How can they convey the same intent and feeling that the author has written in the new target language?


Added to the difficulty of the relaxed use of language is the specialised terminology used in social media. For example, likes, tweets, retweets, shares and follows are all terms that have been developed over the last few years to describe processes and features on social media platforms.

Using these correctly, even in English, has proved tricky, so trying to translate these terms effectively is a real challenge. And it is not just the words themselves that translators struggle with, the different way in which other countries structure their language means that these terms do not always fit when translated.

Think, for example, what the real meaning behind a ‘tweet’ is. Would you use the equivalent bird noise when translating this term into a different language?

eSense Translations takes this example and shares the agreed translation in a few different European languages that are supported on Twitter.

Language                             Translation of Tweet (verb)

Spanish                                Twittear

French                                  Tweeter

Italian                                    Twittare

Portuguese                        Tweetar

For more examples of social media terminology that has been standardised, check out this ‘cheatsheet’ from Babble-On


When facing the task of translating new vocabulary, linguists have a couple of options.

Firstly they can use a ‘loan word’; that is lift the word directly from the source language in which it was created and use it in their own language. This strategy often occurs when referring to brand names in a translation, even if the script is different you may sometimes see a ‘loan word’ used directly in the text, as it has proved almost impossible to translate the word and still retain brand authenticity.

A second option is trying to create a new word, or way of using a word, in the target language. Adopting this strategy encourages linguists to get creative, maybe merge languages and create new words that work. Obviously, there must be some common agreement for a ‘new’ word to be accepted and used more widely. This is a way in which languages evolve, taking influences from other languages, trends and technology surrounding us. Furthermore, with the recent fast-paced growth in digital technology, there has been an increased need for languages to ‘catch up’ to be able to communicate these new trends. Translators must keep up to date with the new language trends to ensure a consistent approach is applied to new language creation.


Often these ‘new’ words will be unfamiliar to the reader too, so a further challenge for the translator is to ensure this linguistic creativity is understood. It is a kind of art, where at the initial stage there is no right or wrong answer. If the word is successful, it will become more widely used across that language.


A social media translation challenge more specific to Twitter (although it is now frequently seen across other platforms) is the Hashtag!  For those (few) people unfamiliar with the Hashtag, it is used as a way of linking content together on the platform. Therefore, when creating new content, as a marketer, it is important to research the Hashtags used to ensure you are engaging in relevant and appropriate conversations. The decision to be made when translating your content into another language is do you translate the Hashtags also, and thus engage in different conversations, or do you keep the Hashtags in English to remain in the original conversations and just have the content of the post translated? This would need to be researched by the translator and/or marketer to work out where they would like their content to be viewed.


As with translation of any marketing content, translating of social media content also requires marketing skills, as the content will need to be transcreated. eSense Translations has written an article recently, explaining the process of transcreation. More creativity is required for transcreation and the translator is afforded a degree of flexibility in the text used to ensure it suits the target market. When a brand’s products or services are advertised in new countries, translators have to come up with ways of conveying the same ideas and messages in a way that works for the new target market. The resulting social media translation therefore may be not stick strictly to the original text, but should retain the spirit and tone of the message that has originally been created.


Social media activity does not just involve status updates and posting. It is also about engagement and responding to your audience. A foreign language, social media campaign therefore is also about the translation of the user-generated content. Depending on the profile of the business, a post could generate numerous responses. In addition, social media, particularly Twitter, is about speed. To maintain the engagement of your audience, responses need to be created, translated and posted quickly or the interest will be lost and the post may become ineffectual. Businesses, with a high social media profile, need ensure they have enough resources in place to run a foreign language, social media campaign for it to be successful.


A lot of social media content includes videos and images, which engage audiences more effectively. When creating multimedia posts in a foreign language, you will need to decide whether to use subtitling or dubbing for any audio, as well as localising the visual content to ensure it is appropriate for the local audience.


A final consideration for social media translation is the character limit in place if you are posting on Twitter. This has recently been doubled to 280 characters, however if you are close to the limit in the source language, you must bear in mind that a translation may result in a higher character count.


Translating your content and engaging with a new local market via social media is a great way to promote a business across the world. Get it right and you could build better brand awareness, increase your customer base and ultimately your sales. Get it wrong and it is a quick-fire way of damaging your brand and your business.


If you need help with your social media campaign in a new market, eSense Translations has the resources to assist. Contact us for more information.


By Lorna Paice

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