27/05/11

By Guy Gilpin, former ad man, co-founder and MD of Mother Tongue Writers

Most of the top global brands have Facebook pages but many are only in English despite having people from all over the world following them. For most under 20 year olds in the developed world, Facebook is a significant part of their daily routine. As this generation grows up, Facebook will continue to be with them and if brands want to be part of their lives, they will have to address their existing and would-be followers intelligently and in their own language. Otherwise, they are in danger of missing the point like Booker prize winner J G Farrell’s Padre who didn’t see why the Bible “should have been written in Hebrew or Greek when English was the obvious language”.

Some world-wide brands, who like the way social media gives them greater connection with individuals, are missing the potential that language can deliver them through Facebook, while others are using language adaptation are reaping the rewards. Here are some examples of both:

Coca Cola, the largest global brand has a Facebook page but it posts in English only. The page has around 25 million followers all over the world but because they have to write in English, the posts are limited to banalities like ‘I like Coke’ and the vacuum that exists because of that attracts all sorts of spam posts from concert ticket sales in Paris to sexy ladies ‘looking for boyfriends’. The site is moderated and these posts get removed soon after posting but no-one from the Coca Cola side comments on anything so there’s nothing really of interest on the page. Bearing in mind Coca Cola is active all over the world, I feel they are missing a trick or two here. Aside from better audience engagement there’s the issue of how many more millions could be following the brand if it addressed them in their native languages.

At the moment, McDonald’s only has a US page with details about their US fast food outlets — obviously Generation-FB outside of the US is not interested in burgers! People have posted in other languages but McDonald’s only posts in English.

Apple, who tend to want to control their environment 100% do not even have an English Facebook page — despite the fact that Generation-FB tend to idolise the shiny things they make.

Fashion company H&M, with over 6 million followers globally, has only one official page in English, however posts by H&M are in Spanish as it is a Spanish company. People have posted in English, Spanish & German, and if you post a question about H&M on the page the company will reply in the language you posted in, and normally within a couple of hours.

Another way of giving a multilingual aspect to a Facebook page is to do so via a Facebook app. Zylom, an online gaming site, which created an app in eight languages. When users allow the app, their language is automatically selected for them, based on GeoIP®. Since February this year when it was translated, it has been allowed by 300,000 Facebook users all over the world. The marketing team behind the brand is delighted.

Nokia, with over 3 million followers globally, has an excellent approach with a Facebook opening page with 69 country flags and each flag clicks through to a local market Facebook page in the local language. Nokia posts are a mix between centrally generated product information that is translated and locally generated posts. Care has to be taken to make sure the centrally translated material sounds local, or it can give the game away. The posts are moderated and followers’ posts are commented on making it an intelligent solution. It’s not the cheapest option but then you don’t get to be a global brand by choosing the cheap option.

While there’s a lot for global brands to develop across the whole social media platform, finding the right ways to talk with a world full of consumers on Facebook is proving to be a tactic that top brands cannot afford to ignore.