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One key positive of social media and social networking is that it encourages communication — whether seeking positive interactions with current or future customers or helping employees to work collaboratively in different departments or even different business units. But particularly among international organizations, there is one key drawback: language.
MIT Sloan Management Review‘s 2014 social business report identified an interesting paradox: While respondents from multinational companies indicated that social media often enabled their organizations to work more effectively across global boundaries, they indicated that it also introduced new problems. As it became easier to communicate with people using social media, the obstacles imposed by differing languages became more pronounced.
Dealing with a global customer base
This problem is perhaps most acute in customer-facing social media initiatives. The Dutch airline KLM, which has been at the forefront of putting social media to use for customer service communication, noted that it was a challenge for most companies to have a social media team staffed with people fluent in enough languages to successfully deal with their diverse global customer base. Yet for these types of initiatives to be successful, there is little a company can do but meet the customer in their own tongue. Translation tools may aid in the response, but they’re still imperfect solutions, particularly in the unique context of social media communication: 140-character Twitter exchanges are sometimes difficult to translate, even for fluent speakers.
One solution: in companies with a global customer base, make sure that your externally facing social media team is fluent in a wide variety of languages — and don’t insist they all be situated in the same geographic location. It may be easier to coordinate a team — particularly one that should be social media savvy — across global boundaries rather than to find all the necessary skills in a central location.