August 10, 2023

Crafting Social Media Strategies for Multilingual Audiences

Recent learnings from a National Digital Roundtable event at the Embassy of Japan

Marketing & Communications
Social Media

By Karlyn Ankrom, CEO, Oh Snap! Social

In today's digital landscape, marketers must connect with audiences on their terms, employing nuanced strategies to bridge cultural and linguistic divides. Recently, the National Digital Roundtable, in collaboration with the Embassy of Japan, hosted an enlightening discussion with leading minds from public health, government, non-profits, and the private sector, centered on devising social media strategies for multilingual audiences.

Here are some key insights from this engaging discussion:

Know Your Audience

Understanding your audience is essential for building up successful social media strategies for multilingual audiences. Utilizing data to gauge how and where your audience communicates should drive your decisions, not merely your instincts or leadership's opinions. This, however, is easier said than done. There are challenges to collecting data for the human experiences as well as knowing what language to best use to communicate with diverse audiences. Veronica Segovia Bedon, Senior Advisor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at AARP emphasized the complexity stating, “everyone has a different relationship with language.”

The shift from content-first to a community-centered approach was underlined by Jennifer Lubrani Cisneros, Strategy Director of Multicultural Audiences at AARP, who advised, “Focus on building a community first, gather feedback and use the information and data to make more informed and strategic decisions about content strategies.”

Start Small. Start Somewhere.

Going from zero to 60 when it comes to developing and implementing a multilingual plan across the digital landscape is not easy. Audra Kruse, Director, Public Affairs and Digital Engagement at AHIP stressed approaching it as a journey. “What I’m hearing from the group today is start small, start somewhere,” said Audra.

With data for many organizations being the driver of strategy, it has been a challenge to get the buy-in from leadership across the board (whether a large or smaller organization). Anthony Shop, National Digital Roundtable Chairmen and co-founder of Social Driver, highlighted that this challenge is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ adding, “utilizing the data that is available and pushing to translate specific web pages and valuable resources geared for specific audiences would be a step in the right direction.”

Mixed Thoughts on Translation Tools

The use of website plugins to translate content generated mixed opinions. Carol Lyn Colón, Lead Communications Consultant, Starr Street Strategies, underscored the importance of professional translators who understand dialects, sharing, “You don’t want to harm your brand, disrespect your audience in the way the message is delivered. An investment in professional translation for content is paramount.”

Grace Aiyedogbon, Senior Digital Communications Manager at The Education Trust mentioned the assistive technology tool, Recite Me, a website accessibility plugin for those considering going down the multi-language path.

“The tool offers translations for a range languages, including Yoruba” said Grace, which as a native speaker of the language, she remarked was hard to come by.

Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated

A consensus emerged that social media channels meant for different language preferred audiences should be kept separate. Michele Anderson, Second Secretary and Deputy Spokesperson for the Embassy of Canada in Washington | Ambassade du Canada à Washington, pointed to the legal requirements of Canada's Official Language Act and the algorithmic challenges of bilingual posts, lamenting how the mingling of French and English led to content being shown to a limited audience because the algorithms didn’t know which audience to serve the content to on the platforms.

Utilize Third-Party Voices

Several participants emphasized the efficacy of leveraging third-party voices in communication strategies, particularly when facing constraints in budget and resources to connect with specific community segments. Veronica Segovia Bedon illustrated this with an AARP campaign aimed at Latino family caregivers. Featuring millennial influencers, the campaign resonated with the target audience, inspiring them to see themselves reflected in the content and consequently leading to an uptick in calls to their call center. Anthony Shop provided another compelling example, pointing out how the White House is utilized Gen Z influencers to reach that demographic on TikTok to spotlight initiatives, despite a federal government ban preventing them from having their own TikTok account.

Tread Lightly on Trends

The group was split on the use of national days and heritage months in their strategies. Chris Abanavas, Public Affairs Specialist at the National Gallery of Art, explained how these themed months can help to prop up content to be used all year long, stating “These pages are a great way to get started; the key is to make them evergreen by updating them throughout the year and making sure that inclusion of the commemorated groups is part of your strategy beyond the specific months.”

Bottom Line…

The National Digital Roundtable's discussion provided valuable insights into the complexities of engaging with multilingual audiences. The key lessons are clear: Keep your audience at the core of your strategy, gather data where possible to make informed decisions, research and test all new tools, and take manageable steps towards inclusivity. Whether you are part of a large organization or a small team, these strategies can guide you in making genuine connections with diverse audiences across the digital spectrum.