Crossing Cultures: How Are Your Marketing Messages Interpreted?Had a bit of an eye opening experience yesterday when I was nosing through my analytics and saw that someone was referred to my site by clicking on a link on a Spanish language website. I always investigate all inbound links, and when I went there, I realized that I was being quoted in an article on the site for La Vanguardia, the top daily newspaper in Catalonia, Spain. The article was titled, Politicos supervisados desde las redes.
Now, since my command of the Spanish language is limited to about ten words (hola, si, no, etc.), I had no clue how or why I was being quoted. So I hopped on over to Google Translate, copied the text of the article in the box, hit the translate button, and, voila, (which apparently translates means “veiled” in French), I had some semblance of a rather stilted translation.
As it turns out, they were writing an entire article based on my thoughts in my election day post, A Social Media Solution to Ineffective Government and Politics. They mentioned my name, linked to my website, and quoted often from the piece.
Not so much. You see, that post was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. In it I suggested we have mandatory use of social media for all politicians and candidate, in order to make them more accountable to us, their bosses. But, while there were some underlying truths, such as the need for transparency for our elected officials, I’d never really call for forced usage of Foursquare by anyone. It was a joke, rolled up in a good dose of snark.
Apparently, some of my sarcasm and irony don’t translate well into other languages. I guess they thought I was serious enough to warrant them reporting on my potential “solution.”
I think my favorite part of the article was the section that was translated as such:
In the formula, the expert, who lives in the United States, a nation led by Barack Obama, the political figure who revolutionized the Internet , does not speak of the media companies . All conceived without intermediaries.
I’m not sure what part of that means, but I love the description of the United States.
But this brings us to some deeper issues we need to consider as we blog and create other marketing pieces online, namely: how are other cultures seeing and interpreting our content?
When you put something on the web, it is automatically available to just about everyone, not just your intended audience. You might just be a hardware store in Wisconsin, but people from every continent can find your website and other content. We already know that every culture has its own idioms that often don’t translate well into other languages. For instance, in Germany you might say to someone, “Du hast einen vogel” if you think they are crazy. Translated, it means, “You have a bird.” If I looked at you and said that to you in English, you would think that I was the crazy one.
But here on the web, it gets harder. It’s just words with no inflection, no vocal or body language clues, and a lot less context. When I write the occasional humorous or snarky post, I try to make sure that my intent is clear to my readers. I know that some percentage of my readers know me well enough to “get me.” But clearly, this doesn’t always work.
When we use idioms, humor, sarcasm, or other sorts of linguistic devices, we need to remember that they might not translate as well online as they do in person, especially if some members of our audience are from different cultures and speak other languages. Translation is a tricky thing.
But for now, in some part of Spain, I’ll be known as the crackpot who thinks all of our elected officials should be forced to use social media. And I don’t think that. Mostly. Kinda. But it would be nice. Sorta.
Have you ever had an experience where your online marketing efforts have been misinterpreted by others?
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