Localizing the business blogosphere

It is now banal to remind that never before in the history of mankind so much text and other content has been produced. Blogging has of course contributed to that explosion of text. Companies’ communication activities are also a big driver of this inflation, as well as consumers’ thirst for things to do when there’s nothing to do. We have entered a content-consumer-society, where content is a commodity similar to what consumer goods became a few decades ago. The difference is that, unlike for picnic forks or lightbulbs, anyone can produce content. So we now have however million blogs out there, producing free content.

So a new standard question now has arisen: how will all this content be translated? The argument goes that all this blogging thing is all about the flow real-time, always-on, free information and ideas, and that language is the last barrier to a truly free, flowing, global, real-time world of sharing, before we can all be brothers. As often in such utopias, it is a technological problem that prevents this from happening: so machine translation is the answer and it will work, because it has to work, because everybody talking to everybody at the same time in all the world and understanding each other is our collective destiny.

What about company content? Companies, another banality, need to speak to consumers in their language, and pull their cultural triggers, to sell or effectively engage with them. The kind of trust necessary to put someone else clothes or food on or in our bodies, to give one’s scarce money in exchange for an appliance, or to entrust our lives to their products, is elicited by such things.So, regardless of the now-boring claim by some that ‘100% publication quality’ (I’m not sure how this is measured) machine tanslation is for sometime in the next five to ten years, it seems unlikely that company content destined to engage people will rely on machine translation anytime in the foreseeable future.

Moreover we are to believe, if interested pundits are to be believed, that business blogging is the next big thing. The mere fact that you’re reading this blog should rather comfort that idea. At the same time, the question of the language of blogging, the tone, this new mix of familiar, personal yet well-crafted disposable written language, creating a deeper, more intimate relationship with the reader or audience, is the new hot topic. David Crystal even claims that it is an evolutionary event in the english language (there’s no reason to believe that this should not be the case in other languages, although the widespread appropriation of english by non-native speakers is probably a special case).

So how can the “real-time machine-translation” and the “personal tone, quality intimate relationship” approaches be reconciled? Well, they can’t, and the localization model for company blogging is certainly up for grabs. Should it be handled as any other marketing content and just budgeted as more words to translate? If blogging is the quintessential tool for creating intimate, relevent, personal and interactive relationships with your audience base, then this seems rather out of the question. So what’ll it be?

There are really five kinds of company blogs, as far as I can tell: 1- “unofficial” but company-facilitated employee blogs, 2- executive blogs, 3- user-community blogs, 4- industry punditry and 5- marketing blogs. Of these, 1-, 3- and possibly 4- are either non-applicable or nothing new in terms of localization. But executive blogs and marketing blogs are something different. These are where individual voices, seeking to interact with or influence customers, consumers, prospects, vendors, competitors, the media, their staff, express on behalf of a company or product. There is familiar insider technobabble there, hip, up-to-the-minute stuff, trackbacks, comments, and, not negligibly, a quagmire of implicitly shared cultural assumptions. Most effective communication, we know that by now, works mostly through such implicitness.

Running contrary to the dream of always-on pan-language communication through MT, such relationship tools cannot be globalized by other means than finding a voice in each market (or at least cultural and language area) that will be the catalyst of engagement. This can be the local MD, or a contracted local journalist or knowledgeable pro, or the marketing manager. Or, more simply and probably more appropriately, a local company team-member with the right attitude.

Because that’s the thing: it’s not so much about pushing messages, it’s about having a voice. Can you localize a voice?


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