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Lessons from Ben & Jerry's: The Scoop on Multilingual Blogging

by Alyssa Paris

Here is a list of questions to help you decide if multilingual blogging is for you:

  • Do you have a corporate blog in English?
  • Is your website translated into other languages?
  • Do many of your website visitors speak a language other than English?
  • Are you looking to dialogue with a target audience outside of the U.S.?
  • Are you present in international markets?

If you answered yes to any of these, multilingual blogging is in your future.

icecreamLet's look at a company who decided to take up multilingual blogging to support their international product launch: Ben & Jerry's. What? Ben & Jerry's went international? Their ice cream seems so totally American — a cursory glance at their flavors leaves you wondering who would understand, say, Phish Food and Chunky Monkey outside of the States. Yet they have successfully marketed their line of ice creams in Asian-Pacific and European markets, with localized websites to support their presence in each.

And for the cherry on the sundae: in tandem with their European product launch, Ben & Jerry's created a blog specifically for the French market. A mini brand website, Ben & Jerry's French blog is not only totally local in flavor — it is also modern in feel, complete with multimedia to heighten fans' sensorial experience of their content. Like every successful marketing tool, the blog supports the business objectives for this specific language market by providing locale-sensitive content that is:

  • Educational: posts explain the origins of Ben & Jerry's zany flavors
  • Entertaining: recipes and games make the fan experience fun and encourage them to spend more time on the website
  • Engaging: the format favors an on-going conversation about all things ice cream in French, removing barriers to communicating with fans
  • Event-oriented: emphasizes localness with promotions such as "Free Cone Day" in select cities and new offers such as member cards: "la carte bonus"

Demonstrating a local presence in a market can be done through a tastefully localized website, but a local-language blog like Ben & Jerry's clearly takes this a step further. The marketing benefits obtained are the same as for your English-language blog:

  • Building community around your products
  • Improving your search engine rankings
  • Circulating your content in the social media space
  • Establishing thought leadership in your area of expertise
  • Developing credibility
  • Extending your branding
  • Giving your corporation a human face

Bottom line if Ben & Jerry's did it, you can too. Their platform (consisting of separate sites for each language market) is just one option — there are several ways to integrate multilingual blogging into your marketing efforts. Our advice would be to begin with the approach that offers the least resistance to your company.

If your website has already been localized (or if you have separate translated sites for each language market), then multilingual blog integration into your current frameworks should be straightforward. Your sites have already been built and optimized for foreign language characters. Navigation and interface have been designed for the particular needs of your local users. A blog would therefore be a natural next step in promoting your localized website(s). You have a few options. You can:

  • Work with a language vendor to translate your broader-audience English blog posts (turnaround time would have to be quick)
  • Use your in-country staff to create local posts
  • Hire in-country subject matter experts in your field to contribute specialized content
  • Enable your blog to be translated on demand by your readers with Google translate, WordPress plugins, etc. (see Kia's corporate blog for an example)

The latter option is certainly the least expensive, but it comes with risks — if you want consistent branding, high-quality translations and accountability in your corporate communications, opt for the first, second and/or third options. Some combination of these may prove to be ideal for your company — you (or more specifically your marketing department) can select English blog posts with global appeal and have them professionally translated while working with a local writer and your in-country staff to fill in the gaps through locale-specific content. With this hybrid solution, your focus remains consistent across countries and yet your content is always relevant in each individual market.

If you answered "yes" to our initial questions above but have yet to localize your website, you have a few options.

  • If on a tight budget, you could begin by integrating some foreign language posts into your current blog (there are many plugins that enable this, such as qtranslate).
  • If you know you will tackle website localization in the near future, you could also begin with a multilingual blog as a teaser to lead up to the release of your international websites and product launches. Since there is a lot of research that precedes launching a full international operation, from regulations and labor laws to corporate taxes and competitive analyses, a local-language blog is a low-risk and high-benefit first step to creating an initial presence in these new markets. It can also serve as a tool (in conjunction with social media) allowing you to work on your local branding, test out marketing techniques, collect feedback from potential customers, poll your public and finally establish who your target audience is.

No matter where you are at in the localization process, if your customers are multilingual, your corporate communications should be as well. Blogging is one form of social engagement with your fans, clients and customers, but as you have learned with your corporate blog in English, it is most effective when part of a comprehensive social media plan. In short, if you make your blog multilingual in flavor, you may also want to indulge in some Facebook and Twitter activities, or whatever the most popular social media platforms are for your target audience. If writing for Brazilian Portuguese speakers, for example, you'll want to promote your blog on Orkut. If marketing to China, you'll no doubt use Sina Weibo for a Twitterish experience Chinese-style. Social media outlets are the ideal venue for maximizing the reach of each blog post and making your content go viral. You'll notice that Ben & Jerry's got this right too. They have Facebook pages in Spanish, German, Greek, Hebrew and Czech, among other languages, and their site is localized for 27 different language markets.

Once you begin blogging and tweeting in your main target languages, whether with a language vendor or directly in conjunction with in-country writers, the last element to consider is monitoring. You'll want to stay on top of blog comments and be responsive. After all, blogging and micro-blogging (i.e. Twitter) are considered forms of dialogue, meaning two-way communications. You'll need to follow what your constituents are saying to and about you. Comprehensive social media monitoring will give you a perspective on how your company and products are being perceived across cultures, and how effectively you are connecting with your new audiences.

That's the scoop on multilingual blogging. Contact Acclaro for more information on how we can help you create multilingual content for your international blogs and monitor your social media endeavors across language markets.

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