Translating Social Media Jargon


The world of social media has created a whole new language. From "hashtags" to "retweet", how should this language be translated?

A while ago we published an article about the importance of translating (or not translating) hashtags, with a few ways to approach what can be considered a somewhat tricky subject. But hashtags, popular as they are, are far from the whole story when it comes to social media.

There are plenty of social networks that are hugely popular in certain regions of the globe, and while we tend to think of social media in the context of the big three most popular networks in the west (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), using their rather similar and relatively interchangeable concepts in other countries can easily lead to some confusion.

Jargon such as “Likes”, “Hashtags”, “Trending”, “Followers”,” Retweet”, and many more, are such a large part of our everyday language we can almost be tricked into thinking they are an international standard that everyone understands instantly. The reality is that on other social networks, these functionalities exist, but are named in different ways.

When translating for social media, it is important to know in advance in what networks the content will be used, especially is part of the text is referring to a certain feature of the network for interaction, e.g. “Retweet this message and get a free trip to Belize”. Getting this right is crucial to connect with users and drive engagement. Getting it wrong can make a post look confusing at best and unprofessional at worst.

That being said, the great majority of the world still uses Facebook as their social network of choice. A couple of rather odd, yet easily translatable exceptions are Iran and its penchant for Instagram, and Japan where Twitter reigns supreme.

Things start getting a bit trickier when translating for Russia and China. Both use different social networks, V Kontakte and Qzone respectively, and while they aren’t particularly different from the more global ones, their jargon does not translate directly. Any translator that works regularly either in Russian or Chinese should try to keep an eye on both their main social networks and learn their jargon. It’s a relatively easy task, but it can make or break a social media translation.

The rest of us can stick to the good old “likes and follows” for now, but the world of social media changes fast, and it’s never a bad time to spend a bit of time keeping up to date.

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