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Social Media as a Third Language

English isn’t your first language? But you dream of a career in social media? Find out how to get started and why your company should hire you!

Das ist doch alles kinderleicht, oder doch nicht?

It’s all easy as pie…or not?

What comes so naturally to you every single day doesn’t necessarily  for others. Your native language – English or not – may seem like an easy language to learn, however the more you study it, the more difficult it gets.

On top of that, the challenges of social media language will cause you to forget a verb or a noun, regardless of what your  native tongue is.

And when English isn’t your first language, 140 characters can be more intimidating than a 20 page term paper.

English is not my native language. It’s German. Countless times I’ve heard people say, “English isn’t your first language, you can’t work in social media.”

Those people are wrong.

You can establish a successful career in social media, no matter your background, and companies that hire a non-native English speaker for social media positions might at times even be at an advantage.

Here’s how to prepare to follow your social media dreams, no matter your first language, and how your language differences can be an asset, rather than an obstacle.

1. know network nuances

Before you start communicating, you need to know the attributes and unique characteristics of each network. This might seem basic, but not all social networks are the same country to country, and neither is call to action phrasing.

Language that works on one may not work on the other, attributing collaborators works differently on each network (+ on Google, @ on Twitter, etc). Attention to detail, even the tiniest of all, is crucial, +1 doesn’t have anything to do on Twitter!

Put links in the middle of the sentence to assure more interaction and always have calls to action and/or visuals! Understand the anatomy of a post on Facebook, of a pin on Pinterest or a tweet on Twitter. Understanding what yields best results will help you write better in the social media sphere.

To do this, look at major brands who have successful social campaigns and see how they phrase things and include these @ replies and calls to action. Practice writing the anatomy of a successful post. It seems silly, but better to make mistakes now than while on the job.

2. learn to speak ‘social’

Speaking a language and speaking ‘social’ are two very different animals.social-media-explained

The limitations of the platforms need to drive you towards proactive language. Think like your reader, know your target audience and adjust your writing accordingly.

Reading, reading, reading and more reading content you are posting about will help you understand the subject. The more you know the more flexible you are in the language you use.

Use proactive verbs, include appropriate calls to action and make sure you always have subject verb agreement.

if you need some help, here is a good list to inspire you: List of Action Verbs

3. don’t be scared

At the beginning, posting for a company can be frightening, so you probably choose to rather post on the ‘safe side’, formal, logical and authoritative. This may not be the voice of the brand or the best way to reach your audience.

Like in real life, no one wants to be talked down to, write on your audience’s level. Compose several versions of one update, show them to your supervisor to get a feel for the level of language required – as well as the brand voice.

Learn what is considered appropriate ‘brand voice’ and what isn’t. Know the goals and mission of your employer, internalize what they are all about and make it interesting. There is no such thing as a boring topic – don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks!

4. read it out loud

Translating directly from your mother tongue is not necessarily effective. Things that work in your native language may not work at all in English. For instance, idioms like “easy as pie” doesn’t make any sense in German, just like the German idiom “Das Leben ist kein Zuckerschlecken” means “Life is no sugarlicking” in German but makes no sense in English (Life ain’t easy would be the correct translation).

Be cautious and aware of those pitfalls. Sayings and certain expressions will not come across and possibly confuse your readers.

After composing a network update, read it out aloud. Online dictionaries are a great resource to double-check if you can’t ask anyone for advice. Our brains are smart and often just auto-complete the sentence in your head, it’s not what you are actually seeing though.

Do it old-school if you have to! Take a pen and paper and write it out until you get the hang of things.

5. remember: lives don’t depend on your tweets

If you are just getting started in social media you will make mistakes, you will get criticized, but don’t take it personally.

Keep in mind that social media is in real time – spelling and grammar errors aren’t going to make or break a company and everything can be fixed. The important thing is to learn and improve, not to be perfect.

The worst you can do is give up now. Push through and keep on working hard- it’s your dream career, right?

The improvements will show. Trust me, you will feel very proud of yourself for not giving up. It’s a great idea to start with an internship in social media in a medium-sized company (hint: iAcquire is hiring a social media intern, sadly my internship here is almost over), it’s the best learning and hands on experience you can have.

why hire a non-native English speaker for social?Süddeutsche Zeitung

On the other side of things, companies should not shy away from hiring a non-native English speaker.

Multilingual individuals are very versatile and catch on very quickly on the special circumstances surrounding language use in social media.

They also understand certain nuances of language that native speakers might take for granted and can provide a wholly different perspective on both social and content strategy – which can be incredibly valuable.

In order to help a non-native speaker adjust quickly to your brand, you may want to provide initial assistance. A cheat-sheet for best practices in each network for your specific brand is helpful.

At the beginning, brand voice presents a challenge, as the rules of English language don’t necessarily apply to social media writing, and emulation of brand voice in such a limited space can add to that challenge..

This guides the understanding of the language used in each network and how it applies to company branding. If you don’t have a cheat-sheet already, it’s a good first task for the non-native English speaker to dive into exploring your brand’s presence and purpose on social media.

Guide in the composition of every update for each social network, this will help to foster efficient composition.
Patience is a virtue, be patient and encourage great use of language.

No matter your first language, social media isn’t limited to a specific language or country - 24,958,460 people in Germany are on Facebook. Non-native speakers, with some dedication and practice, can become a major asset and provide perspective to brands on social.

What is your experience with hiring a non-native English speaker for social media or working in social media when English isn’t your first language? Share in the comments below!