Lost in translation – the perils of international communications

For me, good communication depends on building an emotional connection with someone. It’s about considering their feelings as well their need for information. It often requires a balanced conversation, where you use the right verbal and non-verbal communications so that you understand each other, give each other space to talk, take time to listen, and be respectful of differences of opinion.

This is particularly important when organisations communicate internationally. The desire for a globally consistent brand and approach needs to be carefully weighed up against the importance of ensuring your message ‘lands’ and is sensitive to how things are done locally. With this in mind, I thought I would share a few points that I have learned about how to avoid some of the potential perils of international communications.

Language

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As George Bernard Shaw once said, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” This is true not just for England and America. Every country has its own dialects, idioms and words so, for example, Filipino English will be distinct from Irish English or Ghanaian English and so one size is rarely going to fit all.

My last in-house communications role was for a British company that was majority-owned by the Qatari state oil company and so we issued our press releases in English and Arabic. When I needed to arrange for the Arabic translation to be done in London, our Qatari General Manager asked me to check where the translator was from. According to him, the Arabic spoken in the Gulf States has a lot of slang and colloquialisms whilst Syrian Arabic is considered more ‘pure’ (i.e. less tainted by Western influences.) However, in his view,  finding an Egyptian translator was the preferred option as a lot of  Arab language TV is produced in Egypt, and so this is the Arabic dialect that most people in the Middle East understand.

I also experienced this richness of variety and potential linguistic sensitivities when I spent some months travelling around South America. I particularly loved Argentina. However, I also learned that it has a difficult relationship with its neighbour Chile so if you’re trying to engage with a Chilean audience, it would be wise not to use an Argentine Spanish dialect.

2) The law

I previously worked for an American company which needed to make some changes to its operations in Europe. Some of the senior leaders were surprised that they couldn’t just sell a business, close a plant or make people redundant in the way that they could in the US because employees have more protection in Europe. This means that you have to consult with the employees, unions or works councils before you take significant action.

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In some countries, such as Spain, the unions have a lot of influence and can actually stop you from doing what you want to do if you don’t manage things in the right way. Ensuring that you give employees or their representatives sufficient time to review your plans, be able to provide feedback and, in some cases, come up with alternative proposals, can make the difference between being able to implement the actions you want on the ground or not.

Of course, the law doesn’t just affect employee rights, it can influence how you engage with other stakeholders too. For example, I was involved in the community consultation for a proposed new power station in the UK and, in the last few years, the law has changed so that you now have to pre-consult with the local community before the actual consultation i.e. you need to explain what you’re thinking of doing and give the local people a chance to provide input before you set out your final plans.

As you’d expect, consumer rights, copyright, licensing and advertising standards are different in different countries, meaning that your global marketing campaign may need to be tailored for each market using alternative words and contract terms.

In another example, I recently attended a Chartered Institute of Public Relations event at the UK Houses of Parliament where the main speaker was Lord Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer. In his speech, he explained that a ban on the use of advertising for alcoholic beverages in India meant that he had to use public relations much more extensively to promote his brand there than in other markets.

So spending some time finding out about a country’s legal idiosyncrasies before you launch your global campaign, is a wise investment of time.

3) The right spokespeople for the right audience

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4) Culture, images and symbols One of the few exceptions to the ‘local is best’ approach that I’ve experienced was when I worked on a launch campaign in Spain. In that case, the local management team specifically asked for senior leaders from overseas to be involved so as to add weight to the launch with the local media and to explain how what we were doing in that market fitted into the company’s global launch plans.Whenever I’ve worked on global campaigns, I’ve tried, where possible, to use local employees as external spokespeople rather than someone from head office. Not only do they speak the language and understand the local market and customs better but they normally have more credibility with their audience. In a crisis situation, they are also more likely to be able to appreciate the full impact of a situation, be perceived as being able to do something about it and are able to respond quicker than someone on a different time zone.I have a personal view that, with the right training, preparation and support from their communications team, there is no reason why any leader can’t be a good communicator. The key point for me is about matching the right spokesperson with the right audience. I have found it helpful for the companies I’ve worked for to have a mix of representatives, with some able to talk about any topic at a high level and others acting as technical experts to talk about a specific area in more detail.

Another potential peril to consider with international communications is what particular images or symbols mean in different cultures. In the Western world, an open hand is perceived as welcoming,  demonstrating open behaviour. However, if it’s a left hand, in many parts of the Muslim world, that’s considered the ‘toilet wiping’ hand – hardly the best brand association. Similarly, the soles of the feet and use of animals may not be appropriate images to use in communications in Muslim countries or communities either.

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In Western cultures, the number 13 is unlucky, but in China it’s the number 4 or any numbers including a four that are unlucky. The image below from a Chinese lift respectfully avoids 4, 13 and 14 so that everyone will think that this is a lucky building!

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Some cultural sensitivities are harder to know about unless you’ve spent some time there. I had a colleague that was running a media training session for communicators in Nigeria. One of the golden rules if you are being interviewed on camera is that you should always maintain eye contact to avoid looking insincere. However, in Nigeria, as a sign of respect, people are taught not to look directly at someone who is older or more senior to them which made for quite a challenging course where most of the participants stared at the floor throughout their TV interview practice.

Similarly, a lot of companies sign up to the principle of 360-degree feedback where managers are encouraged to seek feedback from their team and their peers as well as their line manager. However, in more traditional and hierarchical cultures, such as Japan, if a junior member of staff gave honest feedback to a senior manager in an open forum, this would likely be embarrassing for everyone in the room. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a 360-degree feedback system in these countries. It’s just that you might want to tweak the approach so that the feedback is given in an appropriate environment.

5) Channels

One other area where international communications can get ‘lost in translation’ is when you don’t use the best channels for your audience. In one example, an international consumer brand employed thousands of seasonal workers in East Africa to pick its tea harvest each year. A tea picker is normally at their most skilled when they are 16- 26 years i.e. young, experienced and fast. This is also the age group that has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS cases yet often has the poorest understanding of good sexual health practices.  In short, people were dying – and the company was losing a significant number of its best workers.

My partner was asked by this firm to help develop a sexual health awareness campaign for their workforce. With little access to technology, a high level of illiteracy and over 27 separate languages spoken amongst the workers, this wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds.

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In many communities where people can’t read and write, oral storytelling and music are important ways to share information. With this in mind, she worked with the local team to develop a campaign in Kiswahili (often the ‘common’ language amongst tribes in certain parts of Africa) that used song and dance to explain to their employees how to protect themselves against infection. Tribal elders were engaged in the process and asked to help deliver the message, as the weight that their views carried was significant. The success of this campaign resulted in significantly lower new infection rates amongst  the company’s employees.

Lastly, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are still a lot of people working in areas like manufacturing, retail, hospitality and mining that might not have access to a PC or tablet. Similarly, the Wi-Fi or mobile reception 2,000ft underground in your company’s copper mine or 300 miles offshore on your company’s oil rig might not be as good as it is in head office.

With this in mind, if you’re planning a global employee communications programme aimed at these ‘offline’ audiences, you may have to incorporate some more traditional communications channels such as staff meeting discussions, using notice boards or including messages on payslips.

In summary, effective international communications does come with its own particular considerations. There is no replacement for upfront effort in finding out what will work on the ground in the countries you want to reach. It’s all about getting to know your audience and, with sensitivity and understanding, there is no reason why your message should have to  get ‘lost in translation.’

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Daniel Schraibman is a director of communications, coaching and business consultancy Serekinti www.serekinti.com.

 

How to ensure great user experience for your corporate website

 

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A corporate website needs to offer simple functionality, as well as innovative design that reflects the brand narrative accurately. Juggling these elements, amongst many others, is a difficult task. But ultimately, it all boils down to one thing: user experience. Here, Luke Dodd, Global Digital Specialist at FTSE 100 mining company Anglo American, shares some tips on refining your user experience strategy.

Half a second. A blink of an eye.

That’s how long it takes for someone to form an opinion of your website. It is a matter of milliseconds, and is essentially instantaneous.

However, while this first impression is important to get right – features such as homepage design are critical for this – it’s what follows, the user experience and user journey, that really is make or break for your corporate website.

As Global Digital Specialist for Anglo American, a key responsibility of my role is to ensure that user experience is strong across our digital estate.

But to talk about user experience, it is important to first define what we mean by it.

For me, user experience is the overall experience and satisfaction a visitor has when navigating through your website – therefore, good user experience is where your website has met the exact needs of your user, simply and efficiently.

Sounds simple, but remember, the users that visit your corporate website will all vary in ability and what they are looking for. But they all have one thing in common: they want answers, and quickly.

And those answers are borne from a user’s expectation of your website. By establishing who your key audience groups are [for example, students, NGOs, job-seekers etc…], you can quickly find out what they expect to achieve when visiting your site.

In the spirit of good user experience, I am going to present the remainder of this article in bullet points and lists – providing you guys with ‘quick answers’:

6 questions to test if your website offers good user experience

  1. Does your content provide your users with the information they are looking for?
  2. Are users able to easily use all functionality of your website
  3. Are images and design used to tell your brand story on your website?
  4. Can users find the content they need simply when they need it?
  5. Is content accessible to all across all platforms, devices and abilities?
  6. Is your website reputable?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, in my opinion your website offers good user experience. If you answered ‘no’ to any questions, this may be an area to foc

3 top tips to correct inadequate user experience

  1. Gather feedback on your website

Get as much intelligence as you can from your users. Set up user research groups, conduct website surveys and internal interviews with key stakeholders – and then filter through the responses and decide what action is required.

It may be tempting to steam ahead and make changes immediately, but consider all feedback carefully and see how it all fits together before taking action.

  1. Try new [and old] things

If you feel something isn’t working on your website, or it feels clunky to use, try a different approach – whether it is a brand new approach, or a method previously overlooked.

For example, a recent tweak we made was to our website’s navigation. We had introduced a burger menu to the desktop version – but following feedback from both internal and external sources, it was clear that our users were finding it hard to use.

We made the executive decision to move to a dropdown meganav and make all three levels of navigation visible in one glance. This could be seen as a step-back in terms of the evolution of digital navigation when compared to a burger menu, however, it doesn’t matter how swish a new tool is if it doesn’t meet our users’ requirements.

  1. Audit and correct

We perform an annual audit of content and user experience across all of our websites, which occur in tandem with major content updates that align to our results and reporting cycles.

In these audits, we reflect upon the purpose of each section and what they mean to our key audiences, while using analytics to help us figure out what needs to be improved/changed.

Twitter: @LukeDoddComms

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lukedoddcomms

How to make your science story go viral

How can you ensure that complex, academic messages reach a wider audience?  Heidi Appel of the University of Missouri-Columbia discusses how her study was picked up and carried across traditional media news cycles. 

We researchers all wonder whether reaching a broader audience for our academic work is worth the time and effort. Here’s a recent experience that may help you decide.

On July 1 2014 I published a paper with Rex Cocroft showing that plants can identify vibrations caused by caterpillar chewing and respond with increased chemical defense. The story quickly developed a life of its own, getting picked up by newspapers internationally and by major online-only media outlets. When National Geographic put the story on their Facebook page July 10, it accumulated over 12,000 likes in four days. Within a month, over 4,300 media outlets had carried the story.

What happened to make this story go so far?

1. Our subject has broad public appeal

Plants are perennially underestimated by humans. They’re largely immobile and most of their behavior is invisibly chemical. When plants are shown to have complex responses to their environment, we are surprised. Even delighted.  This presented Rex and me with both an opportunity and a challenge – do we ignore the analogy with human senses or address it upfront in the news release to control the message? Do plants “distinguish among vibrational signals” or do they “hear”? We chose the latter.

2. A little science communication training goes a long way

Twenty years of teaching science to honors students – science majors and not – has provided me with great experience in explaining science concepts well, but it was no preparation for the simplification required for the news media. At a 2013 Becoming the Messenger workshop offered by the National Science Foundation, I gained experience and some confidence in describing my research to the general public. At several symposia on Science Communication at the AAAS Annual Meeting in 2014, I learned tips for communicating with the public and, perhaps most importantly, I listened to science news reporters describe how they find their stories.

Research can be shared with those outside academia’s ivory tower. (Roger Meissen | MU Bond Life Sciences Center, CC BY)

3. My institution encourages explaining research to the public

The Bond Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri has its own media team that develops news releases with video content and serves as a liaison between the center’s scientists and the great science news writers at the Mizzou News Bureau. It also hosts a program to cross-train life science undergraduates and journalism students, communication workshops for faculty, and science lectures and symposia for the general public. In total, these things provided a basic understanding of the news landscape, news cycle and best practices in interacting with journalists and the public.

4. It pays to be proactive in promoting a story

At the AAAS meeting, science reporters said that they get their stories mostly from personal contacts and not from the hundreds of university news releases filling their in-boxes daily. So I emailed a brief description of our research with the subject line “plants can hear” to a New York Times reporter. I received a reply in a couple hours, and did a phone interview the next day for the Observatory Column in the Tuesday Science Section.

5. Devote time to the interview requests

This meant not only answering all requests for interviews, but answering them within a few hours. The contemporary news cycle means that significant delays in response – a day or more – can turn your newsworthy work into no news, depending on the media outlet. Often the interviews themselves could be scheduled a day or two out, or accomplished by email. Rex and I decided from the beginning to do all interviews together if possible, initially because of our complementary expertise and later because it was simply more interesting. All but NPR obliged, and as time went on we learned the necessary depth of each other’s work and found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences and even answering what had previously been questions directed to the other. Interviews became fun exchanges with each other and the journalist.

I’d do it all again

Was it worth it? You bet. My research is now more widely known in academic circles than it was before, and the media attention has opened up new professional opportunities and collaborations, as predicted. If there was an undertow of damage to my academic reputation due to receiving the media attention, I haven’t felt it yet. Capturing the public’s imagination with a research story was immensely gratifying because it broadens their appreciation of what scientists do. It was also great fun.

The ConversationThis article has been subbed/amended by IABC UK and was originally published on The Conversation and is reposted under CC BY-ND. You can read the original article here.

About the Author

Heidi Appel is Senior Research Scientist, Bond Life Sciences Center and Division of Plant Sciences atUniversity of Missouri-Columbia.

Using conflict constructively to generate content

Conflict is a basic part of human nature which generates interest. Think back to your primary school and seeing two little boys fighting in the school playground – a crowd forms very quickly before the teachers arrive to separate them –  and this shows our basic human interest in conflict.

Think of war or action movies or sports like boxing. One of the key ingredients of drama is conflict.

People are absolutely fascinated by conflict so here are some ideas about how an organisation or brand can constructively use conflict to generate interesting content for their audience. Watch this 2:30 min video.

  • Create content that shows in what way you are fighting the good fight
  • Present the problem you are faced with
  • Demonstrate how you save the day  – as the knight in shining armour!

And this is how you can use conflict constructively, you painted a picture of evil, of potential destruction and mayhem and shown how you saved the day.

 

Tony Coll is a highly regarded public speaker on Reputation Management, Crisis Communication and the Media.

His company, Tony Coll Media Training works with individuals and groups, from C-suite executives on defining messages, making speeches and videos, practising crisis communication plans and being interviewed in the media, to stakeholders learning about responsible social media.

Follow Tony on Twitter: @tonycollmedia

Impactful corporate storytelling demands singular stories, not schizophrenia

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Remember when you were a kid? Something had gone wrong. You were involved, and someone was going to be angry. A teacher, a parent or a sibling. But you weren’t seen, and to minimise repercussions you crafted a version of the truth that had an air of plausibility to it that would also get you off the hook. Perhaps a boisterous but mute pet could take the rap. The problem was – particularly for the still-developing teenage prefrontal cortex – remembering the elements you’d embroidered. Let alone to whom you’d told what.

Growing up and learning to interact with different groups – friends, family, authority figures – is a positive learning experience if you’re going to be able to swap between modes and registers in later life. Those tweens and teens who learn to apply context in different environments go on to thrive. Knowing not to swear in class or to the police, becoming a bit more estuary in the playground or on the terraces, and upping the deference before grandparents are important skills for the trainee social chameleon. But it’s ever so funny when these emerging skills lapse in the heat of the moment.

I’ve no idea what it’s like to have an affair. Coming from a serial broken home, I’ve always prized fidelity and stability highly. I also happen to have found The One at just 20 – lucky old me – and have combined being not-the-straying-kind with a strong and happy partnership. But I’m not immune to popular culture, and I’ve seen my fair share of characters in film, TV series and books come a cropper by failing to control singular sexual narratives.

Holding multiple versions of the same story in your consciousness and constantly having to switch between them can be exhausting; stressful to the storyteller and confusing to the audience. As for individuals, so for corporations and brands. And all the more so because the folk memory and representation of an abstract entity like a brand is held in the collective minds and mouths of dozens to thousands of individuals.

In a pre-social media world, companies could and often did tell different stories to different audiences with impunity.

  • One story for their supply chain, whom they wanted to see them as partners: “Through our long-term commitment to you, we can help your company grow with ours.” (Or maybe: “We’ll parasite on your innovation until it becomes synonymous with us not you. And then we’ll cut your margin until it’s no longer viable for you to supply us.”)
  • One story for their shareholders and investors, whom they wanted to reassure they were running the business keenly: “We’ve removed all unnecessary costs from the supply chain and now produce our products more cheaply than the competition.” (Or possibly: “We screw our suppliers to the floor to maximise margin.”)
  • One story for their customers, whom they wanted to woo and bewitch: “We make the best products – bar none.” (Or perhaps “We’re brilliant at accentuating the positive.”)
  • One story for regulators and legislators: “We’re the greenest business in this sector.” (Or read: “We stick to the letter but not the spirit of the law and pollute as little as possible.”)
  •  And one story for employees: “With our company on your CV, you’ll have the pick of the market for your next role.” (Code for: “You should be grateful to work here, and accept the fact that we’re not going to give you a raise, even in line with inflation.”)

I’ll admit that the alternative readings (in brackets) are cynical, and historically the different narrative strands may all have been well-meaning from each of the different parts of a business. But very often the CSR story was 180 degrees from the key messages for city analysts. And a tale told to assuage environmentalists and local government would lead shareholders seriously to consider shuffling their investment portfolios.

The problem was – and amazingly still is in a surprisingly large number of organisations – that communication wasn’t joined up. The era of brand monologue was linear, siloed and separate. When it wasn’t easy to collect and collate different strands of brand communication through platforms and search engines, different strokes for different folks didn’t matter. No-one could discover the contradictions inherent in such a system.

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