Tweeting bilingually: how to use Twitter in two languages?

A large number of organisations and individuals in Wales are using Twitter to tweet bilingually. But what is the best way to do this without confusing your followers? And without also creating unnecessary additional work for yourselves?

I would like to offer some very practical guidance.

I will start by saying this – that there is, in fact, no unequivocally correct answer to this. So don’t expect one easy secret to answer all your queries in this article.

There are a few methods available, and each one will depend on that which suits you, what your objectives are and what is practical for you and your team to achieve. But there are also a few methods I have encountered over the years which are nothing less than totally crazy examples of how not to tweet bilingually and making it much harder than it needs to be.

The contents of a Twitter message

In terms of content it is worth remembering that individuals and private companies are free to create digital content as they wish. They can:

  • copy or translate messages directly between the two languages
  • vary the content between the two languages in terms of tone and message to suit the audience
  • make everything different in the two languages, with one language being  totally independent of the other
  • not tweet bilingually at all. Hey – they don’t have to!

But it must also be remembered that a very large number of public institutions in Wales and beyond do so. In Wales, public organisations fall under the regulations of the Welsh language standards. The implications and feasibility of those regulations is a subject too complex to be included in this article, but it is certain that these regulations will mean some of the content has to be the same in both languages in order to provide an equal service to all.

How many Twitter accounts should I have to tweet bilingually?

Some will choose to establish one Twitter account, and others will choose to open multiple accounts (usually, one for each language). There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. Let’s look at them below…

1. Tweet bilingually from one account

This is a very practical method because it means opening, maintaining and monitoring only one Twitter account. It is easy to create and publish and send a message in one language, and then create an identical message, or a valid variation, in the other language.

For the users, however this can be a good or a bad experience. The users could get tired of seeing messages in the other language which they don’t understand. Bilingual users could easily get tired of seeing repetitive or duplicate messages in both languages.

Alternatively, some users may be very keen to see everything – in both languages – from one account.

2. Have two Twitter accounts – one for each language

This is a method often adopted by larger organisations, which have a solid strategy to use Twitter effectively in both languages.

The benefit of this method is to create a smooth workflow between the two languages, especially if different members of staff manage the accounts in each language. The disadvantage is the possibility that there may well, subsequently, be a need to invest in a system to manage a number of accounts, to schedule messages in advance and monitor the responses of two audiences in one dashboard. There are a number of online systems that are easy to use and suitable for these purposes. The simplest ones, in my opinion, that do not cost much (or have a free version) are Hootsuite, Buffer and Tweetdeck.

3 Have one Twitter account – and each message is bilingual

What I mean by this is that your tweets include both languages within one message.

Consider that! There are only 140 characters available in a Twitter message. If you wish to include bilingual text in one message, both saying the same thing – then you have already restricted yourself to 70 characters before you start!

But what, then, if you want to put a link in the message? Each link counts for 23 other characters. Therefore the total characters for each language’s message has come down to 58-59 characters.

And what, then, if you want to include a photo?* All good Twitter marketers include images or graphics to draw attention to their posts. And therefore that’s another 23 characters gone! Leaving only 47 characters for your message in each language – which is not much to play with!

One of the aims of this website is to show how to be concise and effective. But there is a limit on anybody’s ability with these constraints!

Another consideration is that reading two languages side-by-side in this way is harder to read, and it makes it a less acceptable and more fragmented experience for users. You, surely, wouldn’t produce pamphlets, websites or posters with such constraints on yourself and your content.

The aim at the end of the day is to make your user experience is a better one, and where possible, make your own life easier at the same time.

* Very soon – images will not count towards the character counts of Twitter. Hurrah!

Retweeting Tips

How, then, do we retweet effectively in two languages, especially if the original tweet is only available in one language? This is where quoted retweets are helpful.

By clicking the retweet button on Twitter, you will get an option to retweet the message immediately, or to “add a comment”. By adding text you can paraphrase the original message and make it relevant to your users. Your message will then direct people to the original source, where the users can dig deeper.

Timing your Tweets

Should you send your tweets in both languages at the same time? The nature of some announcements (e.g. breaking news), means it makes sense to do so.

Otherwise, if you have already shared your audience by language (as in option 2 above), then you can look at your account statistics, particularly if you have advanced analytical software, and start creating messages tailored to your audiences, posting at the times the audience is most engaged.

Naturally, if you’re responding to a query from a user, or are participating in a discussion already happening organically on Twitter, it makes perfect sense to use the language already being used.

And to close – my opinion

My feeling is that Option 2, pretty much, offers more clarity and opportunities by treating the audiences as two separate language audiences – it will allow you to and gain a deeper understanding of your followers. If you know that your audience will be the same for both languages then Option 1 could be justified. I would strongly encourage you not to use Option 3, for the obvious reasons stated above!

How about you? What is your experience of tweeting bilingually, or even multilingually? Have you used a different option to the ones I have outlined in the article? Please let me know in the comments below.

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