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Moderating in a Multicultural and Multilingual World

One of the issues often overlooked when a company creates its first Facebook page, and that will come up sooner than later as their online social presence grows, is the fact that social media happens in a multicultural and multilingual global community.  No matter how precisely you target your web presence, chances are you are going to reach a diverse audience, and you have to be ready to communicate and connect with that diversity.

However, in today’s era of apps and online tools that seem to be able to do everything a human can do, only faster, we often come to the odd realization that some people think that machines are smarter than humans.  And a question frequently comes up in the moderation social media world: “Why not just have automated filtering machines, like curse-word traps, spam filters, boilerplate answers, and web translators for moderating? After all, they should make less mistakes than humans and they’re not biased.”

Is the dreadful 1984 Orwellian prediction upon us in 2013?  No, not yet. The community of online moderators, specialists, managers, and all the people that work behind the scenes on social networks, are all diverse people, very much real and alive, thank you. And they’re listening — in any language. They are part of the conversation.  Actually that is the whole point, a moderator HAS to be a person, because we have to be empathic in order to be believable and establish a trusted relationship.

Engagement is the name of the game.  The moderator or community manager’s responsibility is to protect and nurture a positive brand image. Community moderation today is much more than finding and deleting malicious content. It’s all about establishing a dialogue — a meaningful dialogue. It’s about creating a relationship with your fans. Moderators need to have the cultural awareness to strengthen a bond or find alternative solutions to mending broken trust or an ill-positioned line of communication.

Moderating a multicultural community is not only about the knowledge of the language; it also understands the differences in meaning that are specific to a particular country or region. It’s being aware of what could be offensive or otherwise misinterpreted, and having the depth of understanding to find alternative solutions. And machines are not very good at that. We know for a fact that fans recognize immediately if they are dealing with a human.

People know if you speak their language or if you’re using a machine. And a machine is a turn-off. It’s seen as disrespectful in many cultures. We can see this from actual quotes from fans that don’t understand certain updates or updates that were posted on the wrong market/wrong language: “You don’t care enough about me to give me your time”  ”I am not a machine, talk to me in my language.”  Why are we not treated equal?” “What are you doing on my page?” And so on…

As we’ve seen, a strong command of the language is essential. But even more critical is a deep understanding of the culture — knowing what to take into consideration prior to developing a piece of communication. I would call it a native-level cultural understanding. Any moderator or community manager has to be able to change his or her own style of writing to fit the readership’s genre. Moderators with language and cultural awareness are the stepping-stones of good customer service, especially in a multicultural world that meets on social media pages.

Still not convinced? Then check out this written notice by the management in a Japanese hotel room-service poster: “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.”

Yes… good moderators count!


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