Lost in translation
This week I would like to share with you some thoughts about the behavior of people in online social networks inspired by the discussion in our COMM506 wiki. As we know, language serves as one of the factors that make people feel that they belong to one group. It is an important factor that fosters the development of social networks based on the homophily principle, networks that can be characterized by dense ties between its members.
When we register on any social networking site, as a first step we usually connect with our friends and relatives, i.e. members of our small network with dense ties. Eventually, our online network grows and we connect with people we work with, as well as meet in different situations (professional conference participants, suppliers, etc.). Taking into consideration the effects of globalization, we can suppose that these people can speak different languages and belong to different cultures. Sometimes we also start to follow well-known people that are of interest to us (scholars, celebrities, political figures, etc.), but in general we do not have a reciprocal relationship with them.
With time our online network diversifies and the amount of loose ties increases. Small dense clusters loosely connected to the rest of the network appear. From this moment on we need to spend some efforts into maintaining our connections with all our network’s members, and this can be tricky if our social network is diverse (e.g. its members belong to different cultures or speak different languages). For example, if we start to maximize the reach of our posts by using the language that is understood by the majority in our network, we risk loosening the virtual ties with the members of our dense network and getting less feedback from them. On the other hand, if we decide to receive more support from our dense network and start posting messages in the language that is spoken by its members, we can alienate those who do not belong to it. As a result, they can decide to ignore our messages and we won’t be able to address them at all, i.e. we will lose our “loose connections”. The content of the posts is also important, as we should consider cultural specifics.
So, what is the best tactics to maintain such a diverse network then? How to get feedback and interact with all the members with one message? This week I decided to make an experiment in order to check the real impact of the language of the message on online social interactions. On Monday I posted the following message (authentic communication: I really had a fewer 😛 ):
I didn’t write any words in Cyrillic and used standard Facebook functionality to describe the situation (the message is translated automatically depending on the language you set as default for your account). No picture was attached to the post to ensure that it won’t attract additional likes. And you know what? This post became one of the most popular post in my virtual life! I was surprised that the first comments were left not by the members of my dense network (as I expected), but rather by the “weak ties”. All in all, the “weak ties” are responsible for 50% of replies. I received feedback both from English-speaking and Russian-speaking Facebook friends. Another interesting fact: people started a separate discussion in comments discussing why everyone around them gets sick lately, and that attracted attention of other network members, who usually do not comment my posts.
So here are my findings (based on this and my previous experience with posting in different languages):
- Language of your message is VERY important, especially for those in your dense network
- Content of the message should be of interest to the majority of your “friends”
- “A picture is worth a thousand words” – 100% true. Such posts are liked and commented by everyone, although you should be careful with captions.
- Posts in two languages (first in Russian, then English translation) get less response than those in one language, i.e. addressed to specific group.
- Posts that can be understood by anyone get maximum reach and engagement on Facebook.
I know that all these things seem quite obvious when laid out in blog, but I have never thought about the effects of language on social networks in these terms.
Did I miss something? Any ideas on how to efficiently manage personal communication in online social networks? You are welcome to leave your opinion in comments below 🙂