Content isn’t what it used to be. Companies used to only have to manage contracts, proposals, documentation, and other standard business content. Today, in addition to those core internal documents, businesses have socially driven content such as online communities, email, websites and social media. That means blogs, tweets and other kinds of social media updates, as well as collaborative content tools like wikis, forums, and endless email attachments -- to name just a few -- all comprise a company’s content. In many cases, organizations employ a global, mobile workforce; this means not only that online content is growing, but also that it is growing in many different languages.

How can a company keep up? As anyone with a content management system (CMS) will tell you, managing the flood of content can be messy. Perhaps one of the most dramatic content snarls comes from translation and localization, or lack thereof. An estimated 99 percent of the content in the world hasn’t been translated (Common Sense Advisory, “Ranking of the Top 25 Translation Companies,” May 29, 2008).

Businesses don’t translate or localize the way they could because of what the Gilbane Group calls ‘language afterthought syndrome’ or “a pattern of treating language requirements as secondary considerations within content strategies and solutions.” (The Gilbane Group, “Suffering from Language Afterthought Syndrome?” September 4, 2009). The casualties of language afterthought syndrome -- or, to put it another way, translation procrastination -- are many: content is wasted rather than being reused during its lifecycle; customer support is costly and inefficient due to poor translation; language capacity is maxed out, limiting bottom lines as companies expand globally, and hurting multi-channel customer communications, according to Gilbane.

The risks of translation procrastination don’t stop with a business’s internal struggle. If a company’s website is a key driver of sales, avoiding translation leaves a gaping market hole where a company could be selling products and services. Worldwide, Internet users spend $448 billion buying goods and services online, according to Common Sense Advisory. Yet only 31 percent of online users use the Internet in English, and that proportion is declining. Seventy percent of global users visit websites in their own language. In the EU alone, nine out of ten users would prefer to visit a website in their own language, and a whopping 42 percent of users would never buy a product in a language other than their own (European Commission. “User language preferences online.” May 2011. Web).

Technology Meets the Challenge

With all the potential benefits of translation and localization -- and the pitfalls of procrastinating -- what’s the holdup? I believe the roots of the problem lie in old technological limitations. In the past, the only way to get things translated was through a professional, at about 23 cents per word. That’s more than it costs to create content itself in many cases. Companies, in an attempt to save money, waited until the last second to translate and only when it seemed there was no other option. As a result, translation remained a secondary post-process, rather than an integrated and essential component to global strategy.

That is now a decision that companies don’t have to make anymore. With the advent of cloud computing and crowdsourcing, it is now possible to translate content according to its value to a company. For example, tweets and blog comments, while they may be important for communications, do not carry as much overall business value as a company’s homepage. There’s no point in unleashing an expensive professional translator on those tweets -- but there is a price to pay for not translating them at all.

The Solution: Match the Workflow to the Job

The answer is a process that matches translation workflow to the job. Companies can now refer to a Content Value Index (CVI) to translate content at different levels of effort and expense, depending on how important that content is. As a result of using the CVI, companies are able to use their time and resources efficiently and cost-effectively. They don’t solely rely on expensive professional translation, so they can open up those markets they’ve been missing. They can also avoid the organizational mess that results from ‘language afterthought syndrome.’

The CVI has three levels. The first level is used for low-value content, including blog comments, forum posts and certain blog posts. Users only need to understand the gist of what is being said. Machine translation, with instant delivery and no incremental cost, works well in this situation.

The second level relates to medium-value content, including more valuable blog posts or forum entries, as well as collaborative information like wikis. This is content that people need to understand, but that don’t warrant the cost of professional translation. Crowdsourcing provides translation that is human-powered, but still cost-effective.

High-value content, the third level of the CVI, includes professionally written content, whitepapers, the company website, important internal documents that need to be shared throughout the company, and anything else that needs the highest quality of translation. This is where professional translation works best, and provides the most bang for the buck.

Content Value is Global Value

When they put the CVI into action, many companies will find that they don’t need to use professional translation very often. Instead, they can translate a large amount of their content using crowd or machine translation. As a result, companies spend less time on translation efforts, saving money while translating more content.

Using the global example, if companies manage to drive down the costs of translation enough to translate two percent of the world’s content, as opposed to today’s one percent, that represents $30 billion in content value. Combining the CVI with best-in-class machine translation solutions and real-time community translations is a solution that fits the needs of global organizations.