“Ich bin ein Berliner.”

John F. Kennedy announced this famous phrase in Germany on June 26, 1963. Kennedy’s statement, which translates to “I am a citizen of Berlin,” became a famous symbol for international unity. These days, American businesses could be saying the same thing, but in countries around the world.

U.S. based multinationals are selling as much or more abroad as they are at home. More than 50 percent of the S&P 500’s growth comes from overseas. It is standard practice for corporations to have employees, partners and customers around the world.

As Kennedy knew, when there are international allies involved, good collaboration is a must.

Companies are driven to adopt social media and Enterprise 2.0 solutions out of a need for international collaboration, coordination and knowledge sharing. Businesses can generate and capture more ideas, as well as be more productive when they use social media, according to a 2010 Jive Software survey of more than 300 companies. The survey also found that companies sell more to new customers, increase brand awareness and retain a higher number of existing customers.

A 2010 McKinsey report also unearthed a correlation between social networking and increased market share. Companies gain market share “by forging closer marketing relationships with customers and by involving them in customer support and product-development efforts (as well as)…collaborate across organizational silos and to share information more broadly.” When content is freed from IT silos like email, employees can use the knowledge contained in documents for years, increasing a document’s return on investment throughout its lifecycle.

Do You Speak English? Maybe You Shouldn’t.

Social media leads to communication, and communication leads to commerce. But what if your network covers offices in the U.S., the Ukraine, China, the Philippines and Germany? Do you force all your employees to communicate in English and risk having valuable information and context fall through the cracks? If that information isn’t translated, or those people aren’t fluent in English, you limit communication—and your own competitive advantage.

On the customer side, the English language only accounts for 31 percent of all online use, and that number is declining. 70 percent of global Internet users visit websites in their own language. Worldwide, Internet users spend more than $448 billion buying goods and services online. With numbers like that, sticking solely to the English language starts looking like a really bad idea.

Moving Beyond Black Box Translation

The offline translation agency model is broken. Sending off translations to a professional agency, then waiting days for the expensive result, is slow and financially cumbersome. In today’s socially driven, cross-border business environment, businesses can’t afford to wait too long for a service, or to pay too much for it.

However, when businesses can choose between instant machine translations, efficient, cost-effective crowd sourced translations, or professional human translations, they increase translation productivity while reducing the cost. The benefits are augmented when that kind of translation service can be fed directly into a company’s social network.

Progressive social networks like Jive and enterprise content management systems like Oracle and Microsoft SharePoint are integrating translation software directly into the applications. Users can choose from the three levels of translation described above. From support forums to tweets, contracts to wikis, companies can match the workflow to the job.

There’s No Need for Translation Hesitation

When translation is faster and more cost-effective, companies translate more content. More translated content on a social media network means that the content gets used more during its lifecycle, leading to better content ROI. Translation also opens up more communication within the organization and with customers, which, as the statistics show, leads to more commerce.

Kennedy didn’t mince words when he called himself a Berliner. Likewise, companies don’t have to be tentative about translation anymore. When it is embedded directly into social networks and matches translation to workflow, translation becomes a truly global proposition.

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