Social Media and Translations

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July 2011
Ivan Obolensky

One of the business decisions that most business owners have wrestled with recently is whether to go with social media as a means of potentially increasing business. When our web designer mentioned that we ought to open a Twitter account, get on Facebook, and get a blog going on our website, I must admit I asked myself and those around me what I considered to be the big question: Does all this social media stuff actually work? Can a company really increase sales significantly using such networks?

The answers I got back fell into three categories: Yes, No and That depends.

Frankly, that’s exactly how I felt, too.

I once was on Facebook, but I deleted my account after six months. I had wanted to do some overdue reconnection with former friends and acquaintances. For this, Facebook was remarkably effective. What I was unprepared for was the continuous amount of time and effort that was required to keep the many contacts and reconnections going on a daily basis. It was like inadvertently becoming a full-time gardener. There were all these strings of chatter that required cultivating, pruning and watering and this had to be done every day! It was tiring.

I also felt that it was, to some degree, an immersion in a different universe that connected in some ways with the real world but also seemed to contain an element of unreality. There would be Friend requests from people I had barely heard of, and many I am sure I had never had any contact with before. Who were these people? Would I ever meet them in the real world? Would I want to? It was not, in my mind, particularly productive so in the interest of gaining more time, I pulled the plug.

It remained an uncertain area and now I was being asked to examine it from a business perspective.

Some years earlier I had decided to study logic. One of the wonderful things that logic does is take a proposition, translate it into symbols, and then carry out various operations that transform the original statement into a new truth that is often surprising, yet logically correct.1 Besides, there is always the story about the guardians of the two doors. One tells lies and the other always the truth. What question do you pose to verify who is who so you go through the right door and not get eaten? 2 That is a moment when the closet logician shines; particularly if you encounter such a dilemma in one’s travels and need a quick response. In some ways dealing with Facebook was not dissimilar, although I admit I reconnected with some wonderful people of my past to say nothing of meeting my spouse through a mutual friend.

One of the subtopics of logic that always intrigued me was called modal logic which governs not only what is logically necessary but also covers the concept of “possible” worlds.3

“Modal” from the linguistics point of view means expressing a distinction of mood, such as between possibility and actuality (modal auxiliary words in English help carry out that function and include: can, could, may, must, need, ought, shall, should, will, and would.)4

I found this to be an exciting idea because a new world (I stretched it to any universe) could be created provided it was consistent and non-contradictory. Further, it was intriguing how one could move, or teleport, a proposition into a possible world to elaborate an argument and then move back again, although only by following certain rules. To me it was like passing through dimensions and fulfilling unrequited dreams of space travel.

Using modality, one can easily understand the creation of a mental place where one is brilliantly successful. It is a possible world and is neither inconsistent nor internally contradictory. It can exist, and one can cling to it like a safety line strung across a heaving deck because the actual world can be so totally different. This dichotomy always inspired me to ask two questions: How come one could be so successful in the possible world and not successful in the real one? And secondly, is it possible to move the “successful me” proposition from its possible world into the one I awake to every day… and how is that done exactly?

Truly, the latter has inspired such concepts as “thoughts become things”. These are just some of many methods employed to attempt to bridge the gap between what happens between your ears and what one would like to happen outside of them.

Modal logic weighs in on this, although indirectly. A theorem proved in a possible world does not mean it is proved in the real world.

In logic, “necessary” implies that it is not just that a thing is true, but that it cannot be false. It is true with a very strong claim. “Possible” is truth but with a weak claim.

It is that which is “necessary” that seems to slip easily between possible and actual worlds. A necessary truth is the proposition: “something exists”. It is true in whatever possible world one travels.5

It also points out the difficulty of thinking one is able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. This is not necessary in all worlds and is therefore hard to transport.

So what does all this have to do with social media?

If one looks at the sales process, one sees clearly the possible and the actual interacting.

One sees customers having a picture of the possibility of owning a new car or using a new product. Research on the Internet follows. It is only when the buyer actually puts up the cash or gets approved for the loan (the necessary truth) that he, or she, actually buys a car and we can claim a sale in the actual world. Until that time, it is all just possibility.

But it is in the possible worlds that dreams are first created.

This, to me, is what makes the Internet and the social media world so nebulous and yet so intriguing. It is the possibility. It also explains why it is so difficult to pin down how this all translates into real-world sales. Of course buying on the Internet is easy and takes place in the real world, but in social media one is dealing with connections, ideas, tweets, blog opinions, and Likes and dislikes. It is less tangible.

In sales, possible and actual collide because at some point the potential buyer has to decide to buy, or not. He/she often has to be comfortable with a product or service that has never been seen, or used before, and with a seller that has never been dealt with at any time. Will the buyer like the product? Will they be satisfied? Thrilled? How does one make that “leap of faith” amongst that amount of uncertainty and unknown?

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is often cited as the author of this concept (“leap of faith”) although he never used those words. What he did sanction was “The Leap”. He viewed this from a religious context. One had to leap in order to believe. At some point all the logic has to be dispensed with, and one is left with simply the leaping. One forces the transition between the possible and the actual, to heck with the rules.

I have noticed that when I am searching for new clients, employees, or products, I will often look at web sites in order to authenticate whoever or whatever I am searching for. When I look on Amazon I will note the number of stars of a potential Kindle purchase. I will often read the bad reviews just to get a more balanced view. The question I am trying to answer is: will I be happy with the purchase? I have not bought it or signed onto the service yet. I am deciding in my mind and looking at possibilities. I am in a possible world of having bought the item. In that possible world, am I happy? How do I know? Should I ask my friends? Would they know? How about an unbiased observer? Do I want to make that leap? Do I have enough information?

We in the business world as sellers see this problem from the other side. How do we get the potential buyer to make that leap of faith in the actual world, to buy our product or service?

I would like to posit one more additional phrase to the “buy our product” mantra and offer the reason I would consider social media at all. “Buy our product” as a concept is incomplete. It should be: “buy our product and be very happy with it.”

This last step is the kicker, and the province of social media. Social media is a feedback mechanism that can boost sales but only because past customers are so satisfied they say something to that effect. It will rarely result directly in sales. What it does is establish credibility and confirmation in the mind of the buyer that they might like what they are buying and might even like it a lot.

Twitter followers might run to the store to get the latest Justin Bieber pants, but only because Justin Bieber likes them and tweeted so. Sony might sell more VAIO laptops by offering a 10% discount on Twitter to their followers if they come in and buy, but chances are that they are repeat customers of the same or some earlier Sony product, brand followers.6 Facebook business pages allow one to smoothly be available in the online world, to confirm one is loved by the public and to demonstrate that any dissatisfaction is handled at once. Blogs too, might be able to pick up negative feedback from a product or positive feedback for something to be strengthened. Social Media, it seems, owns the aftermarket and thereby authenticates and strengthens the desire to purchase in the future. It gives the appearance of being unscripted and thereby unbiased and trustworthy.

The downside of social media is that it can exude a profound sense of private unreality where the possible and actual merge, where the two get confused, and where one can appear the way one would like to be. How else can one explain the strange antics, pictures, and no-no’s that are done every day on social media sites?

Because opinions matter, companies are becoming aware that approval via social media means more business, so they try and game the system. There are hard-driven “say you Like” campaigns in order to show that they are either very popular (and any negative opinions are overwhelmed by positive ones), or as license to advertise on one’s own Facebook page to all one’s friends that you like their product. One may like a product but like it enough to push it on all your friends? There is something artificial there that can only create a backlash at a later time on the purveyor. Such campaigns are either the result of desperation to make a dollar or extraordinary ignorance. They will end badly with potential customers likely distrusting those who resort to such tactics.

So the answer to the social media question is Yes. It is worth getting into but not as an immediate sales booster; more as a preventer of lost sales in the future. Social media can help keep track of past happy customers, be a quality-control check by identifying any dissatisfaction with a product or service, and as a means of authentication that one’s product or service is well worth the price paid, through positive feedback from past users.

It takes a lot of work with little immediate reward.

Social media is not the only avenue into other universes.

One observation I would like to make is that there is more than one actual world. Different cultures and countries around the globe have their own actual world that is different than the actual world of the country where one lives. Each is just as valid and as real. It might be well worth opening those other country doors and receive greater return by trying to bridge the gap globally.

If one follows the social media path, one might also note that social media from the point of view of another country or culture might be totally different and require a whole new look to be relevant and viable. One also needs to know the culture and the language to be effective and relevant. Further, the foreign language social media site requires high-quality translations.

Having a website or social media site with incorrect, outdated, or peculiar-sounding translations can only create lost sales by causing the viewer to have serious doubts about the pending purchase and move on to someone else.


1 Gensler, H. J. (2003). Introduction to Logic. New York, NY: Routledge.

2 Poundstone, W. (1989). Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles, and the Frailty of Knowledge. New York, NY: Anchor.

3 Gensler, op. cit.

4 Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged. (n.d.). modal. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from The Free Dictionary: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/modal

5 Gensler, op. cit.

6 Fisher, L. (2010, September 21). Evidence that Social Media Really Does Drive Sales. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2010/09/21/evidence-that-social-media-really-does-drive-sales/


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© 2011 Ivan Obolensky. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced without the written permission from the author.

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