Localized versus local

At what point does it make sense for an organization to create content locally rather than localize it from a central source?

There are a lot of problems with authorizing local offices to produce their own content. How do you preserve brand integrity? How to you ensure that locally produced content conveys your message accurately? At first glance it seems that you'll either have to trust local producers (scary) or require their work to circle back through worldwide headquarters for approval (inefficient).

I ran into this problem during graduate school when a group of students and I began tweeting on behalf of the school (from official Twitter accounts). The desire was to produce social media content in the languages of prospective students. What better way to do so than for current students from those target countries to compose original tweets in their respective languages? The effort proved very successful in the end, but there were multiple meetings about the implications of publishing student produced content in languages the professional PR staff couldn't read and review. Legitimate concerns had to be assuaged.

The problem compounds as you add locales. Consider the organization for which I currently work, +The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Headquarters are located in Utah, USA, and over the years most of our publishing resources have naturally built up here. For a long time, that worked. But now the Church has members spread across the globe, and most live outside of the United States. The Church has published in 177 languages.

Clearly, making materials available in so many languages represents a massive effort. Especially considering that most of those materials (if not all of them) originated in English. But we localizers know that translating that material is only one part of the picture. What about the fact that a significant portion of Church media is published in video format? Even a video with the most impeccable subtitles or the most convincing voice over will spur cognitive dissonance in a Kenyan viewer if the video looks like it was shot in a Northern Utah suburb. At this point we are dealing with differences in culture, values, and even socioeconomic status.

The good news is that our publishing department understands many of these challenges. The results of efforts to produce content that will resonate with people in their own country and culture are beginning to appear in videos like this one that features families from Brazil, England, and the United States.

We have a long way to go, but we are on the right track. What is my dream as a localizer? I'd love to see videos and other materials produced in our area offices by talented folks who live in those areas. I am blown away by the powerful messages our centralized production teams create. They are incredibly impactful, especially for English speaking Americans. I look forward to a time when messages of equal power are built specifically to touch the minds and hearts of people in their native language and culture.

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