The Oban Blog

Cross-cultural tweeting: when the French language and Twitter collide

The constraints of Twitter’s 140 character limit are a familiar subject with many. How many Twitter fans have seen hyperlinks abruptly cut, hashtags half complete? Lots I’m sure.

When it comes to tweeting in different languages the task of creating compelling content can be more than a challenge. Prolix languages like French and German confront digital marketers to find new ways of interacting with local audiences within the character counting world of Twitter.

Twitter advances, formality retreats

On August 2013, a spelling mistake was spotted on the French Minister of Culture’s Twitter accountraising a wave of controversy regarding the use of the French language. The message contained six spelling and punctuation mistakes (including missed apostrophes and accents) and is considered an example of the difficulties prolix languages face on Twitter.


(Source: Le Figaro)

Even when the tweet was later amended, this blunder fired the debate between French language purists and social network users.

Truth be told, the complexity of this language makes it extremely difficult to adapt to the 140 character limit. Twitter messages in French are full of neologisms (“nous twitterons” or “followé”) and abbreviations (“koi” for “quoi” or “C” for “C’est”). Formal expressions are diminishing – one of the most significant cases is the replacement of the formal “vous” by “tu” – and use of English and acronyms increasingly introduced. All of which simplify the language to fit the restraints of Twitter’s character limit.

Major international brands like Nestle and Renault have made extensive use of English throughout their online campaigns in France, ignoring the rules of publishing in French to a French market. Cultural-focused Twitter profiles such as Les Inrockuptibles or Street Press are also using the same combination of English/French mixed messages to obtain higher engagement among audiences.


(Source: Nestle)

blog25(Source: Renault)


(Source: StreetPress)


(Source: Les Inrockuptibles)

How your tweets should be created is an important decision not to be taken lightly, and always focus your attention on local target audience needs. A young online audience will most likely be more receptive to tweets that use a combination of English and abbreviations, while older demographics could be more sensitive towards the improper use of the French language.

With an estimated 5.6 million Twitter users in France (Dec 2012)2, the potential of this platform can’t be underestimated. The top tips for implementing successful French campaigns  on Twitter are:

  • Identify your target audience. Be certain that your tweets are specifically tailored for different demographics
  • Use native speaking social media experts to compose your tweets. Knowing the local jargon, subtleties and expressions are necessary to capture attention  
  • Monitor how your online audience responds to your tweets and collate feedback. Detect upcoming linguistic trends and act upon it



1 Le Figaro: La faute d’orthographe de Filippetti
2 E-Marketer: Twitter is Widely Known in France, but Garners Few regular Users