Today’s companies spend a lot of time thinking about content. They’re constantly trying to work out how to create engaging, high-quality content at scale, and what the best ways are to distribute it to their target audiences. Their goal, of course, is to communicate key messages to prospects and customers in an effort to shepherd them down the path to purchase.

As important as this work is, it’s also worth remembering that creating great content can serve a much higher cause than simply increasing your bottom line. In some cases, it can be used to help people in need. In fact, it can even save lives. I know first-hand, having been involved with a great organization called Translators Without Borders since 2010. Its mission is to increase access to knowledge by linking translators to NGOs that focus on health, nutrition, and education.

One of the reasons why I got involved with Translators Without Borders is because I believe that being good at communicating and creating effective content isn’t just a first-world problem. It’s something that can really make a difference to everyone. Let me give you an example.

You probably remember the horrific earthquake that rocked Nepal on April 25, 2015. It left 9,000 people dead, 23,000 injured, and hundreds of thousands homeless. The devastation it caused was unthinkable and it will continue to be felt in the region for many years to come.

Within minutes of the initial quake, people started responding. Initially, those responses were calls for help. The challenge, however, was that like the Tweet below, they weren’t in English and therefore weren’t widely understood.

bhu wan tweet

Most of us would have no idea what the Tweet above is trying to express. Is it a warning or a cry for help? Is it request for something particular or a critical piece of information?

What Translators Without Borders does is try to address language barriers like this that make it so difficult to help people otherwise. Every year they translate more than 2 million words for NGOs, often to help in crisis situations like the earthquake in Nepal.

Within just a few hours of the earthquake, we had built a rapid response team that consisted of Nepali, Nawari, and Hindi translators. We then put together a list of common words and phrases needed in crisis situations. Next we fed the list to partner organizations and used it to start actively monitoring social media messages coming out of Nepal so that we could better understand what was going on and find out what was needed. Over the days, weeks, and months that followed, we translated a lot of communication, bringing clarity to groups working in very different languages.

Through that experience, and many others, we learned three lessons that apply just as much to crisis situations like these as they do to good content marketing. They are:

  1. Always understand who your target audience is. In the case of Nepal, this was essential because 22 different languages are spoken there. By looking at the regional distribution of those languages, we were able to work out that Nepali, Newari, and Hindu were the most important languages to focus our translation efforts on.
  2. Always measure what you’re doing. In content marketing, people are always saying how important it is to be able to measure the impact that you’re having. It’s been no different for us. In fact, we’ve had great success showing how important having content in the right language can be. A recent study we did showed that after reading content in English about Ebola, a group of East Africans could only answer 16 percent of questions about the content correctly. When we put that content into Swahili, one of the local languages, they got 92 percent of the questions right. That’s a huge difference!
  3. Always create content that’s right for your target audience. One of the projects we’ve undertaken at Translators Without Borders is creating simplified articles on various health issues, such as malaria, for Wikipedia. These aren’t technical articles filled with all of the detail that a medical professional would need. Rather they are simplified, high-level articles that provide life-saving information in a way that’s easy for locals to understand.

In addition to encouraging you to remember these lessons in your own content efforts, I’d also encourage you to check out Translators Without Borders. It’s a fantastic organization and one that needs your donations and resources to continue its important mission.