Entrepreneurs and empresarios: trends in English, French, and Spanish

2 Apr


Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs–that’s the title of a recent piece in the New York Times by Liz Alderman, though the gloom about entrepreneurship in France sounds less like the ‘see you later’ of au revoir and more like an adieu ‘for a long long time’.

This blog post is about how ‘entrepreneur’ is used in English, French, and Spanish (entrepreneur for the first two, empresario for Spanish, both words come from Latin ‘to take/seize’, although the Spanish word had a fun knight life in the 14th century as emprise, ‘chivalrous endeavor’).

Words and ideas have different ways of traveling through the world. If you only looked at English social media on entrepreneurship you’d get a fairly rosy picture. But you’d miss the fact that this French word is actually rarely used in French. And you’d miss all the negativity around the term in the Spanish Twittersphere.

Cultural nuances matter—even if you only speak English, you may sense that tycoon, mogul, and industrialist can have a flavor of ‘ill-gotten gains’ that English entrepreneur doesn’t seem to have for most English speakers.

The same basic idea applies to brands: their positions differ from subculture to subculture. What it means to drive a Jeep, wear Gucci, shop at Old Navy, or carry a Saks sack isn’t uniform. In this post we’ll be talking about entrepreneurs but the diversity here applies about brands, products, and features, not just cultural and economic keywords.

That data behind this report were gathered between March 11 and April 1, spam filtered and restricted to authors who consistently tweeted in one of the three languages investigated. In the end, that’s about 100,000 tweets made up of English (71.5%), Spanish (26.0%) and French (2.5%).

French: An absence of ‘entrepreneur’

34% of all of Twitter is in English, 12% in Spanish, and 2% in French.


Image from MIT Technology Review

So if everything were equal, we’d expect English to have 2.8 times as many mentions of ‘entrepreneur’ as Spanish and about 17 times as many mentions as there are in French.

The Spanish counts are actually a bit higher than we’d expect (25,586 instead of 24,805). But the French numbers are way off. We’d expect 4,134 tweets about entrepreneurs in French but instead there are only 2,490. That’s a very big difference.

What are the French tweeting about when they do? Like the English tweets, the French tweets deal with advice, success, and investors. There’s more talk about processes, trust, politics, and creation/development in the French tweets than in the English.

They do not talk much about marketing compared to the English tweeps. And there’s very little mention of social, either as a keyword or the names of major social media services/topics/techniques. And while the French tweets talk about investors, they don’t really talk much about founders or startups, which are fairly big entrepreneurship themes in the English tweets. But as you’ll see below, the French authors do talk about these topics, they just don’t talk about them alongside the word ‘entrepreneur’ as the English authors do.

Within the NYTimes article, there’s the idea that failure isn’t tolerated in France. Various ways of talking about failure are absent from the French data. Even rater (‘to miss/fail/mess up’) is really only used to promote a popular article about six Massive Open Online Courses that entrepreneurs shouldn’t miss (Les six #Mooc à ne pas rater pour l’entrepreneur). In the English tweets, failure is mentioned much more often and with a much greater diversity–a lot of them specifically address fear of failure.

Finally, I’ll note that the bad press seems to have stirred up something. Consider the last couple of days: the NYTimes article isn’t circulating around the French tweets right now but the counts of entrepreneur tweets are basically at the same rate as the English ones. It remains to be seen if this activity level is maintained or if it returns to pre-Mar 22nd levels.

Spanish: Lots of negativity

There are about 5 major trends in the Spanish social media posts about entrepreneurs. These themes account for about 70% of the data (a much higher percentage if you allow each retweet and almost-identical-tweet to count separately).

  • Politics
  • Government-entrepreneur interaction (laws, meetings between government representatives and entrepreneurs)
  • Useful information for entrepreneurs (tips, events)
  • Irregular business activities (corruption, fraud)
  • Insecurity (kidnappings, murders)

The dividing line between categories depends a lot on what use case you’re pursuing. For example, do you want a category that is separate from politics that handles news about economic policy and/or critiques of free trade agreements? For more about the importance of solutions that adapt to particular organizational questions, check out our post on what counts as a person in Korean.

Here are some examples from the top three categories (which were about 55% of the data).

  • Politics
    • Un país donde los empresarios quieran venir y no irse, eso es lo que necesitamos. (‘What we need is a country where entrepreneurs want to stay instead of leaving.’)
    • México necesita candidatos comprometidos con su pueblo que escuchen las voces de todos, no solo de la cúpula de su partido y empresarios. (‘Mexico needs candidates committed to the people; candidates who listen to everybody and not only care about their party’s elite and entrepreneurs.’)
  • Government-entrepreneur interaction
    • Presidente paraguayo recibe nueva comitiva de empresarios brasileños http://t.co/BmPTdfb21j (‘The president of Paraguay meets a new delegation of Brazilian entrepreneurs’)
    • Alcalde se reúne con empresarios japoneses http://t.co/cEz1nhssJY (‘Mayor holds a meeting with Japanese entrepreneurs’)
  • Useful information
    • Todo listo para la mayor feria de tecnología para microempresarios … – http://t.co/wpz0Lhnb8L http://t.co/LEhghYnFfa (‘All set for the biggest technology fair for micro-entrepreneurs’)
    • Lectura imprescindible para autónomos o empresarios: “Se acabó lo de trabajar gratis” http://t.co/xSO6QAyV0r vía @TriaNico (‘Must-reading for freelancers or entrepreneurs: “Working for free is over”‘)

It’s probably worth noting that an alternative to ’empresario’ would be ’emprendedor’, depending upon what Spanish-speaking country you’re a part of. If that’s your word, you might like to have a chuckle at how Real Academia Española defines emprendedor.

English: brands and entrepreneurs

I’ve been sprinkling in trends in the English data throughout the post (more in the last section, which extends the notion of “demographics”). But one of the things that stands out in the English-language data are proper nouns (“named entities“). In particular:

  • SXSW: emerging technology news from and for entrepreneurs at South By Southwest 
  • Dubai and #KSA: mostly about digital nomads and various tax incentives from the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  • Twitter: a lot of these are about young entrepreneurs and leadership
  • Google: lawsuits, acquisition rumors, ways of thinking and and Google services that entrepreneurs can use
  • LinkedIn: linked to startups, strategy and marketing, in particular
  • Etsy: focused on smallbiz but I’m tempted to call a fair amount of these spam

Note that I did restrict myself to tweets from authors who are consistent in their language use. But there is plenty of multilingualism. That said, English speakers, especially from America, tend to underestimate language diversity. The chart above may have surprised you. But also consider the chart below, which shows how limited of a picture you’d get on social media listening in most countries if you only had access to English.


Image from Mocano et al (2013)

For more about language diversity check out our earlier post estimating how much a global organization should be spending on major world languages: English isn’t the only language of the heart.

Beyond simple demographics

Basically any time you’re giving themes, you should also ask about the humans behind the patterns. A typical way of doing this is to report traditional categories like gender, race/ethnicity, location, and income. But carving the world up in this way presupposes that these dimensions are more important and relevant than the kinds of things people actually do and say. The world is a lot more complicated than “Women 30-45” and “Affluent Washington suburbanites”.

Let’s talk about the social roles that these authors use to describe themselves. English-language authors tend to write and think for a living–unlike the Spanish and French tweeps, the English ones identify themselves as authors, speakers, writers, bloggers, and strategists. They are also coaches, which almost always means something like a life coach.

Meanwhile, the people who talk about entrepreneurs in Spanish are journalists, students, lawyers, and engineers (periodistas, estudiantes, abogados, ingenieros). The French-language authors are less likely to identify themselves by job titles, although there is a subset of présidents.

The French authors prefer to mention what they’re up to, for example stratégie and webmarketing. Both the French and English authors talk about being consultants and both groups have clusters of people interested in management, innovation and startups, though only the French authors identify themselves as founders. There’s a sizable number of both English and French authors who are part of groups that help young entrepreneurs/leaders.

English-language authors tend to mention specific family roles–mom, wife, husband, father. The Spanish-language authors also talk about being padres and about the importance of their familias, but there are overall fewer mentions. Family relationships aren’t a prominent part of how the French authors style themselves.

There seems to be more of a wall between public and private for the French authors. For example, while the English authors talk about their love of food and both English and Spanish authors talk about music and about being fans (fan, enthusiast, hincha) about various things, the French authors are much more professionally focused. It is also partly the case that the French interests are more diverse and therefore don’t cluster into sizable groups the way the English and Spanish authors do.

Politics is a much bigger deal for the Spanish and French authors. In the case of Spanish authors, there are clusters of people who refer to themselves as socialistas and revolucionarios (which if you don’t speak Spanish is still basically what you think it is). Since a fair number of the authors are from Venezuela, they also talk about being Chavistas.

The French approach is less specific, people talk about politique in more general terms (politique varies between meaning ‘policy’, ‘political’ and ‘politics’). Because there are a fair number of people from Québec, there are a few who do talk about being séparatistes.

In more general terms, the English authors talk about women, ideas, success and are often focused on the local in their profiles. French and Spanish authors are more interested in economics and commerce than the English authors. And while everyone mentions businesses, only the French talk about small and medium businesses (PME abbreviates petite et moyenne entreprise). The Spanish authors have a lot of words around media.


It is not enough to translate between languages: you need to understand the cultural context in which a word is spoken to truly analyze its meaning.

Imagine that you wanted to promote something about entrepreneurship to all of these authors. If you only looked at tweets that included keywords like ‘entrepreneurship’ you’d get some sort of sense of the people you’d be appealing to. But you’d miss out on the fact that no one’s tweets about entrepreneurship stand alone. They are tweeting a variety of other things and even have interests in some topics that they rarely tweet about. How do people make meaning in their lives? You can’t just answer by looking at only the small sliver of their lives that you have a keyword for.

– Tyler Schnoebelen (@TSchnoebelen)



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