I’m a relatively recent convert to the benefits of using social media for work purposes, I must admit. I joined Facebook back in 2008 or thereabouts after attending a conference in Vienna, where all the post-conference photos were only posted via Facebook. My sons were students at the time and had been asking me to join Facebook for a while, so I reluctantly took the plunge. I was soon hooked from a social point of view, linking up with friends I hadn’t seen or spoken to in ages, and checking that my sons were still alive outside their sporadic communications by phone! Workwise, however, it wasn’t until the ITI Conference at Gatwick in May 2013 that I really dipped my toe into the deep waters of social media for translators.
I attended a presentation by the engaging and extremely knowledgeable Anne Diamantidis about this very subject, offering a whistlestop tour of the various social media options for translation professionals. I won’t go into (can’t even remember!) them all, but the ones that stood out for me were of course Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
I already had a LinkedIn presence, but that for me remains a passive tool, almost another CV or shop window for fellow professionals to find me. I’ve made sure my profile is up-to-date and comprehensive and I do try and accept or request invitations from colleagues and contacts in my specialist areas, but I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of its possibilities. Do check out Nikki Graham’s excellent blog for a more in-depth look at LinkedIn: http://nikkigrahamtranix.com/2015/06/04/linkedin-pointers-part-one/.
Twitter, however, was a completely new experience for me. I’d heard other translators singing its praises, but hadn’t dared venture along that path myself. Anne’s presentation swung the balance and lo, Twitter entered my post-conference “To do” list. At first, I found it all very confusing: what did it mean if a post was “favorited” (horrible word!)? Why were some people’s Twitter names at the front of a tweet and some at the end? (If there is a name – preceded by @, the Twitter “handle” – at the beginning, the tweet will only be seen by the named people, anyone who follows you both/all and yourself. Putting any other words or even just one character, e.g. “.” at the start, will make the tweet visible to anyone following just one of you.)
Having got my head round these technicalities and realised that you could tag onto other people’s “conversations” at random, but that you wouldn’t necessarily be included in the replies due to space constraints, it all started to become clearer. Gradually, I began to see the light: this was a brilliant way of keeping tabs on developments in the profession, on industry events and keeping in touch with and “meeting” colleagues in your subject area, languages, or even just with the same mindset! Links to interesting articles and blog posts inside and outside the industry broaden your horizons and set you thinking: maybe you could start working differently, or take a different approach to translation-related issues?
Facebook, in turn, is not only an excellent way of keeping in touch with colleagues you may have met at conferences and events, but also, thanks to the myriad Facebook “groups” out there, a great way of seeking advice, publicising concerns and matters of interest and generally keeping up with a fast-moving profession. They often work on the same premise as the office watercooler where colleagues congregate to discuss both work-related and OT issues. You can jump in with both feet and join in the discussions, or you can skulk in the background: either way, the range of topics covered is sure to get you thinking, whether you agree or disagree!
Other groups are more specific, for certain languages, regional areas or particular interests. Then there are the technical support groups, such as Watercooler Technical (https://www.facebook.com/groups/Watercoolertech/) for any technical queries that may be bothering you, from CAT tools to software issues. I’ve found this a tremendous resource, as well-regarded CAT tool experts often respond directly, and usually very promptly, resolving problems that might have taken forever to track down using online support or the standard manufacturer’s support channels. There’s even a group specifically for translators using speech recognition software (https://www.facebook.com/groups/329297427203369/), whether you’re just considering purchasing or you’re an established user encountering problems. All these groups offer fantastic free advice with the potential to revolutionise the way you work or your approach to your career. I, for one, certainly feel they have enriched my life as a freelance translator.
You can, if you prefer, set up a separate professional Facebook identity for your business and social profiles. I know a number of translators do, but I haven’t found it necessary. It’s as much as I can do to manage the one profile and there’s nothing on my personal profile that I wouldn’t be happy for clients and colleagues to see in any event. If you have any compromising student pictures or dodgy conversations, however, it’s probably a good idea to keep your work and social persona separate!
These virtual meeting places, be it on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, can most definitely lead to work opportunities. Just as meeting colleagues in person at networking events makes you more likely to remember them and pass work in their direction if you’re overloaded or for requests outside your specialist field, these online encounters work in the same way. “Seeing” fellow translators on a regular basis on these forums and reading their views actually provides a valuable insight into their values and abilities, and they will inevitably spring to mind when you are looking for a colleague to recommend to a client.
On a personal note, my forays into Twitter and Facebook inspired me to start writing my blog, something I’d been meaning to do for a very long time. For me, it’s been an extremely satisfying way of giving something back to my profession and honing my creative writing skills at the same time. The ability to then publicise the resulting output via social media gives you immediate access to a larger audience by retweets and shares and hopefully gives other translators, whether just starting out or experienced, pause for thought. It’s also a great icebreaker when you go out into the wide world at events or in the workplace!
The downside of all this online activity is, of course, making sure that you don’t spend too much time on Twitter, Facebook, etc. A balance has to be struck, although it is very tempting to get carried away in all the fascinating debates! Isolated as we often are, it’s great to have an outlet to let off steam, compare notes and just chat with like-minded colleagues, but most successful freelance translators are sufficiently disciplined to know when to stop.
Do give it a go if you’re at a loose end at any point: persevere in the first few days/weeks, don’t give it up as a bad job because you don’t see any results immediately. You need to follow others and be followed for the information-sharing and networking events to take effect – but it is well worthwhile in the long run.