Perspectives: What social networking can do for translators

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, social networks are a huge part of business life these days, and participating online can have many benefits for freelance translators, not least the opportunity to find work through new contacts. But there’s more to these social media monsters than just making money.

For freelancers, who often work alone, they are the office water cooler of the twenty-first century, offering a great chance to socialize, connect to colleagues and be part of a community. By making friends online you can build your reputation as an approachable and friendly professional, as well as share knowledge and skills. Social networking provides unparalleled opportunities to learn new things, from keeping abreast of the latest industry news to getting instant help from a translator colleague on a difficult term. And, of course, they provide a great marketing channel that reaches clients directly, enabling you to form meaningful, personal and natural connections of mutual value based on shared interests.

Whether your interests are socializing, learning, sharing or reaching new clients, social media can help you develop as a translator and grow your business. Sadly these online worlds can be confusing and overwhelming, particularly if you’re not a digital native. But with a bit of perseverance even the biggest Luddite can venture out into the social media universe and maybe even enjoy the experience. Here are three simple yet effective tips for social networking success:


Start smart

Before you even think about signing up to a social networking site, stop and make a plan. You’ll need to know your audience and purpose before you begin, because different strategies offer different advantages to freelancers. To begin with, not all networking sites are created equal. Facebook is particularly good for connecting directly with consumers, which is why it is popular with business to consumer companies, and it’s also a great place to socialize with other translators thanks to its fairly informal and personal feel. It’s also the place to be if you plan to use a lot of photos in your strategy, as these get plenty of interaction. Twitter is a great place for up-to-the-minute news and making instant, direct contact with colleagues and clients. Content here tends to be less focused than on Facebook pages, so it’s ideal if you want to share short thoughts about what you’ve been reading or pondering. For business to business companies or old-school professionals, LinkedIn is the least personal but most businesslike choice as it’s really only for work interactions. That said, LinkedIn groups are a brilliant way to connect with colleagues or learn new things as well.

Don’t forget to think about other sites that might be popular with clients in your language pair. If you translate from Russian, think about signing up to VKontakte, which with 88 million domestic members is second in popularity only to Yandex, the Russian search engine of choice. XING is wildly popular in Germany, and if you translate Chinese you’ll need to check out Sina Weibo and similar sites, as both Facebook and Twitter are blacklisted in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Do your research and make sure you’re not missing potential clients by being on the wrong site.

Of course there’s nothing to stop you from developing a portfolio of online profiles, and it’s certainly worth grabbing your chosen username on any network you might plan to exploit in future. But if you’re just starting out, concentrate your efforts on the network that best suits your needs, and gradually build from in the PRC. It’s better to have one well-maintained and active social media presence than a host of abandoned profiles all over the internet.

Plan to succeed

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll also need to keep your audience and purpose in mind as you build your profile.  Pick a professional photograph or your company logo, carefully craft your “About” section or bio, and then make sure that you’ve got a strategy for adding contacts. Do you want to only add people you know or have worked with? Or are you happy to befriend new potential clients or colleagues? If you’re looking for new business then only adding your best translator friends won’t help you much, while if you’re hoping to learn more about translation you need to make sure that you are friending or following industry leaders and not just direct clients in other fields.

You’ll need a clear plan when it comes to content as well. The trick with social media is to post or interact regularly, even if you can only commit a small amount of time. Even in a few minutes you can write a status, post a photo, read and respond to a post or add new contacts, and if you can set aside a little time every day you will gradually and organically build your community. Remember that quality is more important than quantity, so it’s better to post quality content twice a week than spam all your contacts twice daily with links to every article you’ve ever read.

Be clear in your mind what your purpose is in posting. If you want to drive traffic to your website, then provide a link with something tempting or rewarding at the other end, such as a blog post with a tantalizing title, perhaps. If you’re hoping to attract new readers, try researching hashtags and using them, or making thoughtful comments on other people’s posts. And if you’re hoping to keep your current followers happy, offer something for free: a link, a helpful hint, or something new you’ve learned. If you can achieve a mix of posts in this way you and your followers will all win.


Manners maketh the man

Just as in real life, manners count for a lot online. Obviously it goes without saying that you should always be professional and polite online, avoid inappropriate content and try not to badmouth clients or colleagues or engage in negativity, as it only reflects badly on you. A personal or humorous touch is always engaging and adds warmth to your interactions, but be clear where the boundaries lie. A behind-the-scenes look at your office is one thing, but beery stag weekend snaps or bikini pictures are quite another!

Be generous with what you have to offer, and work hard to provide useful and attractive content. This can be as simple as linking to articles or other resources you have accessed, and by using a blogroll or RSS reader you can aggregate content so it’s easy for you to find great things to share. While promoting your business is often one of your main goals online, endless self-promotion is extremely tedious and not particularly effective. People are more likely to connect with someone who shares interesting information, helps others and is generally entertaining than someone who only posts links to his or her website. On this note, avoid automating posts over all of your networks as it quickly becomes spammy and will turn off potential followers. Participating in discussions and commenting constructively on other people’s posts doesn’t just make you look like the thoughtful and friendly person you are, it also provides genuine connections based on mutual interests and shared interaction, which is worth much more than contacts gained from “follow me and I’ll follow you back” strategies.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and just as with real life friendships it takes time and plenty of trial and error to build a successful social media identity. While the internet is full of white noise, it is still possible to build genuine and meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients online with a bit of care and attention. Breaking down the seemingly endless task of social media into bite-sized chunks and having a clear strategy will hopefully help you achieve your online goals… and maybe even enjoy the process!