Does the blue bird earn its corn?
This autumn has been conference season. Hardly had I returned from METM17 in Brescia when I was gearing up for the APTIC-FIT conference, this time just a short metro ride from my home in Barcelona. I have always sung the praises of APTIC, the Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters of Catalonia, as a dynamic organisation full of good, bright people, and now they have put themselves on the map by linking up with FIT, the International Translators’ Association, who were also holding their annual meeting in Barcelona, to organise a conference full of interesting material. Overall it was a triumph for APTIC president Paola Tormo and her team.
As a member of APTIC, I had agreed to help out by tweeting about the event in English, along with my colleague Rob Lunn, and we dutifully sought out highlights and telling quotes so that those who weren’t able to be at the conference could get some idea of what was going on. And it was quite an impressive line-up, including John Evans on the future of English in the EU; a round table on technology in translation, which confirmed my feeling that I never want to have anything to do with machine translation post-editing, and Alexander Drechsel on online privacy and security. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have to confess that we live in a state of wilful ignorance of this issue, and Alexander certainly enlightened us. However, against that, I think it also has to be said that, however seriously we take it, there always comes a point where you have to trust someone. Even Alexander himself admitted it at times. I suppose it’s a question of finding a balance.
And then there was Josh Goldsmith, who, as well as making fine use of the Slido tool offering real-time audience interaction, gave an excellent and entertaining review of social media for language professionals. More than anything, I was interested to see that his views more or less coincide with mine, above all with the advice: choose the social media you like working with and do them well. Which brings me back to Twitter.
Tweeting away for APTIC and seeing one or two likes coming in for our posts, mainly from people actually in the room, I couldn’t help being reminded of what I’ve increasingly been thinking about Twitter in more than a year that I’ve now been using it: I can’t get away from feeling that it’s really just shouting in a room full of people with hearing difficulties.
I was always a reluctant Twitter user. I can’t get away from thinking that there’s something about it that brings out the worst in all of us in trying to set down thoughts in 140 characters (or even 280 as it is now). No room for argument, plenty of space for insults. But just over a year ago I thought of a way I might be able to make Twitter work for me. I thought that if I created accounts related to particular specialist areas of mine and aimed to follow potential clients (and obviously to have them follow me back) then I could make the little blue bird sing my tune.
And I tried. I set up two accounts, one of them aimed at museums and potential heritage clients and the other at wine clients. I followed everyone I could think of. Some of them – quite a lot of them – actually followed me back. When they did, I sent them a little message explaining that if they ever needed a translation I’d be delighted to talk to them about it. I received the occasional expression of gratitude. I then tweeted – or mostly retweeted – items I thought might be interesting.
I also picked up various translator followers who’d discovered, by one means or another, that I was on Twitter. Initially I sent them messages warning them that I was aiming only at clients and was unlikely to tweet anything of great interest to them. As time went on, I let them find out for themselves. But I suppose now’s the time to apologise for being so rude as not to follow them back. I really didn’t want my feeds filling up with all kinds of translation-related material that didn’t fit in at all with my idea to tweet only for clients. I hope any colleagues I have mistreated in this way will understand that I’m much happier connecting with other translators on Facebook, for example, and, to a lesser extent, on LinkedIn.
So has all that dedication to clients paid off. In a word, no. I’ve received no inquiries via Twitter and none of my Twitter followers has come to me with work and very little interest in what I’m doing beyond the odd like for a tweet. Why should that be? Well, it could be that I’m getting it all wrong, of course. I may be connecting with the wrong people, or not tweeting what they want to read. It’s certainly true that a great deal of content seems to be recycled round and round the Twittersphere and it’s not easy to come up with anything new unless you have a lot of time to spend.
It may also be, of course, that Twitter is simply no good for that sort of thing. I’ve yet to meet a translator who unreservedly praises it as a tool for finding clients. The real question is, are the people running the Twitter accounts of my potential customers the same people who are responsible for getting their translations done? The answer is that they’re probably not. So could I find those people on Twitter? Maybe. And is it worth the effort? That’s something I’m going to be deciding in the New Year when I review what I’m doing on social media. At the moment, the chances are I may be letting that little blue bird fly away for good.