The social media scene is changing – and I’m not just talking about the rather bizarre metamorphosis of Facebook into something called Meta. It seems to me that the way we, as translators, use social media is shifting almost as I write this post, as we juggle platforms and strategies.
I first became aware of the changes going on when I noticed that something was happening on LinkedIn, for so many years a network of great potential but few actual results. I’ve experimented with LinkedIn over the years, achieving very little in terms of tangible results, but in recent months I’ve noticed there is a new and growing community of translators there. These, mostly young, language professionals seem to have formed a mutually supportive group and, between them, they appear to have come up with a lot of the same answers us older ones have been banging on about for a number of years – the importance of improving their skills, focusing on the client and so on. Sometimes there is too much blowing of own trumpets, sometimes the supportiveness oversteps the mark into mindless cheerleading, but these are minor quibbles compared to this movement’s great plus point – it seems to have no leaders or gurus.
Could it be that the age of the instaguru is dead? Some of the old ones are still out there, of course, still trying to exploit colleagues by selling them spurious advice in the form of overpriced books or courses, but it’s certainly true that the usual suspects have been a great deal quieter of late. And the new generation seem to have a supremely healthy attitude to anyone trying to inveigle their way into their ranks for their own commercial ends. The other day, I asked one of my new LinkedIn contacts – a young woman translator – whether she thought there was a risk that she and her colleagues might be at risk of exploitation from people trying to sell them so-called training and advice. “Oh I see that sort of thing every day,” she told me. “It’s a good way of training our ‘no’ muscle.”
This is a laudable attitude from a generation that’s looking at social media in a new way. Many of them have never been on Facebook, and if they do it at all it’s just to keep in touch with their mum and a couple of aunties. Many also shun Twitter, the home of so much unpleasantness and time-wasting argument. LinkedIn is their professional home and they are equally comfortable connecting with clients there as they are chatting with colleagues. It seems that clients are now actually using LinkedIn to search for the right translator for a job. A young translator and university lecturer I was talking to the other day told me he first noticed clients were doing this a couple of years ago, and he now advises his students to make sure their LinkedIn profiles are primed for that kind of search. “Put everything in,” was his succinct advice.
The other place you will find this youthful crowd is on Instagram. This has, of course, been the cool place for social media users to hang out for some time, although I have to say that I’ve always found it difficult to see what kind of an impact a translator could make in a predominantly visual medium. But Instagram has changed too. Analysis says that an increasing number of posts in image format actually include text and take the form not only of memes, but also of short lists of tips and tricks, for example. So now we don’t need to spend hours wondering what kind of photo we can put up. Even I’ve begun to wonder whether I ought to be there, because it occurs to me that posting the photos I take when I go out, many of which relate directly to my specialisation in cultural tourism, might work well when it comes to connecting with clients on a more informal basis than on other networks. It might also be worth posting photos of the bottles of wine I drink, for example, and make sure I tag the winemaker so that they know that this particular translator actually knows their product.
This raises one of the recurring problems every translator faces when it comes to social media: how to (or whether to) separate the personal from the professional. Everyone does this differently and with varying degrees of success. I have both a personal and a business Facebook account, for example, I keep Twitter for clients, and LinkedIn, by its very nature, is for business too. Instagram is still very much at the planning stage for me, but it would be a place where I would mix the personal and the professional, hoping to connect with clients as people and show them what I’m interested in both at work and outside it.
Trying to divide your social media neatly into professional on one side (or one platform) and personal on another also runs up against another problem: where do you put your fellow translators? I have many translator friends, a large number of whom I’ve “met” on social media and some I’ve never met in real life. I also have colleagues I’ve worked for, and who’ve worked for me, because we’ve come into contact through social media. I happen to be working on a project with two people who come into this category right now. So, for example, if I’d made a hard and fast rule that I wouldn’t link with people I’d never physically met, as I know some people do, and probably for very good reasons, I’d have missed out on some great friendships and some excellent work opportunities. Are these contacts professional or personal, though? In my view, it’s impossible to say.
And this may be a clue to the rising popularity of LinkedIn. There, the connections we make are clearly professional, aside from maybe one or two people who’ve managed to find us from one of our former lives. The chat is professional. There are no pictures of cute kittens. So, when we spend time on LinkedIn we maybe don’t feel guilty in the same way as we do looking at Facebook. Whether it is actually finally coming into its own as a tool for finding work, or whether it’s just another form of procrastination masquerading as professional development remains to be seen.