Social networking from the perspective of a language professional

    This article is not intended to provide an in-depth analysis of the complex social media environment, nor supply language professionals with the ultimate recipe for a profitable use of these new channels. With this article, I wish to present a quick overview of the main social networking sites, what they are for, and how they can be used. There is no single winning strategy for using Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. It is up to each of you — freelance translator, singlelanguage vendor (SLV) or multi-language vendor (MLV) — to discover what works best for you. One thing is certain and true for all: no one can hide his head in the sand. Everyone must jump on the train. Social media are a new type of communication channel that no business or individual can afford to ignore in today’s world. This is also true for language professionals: if they want to put forward their expertise, keep up to date on the latest trends in linguistics, or simply learn by participating in relevant conversations, social networks are the place to be.

    What Are Social Networks?

    First of all: I am a language professional, not a social media expert. When I first became interested in this topic and began investigating it, I looked up definitions for social networks hoping these would shed some light on what they actually were. I found most definitions to be pretty intimidating. Then one day, a friend of mine told me that social networks “is” Facebook. “Wow! I can do Facebook!” I thought. “And,” my friend continued to say, “Social networks are part of the large world of social media that include YouTube, Digg, forums, blogs and so on.” It may have been a simplistic answer, but it helped me see the light. Basically, social networks are a virtual space where you can create or join a network of people — be it personal or peer contacts — that is relevant to you. And, since this space is significant to its members, they visit and contribute to it frequently. I believe social networks are called “social” because they are open to everybody, and “networks” because they foster the formation and continuance of personal and professional ties among people and organizations.

    For a language professional, for instance, joining an online translation community is similar to attending a conference on translation. At the conference the language professionals can meet people who share their same job and interests, exchange business cards, as well as meet these people again to further discuss a topic, introduce them to other professionals, and so forth. Just as you can take on different roles at a conference or symposium, you can do the same on an online forum. Depending on what you want to get out of each experience and how involved you wish to become, you can be the featured speaker in charge of introducing the topic and leading the conversation, or you can simply participate in one of the many workshops. Easier still, you can listen and learn from what other participants say and take home as much reference material as needed.

    Social networks evolve extremely fast. The social media arena is constantly changing with new sites becoming in vogue, others declining in popularity, and others being constantly upgraded. It is not an easy task to keep track of what is happening. Moreover, nobody can predict what the scenario will look like a few months into the future, much less in a couple years. Which sites will be “in”, which ones will have been long-forgotten and which new technologies will have been introduced by then are all questions that no social media expert can answer. That said, let’s now take a look at some of today’s most popular social networks.

    Forums and Blogs

    This is possibly the most accessible and easier-to-use type of social network for people in our profession. There are forums on virtually every topic, and translation is well represented. By joining, you can follow exchanges on a given topic, participate in the discussion, and so much more. The best known translation forums are hosted by ProZ.com and Translators Caf?, which you are probably familiar with. As in many other marketplaces you can build your profile page making it easier for customers to find you and identify the services you offer. Interaction among members is granted by the huge offer of forum sections ranging from business to language issues, through technical troubleshooting and translation-related events. SDL Trados and other translation software providers also have their own forum, where one can typically find questions and answers on how to use certain functions as well as problem solving tips.

    Good forums entertain constructive and instructive conversations. You can learn a great deal from them while contributing your own knowledge. The best forums also serve as “opinion influencers” in the language sector. Being a respected member of these communities can be very valuable. Remember, however, that forums are not advertising platforms. You cannot use them to promote your personal brand or business. If you do, you will be kicked out. Some more advice: If you are not sure whether a forum is a good one to join, take the time to observe it for a while. Ask important questions and find the answers to these. For instance, you might want to know how many people are participating on the forum as well as the last time it was updated. Remember you can always contact the administrator to ask questions or seek advice.

    While forums are developed collectively by their members, blogs are created and maintained by a single person or organization. Any person who reads the blog, however, can post a comment on a given entry. While anybody can create their own blog, I would recommend thinking twice before creating one. Keeping a blog alive, interesting and relevant requires a significant investment of time and energy. I recommend following a blog you like and observing how it works before starting your own. Finally, here are a couple of sites you might want to bookmark to aid you with your blogs search: Trendpedia, which has a search function by keyword, brand or topic; and Technorati, one of the most popular blog directories, which measures the popularity of blogs.

    Social Networking Sites

    Currently, the leader in this category is Facebook. It is nothing short of amazing how popular Facebook has become. Today it boasts having over 200 million users, half of them logging on at least once each day! If Facebook were a country, it would make the ranks of the “Top Five Largest Countries,” following China, India, The United States and Indonesia! The most powerful Facebook feature is enabling connections. Making connections is an essential part of life, especially as it relates to one’s career or business; they are certainly precious to language professionals. While Facebook is not specifically designed to support business, it is increasingly being used as a marketing tool to reach customers and consumers. Companies of any size or sector can create groups as well as product or service fan pages, run an advertising campaign and develop personalized applications. Despite the differing opinions on whether Facebook truly adds value to a business, it is clear that Facebook is not just used for fun any more. LinkedIn is similar to Facebook in many ways, but it is more business oriented. Here you can create a network of colleagues, join an existing group or create your own. You will also find several established translation groups such as PROZ, Lingua, American Translators Association, etc. Before creating your own group, I would recommend that, as with blogs, you join one first and see how it works. LinkedIn also offers interesting applications such as “Company Buzz”, which allows you to track the activity and trends generated by your company (or those of another company or even of a specific word such as “translation”) on Twitter; “Huddle Workspaces”, which offers a secure online space and collaborative tools to work with other people online, and “Polls”, which lets you conduct quick online surveys with your contacts and Linked In professionals.

    Microblogging

    Welcome to Twitter. At first, Twitter seems to be a mass of users “following” each other by sending or receiving SMS-like updates on what they are doing. However, it is more than that: It is a massive collection of real-time snapshot conversations that transmits to you the “touch and feel” of what is happening in the world. A collection of real-time snapshots on an individual allows you to get to know him or her better. Similarly, a collection of real-time snapshots on a theme or event allows you to gain additional insight on what is happening. There is a large debate on whether Twitter is a meaningful communication channel, but everyone who has given it a try tends to become an enthusiastic supporter. While Twitter does not appear to have any immediate connection with the translation business, it is one of those “must have — must do” for anyone who wants to be or has to be up-to-date with new technologies and media. Twitter also has a Directory of Translation and Localization, currently counting 30 members.

    I would advise to keep an eye on Twitter. On Twitter, you will always find the latest information on any major topic — even before it hits the news elsewhere. During the October 2007 California fires, for instance, locals turned to Twitter to exchange immediate information about the fires. The Los Angeles fire department turned to Twitter to issue updates, as well as the Los Angeles newspapers. Thousands of twitterers around the world followed their tweets in real time. Not even Twitter’s founder, William Evans, had foreseen such a possible development. It seems safe to say that more advances are to come in the future, that will depend on the creativity of Twitter’s users. Stay tuned! And, just for fun, try entering “How do you translate?” in Twitter’s Search function. You will see there are quite a few questions out there. And maybe potential customers?

    Social Bookmarking

    You can also share and exchange bookmarks. The two most popular bookmarking applications are probably Digg and Delicious. You can think of them as an improved, community shared version of “Favorites” on your web browser, based on the preference and interests of the users. If you have more than one computer, you can store all of your favorite web pages in a single web-based spot and use them wherever you are. With Digg or Delicious you can share your bookmarks with your peers and other users and track the most interesting bookmarks on a topic you are interested in. Language service providers, for instance, can open an account on one of these online services, and ask their freelance providers to subscribe to that account (both Digg and Delicious offer RSS feeds). In such a way, they can share their useful bookmarks to all their freelancers at once.

    Digg and Delicious are rated every day by millions of users. By opening these sites, you have an immediate snapshot of the most used bookmarks. This gives you good visibility of the Zeitgeist, of what is hot at any given time. Like Twitter, these social media are good trend trackers.

    *This article continues next month with “SOCIAL NETWORKING FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A LANGUAGE PROFESSIONAL… Part 2, How to use social networking to promote your brand:”

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