There are a million articles out there on how to use Twitter for business purposes, most of them based on Chris Brogan’s post on the topic. A few of them are great, most of them are dross, and a small number go so far as to actively irritate me. In response to the ones that fall into that last category (!), here’s my take on how I think translators, and professionals in general, should NOT use Twitter.
1. Ask stupid questions. Yes, there is such a thing. Often ambiguous and with no clear answer, they’re usually asked in an attempt to stir up controversy and draw attention to the asker. I’ve seen many people (all non-translators) do this on Twitter, but I mention it here because it’s a common tactic in the polling section of sites like Proz. It’s a crude, clumsy attempt at marketing and, guess what: it’s boring.
2. Follow as many people as possible, regardless of how interesting or relevant they are to you personally. Also called “open networking”, this is usually done in the hope that a bunch of random people will follow you back. So many people who should know better still don’t seem to get this about social media: following or befriending hundreds of people won’t make you look tapped in. Quite the opposite, in fact. If you’re not careful, it can make you look desperate, pushy and (worst of all), undiscriminating.
3. Expect it to be a direct source of business. Do a search for keywords around “translation” in any range of languages, for example, and you’re more likely to find references to the cheap and cheerful variety than, say, an opportunity to enlighten a confused but rich Twitterer on the finer points of a good translation, with a view to having your new best friend go on to become a valuable and trusted client. (Of course if anyone has an example that they think proves me wrong, I’d love to hear it.) But guess what? That’s OK, because I wouldn’t expect a surgeon or an engineer to source their best clients off Twitter either.
4. Use it to gather reconnaissance. Twitter is a great way to stalk people in a friendly, interested way. Got a favourite client? A colleague whose workload/ client mix you aspire to? Following them on Twitter might give you more of an insight into their day-to-day working life than a blog or LinkedIn connection. But then again, it might not. Anyone who uses Twitter well is probably also actively managing their online presence, and will be aware that you’re following them. So you’re not likely to get one up on anyone.
5. Be an eejit. There are two main ways to come across as an eejit on Twitter. The first way is to butt in. One of the benefits of Twitter is that it’s easy to drop into conversations among people you don’t know. But make sure you understand the difference between contributing to a conversation and being a pain. If you’re doing the online equivalent of running circles around someone, tap-dancing and waving your jazz hands saying “Look at me, look at me!”, then you’re probably not yet clear on this important distinction. The second way is to trade insults or flame. Nothing sends me to the Block button more quickly. Maybe some users have deluded themselves into thinking it’s witty repartée. Well, it’s not, it’s tiresome.
6. Take it personally. Good Twitterers are selective about the conversations they tune into and respond to. I regularly unfollow people based on the relevance of their content to whatever is going on in my personal or professional life at any given time – it’s the only way I can keep the service relevant to me. No matter how friendly you get with someone on Twitter, if it’s meant to be, you’ll carry your relationship off-Twitter too. If not, get over it – it might be that they’re Just Not That Into You.
7. Think it’s essential. Good networking skills are essential, Twitter is not. Much like translation memory, Twitter doesn’t network for you and it’s only as good as the network you use it to build (i.e. garbage in, garbage out).
Phew. I’m a lot less tense now I’ve got that out of my system. Aren’t blogs great?!