In August 2016, I ran an online survey amongst professional freelance translators. The aim was not just to satisfy my personal curiosity as a believer in social media for professional purposes, but to determine which online media and platforms professional freelance translators are using in 2016 in order to: a) attract clients and b) engage with their profession. 271 translators took the survey and the results will be fed into the module I teach as part of ITI’s Setting Up as a Freelance Translator course.
Part 1 of this two-part post is a question-by-question analysis of the results to determine what they tell us about the degree of success that translators have found in using online platforms and media on a professional level. Part 2 examines the comments left by respondents concerning certain platforms/media and an online presence in general.
Q1: Which media do you use to maintain an active presence for professional purposes?
The opening question was the most general. My hypothesis was that although LinkedIn, ProZ and websites remain the most popular platforms, more translators are taking to Twitter and Facebook for professional purposes. I also predicted that Google+ would continue to stagnate and attempts to use Snapchat and Instagram within our profession would flop. The results were as follows:
73% of respondents use LinkedIn and 60% maintain a website for professional purposes, roughly as predicted. 48% and 39% use Twitter and Facebook respectively, somewhat less than imagined given the perceived growth in activity of translators on Twitter and the increasing popularity of Facebook fora for translators. 72% of respondents use ProZ (39% paid vs 33% free); admittedly, a much higher proportion pay for ProZ membership than I had anticipated, as the general consensus in my professional circle seems to be that we should aim to move away from ProZ towards using other channels to find clients (direct ones especially) who accept respectable rates. 19% of translators said they maintained a professional blog. And finally, 10% have a Google+ profile, 2% an Instagram account and 0% use Snapchat (thank goodness) as part of their professional activity online.
Other major platforms mentioned here were: Xing and Viadeo (the German and French-language versions of LinkedIn respectively), the ITI/CIoL/BDÜ/SFÖ/SFT/NAATI directories, ITI network/regional group online fora and Translators Café (which to me seemed to be becoming defunct, but it seems it lives on). Interestingly enough, one respondent mentioned Tumblr and Pinterest; I’d certainly be interested in hearing more from that respondent as to how successful they have found those media to be in a professional context.
Q2: Which media do you use in order to engage with translation colleagues?
This next question sought to examine the first of the two main aspects of using online platforms and media: engagement with the profession. I predicted that Facebook and Twitter would come out on top here. This is where the vast majority of online discussions seem to take place these days. I also thought that ProZ would do well, given the continuing use of discussion fora on that platform. The results were as follows:
At 58%, Facebook is the most popular medium that freelance translators use to engage with their colleagues, according to the survey, with Twitter at 48%. A surprise here was LinkedIn, also at 48%. My impression was that LinkedIn is primarily suited to attracting clients rather than engaging in discussions with colleagues. Perhaps my pro-Twitter bias had something to do with my impression, but this outcome will encourage me to explore the various LinkedIn-based fora to see what I’m missing. ProZ followed at 38%, strong evidence to support my theory that translators are moving from ProZ to Facebook to interact with their peers. Indeed, a marked increase in translators querying terminology in Facebook fora and on Twitter can be observed, indicating a potential decline in use of the ProZ-based KudoZ forum.
11% of respondents maintain a blog that is directed at their colleagues (as opposed or in addition to being targeted at their clients), as blog comment sections become a popular arena for discussion. This has been taken to the next level since the inception of The Open Mic in 2015.
Another option overwhelmingly mentioned here was the use of e-groups, primarily hosted by Yahoo, which are popular with ITI regional groups and language/subject networks.
Q3: Which media have you found the most successful in engaging with colleagues?
This question ties in with the previous one, because now we have the data for how well used certain online platforms are, we may observe how successful said platforms are by comparing with the results of the previous question. In analysing this data, I’ve calculated a ‘success rate’ for each medium by dividing the number of respondents who found success using a certain medium by the total number of respondents who said they use that medium.
Facebook and Twitter are the two media where respondents reported the most success in engaging with colleagues, with a success rate of 83% and 73% respectively, followed by ProZ at 67%. Platforms that translators use but in which they found little success using in order to interact with fellow translators were their website (success rate of 41%), LinkedIn (38%), Blog (23%) and Google+/Instagram (21%).
The result that stands out here is LinkedIn; in question two, 48% of respondents said they used it to engage with colleagues, yet only 18.4% of respondents said they found it useful for this purposes. It is worth noting the survey did not define what engaging with colleagues means so it was left to respondents to interpret this term for themselves. In the context of LinkedIn, this could perhaps be taken to mean taking part in discussions in translator-specific fora or adding colleagues to your LinkedIn network. If respondents interpreted engaging with colleagues to mean adding them to their LinkedIn network, the low success rate demonstrates the futility of ‘contact collecting’ on LinkedIn. On the SUFT course, I advise students to use LinkedIn primarily to attract clients and that they should be selective in whom they add to their networks.
Again, e-groups were mentioned as a particularly successful medium for discussions between translators. One comment that stood out concerned ProZ, which one respondent admitted to using, but stated that the atmosphere was rather negative and has since joined an unnamed Facebook group with a more constructive atmosphere.
Q4: Which media do you use in order to attract clients?
This next question intends to address the second of the two main aspects of using online platforms and media: attracting clients. It is important to make a distinction here between attracting clients and finding clients. In my experience, social media (Twitter especially) is a very powerful medium for a translator to attract clients. In 2015-16, a third of my income could be attributed to projects I worked on for clients who found me through Twitter or were referred to me by someone I know on Twitter in a professional capacity. It is vital to point out that I am talking about good, recurring clients who value translation and pay my rates. Conversely, I have never used Twitter to actively find clients. The difference between attracting and finding clients in this context is as follows:
Attracting clients entails building up an attractive online presence that accentuates your knowledge, skills and experience in the relevant fields. It may entail content marketing (sharing information or blog posts in a strategic manner in order to appeal to potential clients). This is known as inbound marketing, with the focus being on the client.
Finding clients, on the other hand, requires active self-promotion efforts in the same way that businesses hand out leaflets or do cold-calling campaigns to tell the customer how great they are. This is known as outbound marketing, with the focus being on you as the translator. I am not convinced that social media can be used successfully for this purpose for translators, although I am very much willing to hear evidence to the contrary.
As for the results:
There are no surprises that most respondents have a website (60%), a ProZ profile (59%, or 37% paid vs 22% free) and a LinkedIn presence (58%), which are what I would call the ‘classic’ online platforms (despite the latter being just a year older than Facebook and three years older than Twitter). Twitter and Facebook came in at 21% and 16% respectively. These figures can be interpreted as surprising, given the general focus in recent times on the importance of social media within our profession. But if we compare the figures in terms of how many translators use Facebook and Twitter and how many of them use them specifically to attract clients, we can see that only between 40 and 45% of respondents who said they use Facebook/Twitter also said they they use them for the purpose of attracting clients. This means that many of us who maintain a presence on these media fail to recognise their potential for attracting clients, or perhaps some of the other 55-60% have tried to use these channels as part of their marketing strategy but to no avail.
Finally, out of the 19% of respondents who said they had a professional blog in question 1, the majority of them (60%) said that its purpose was to attract clients. One respondent also found that Instagram was a successful tool for attracting clients.
Q5: Which media have you found the most successful in attracting clients?
The final question is the big one. As in Q3, it is more useful to examine the success rate (no. of translators using a platform vs no. of translators who’ve landed clients as a result).
The overwhelming winner here is ProZ (paid), which shows a success rate of 97% (38.5% respondents use it vs 36.6% find it useful). Given that this is the only platform that you pay for (unless you’ve taken out LinkedIn’s extortionate Premium option), then quite rightly so. However, ProZ does not enjoy a universal level of admiration within the profession. In my experience personally, I have not found it to be somewhere where I would find clients who pay my rates and value my individual experience and expertise. But there is something to be said about the high rate of success amongst respondents, although something the survey didn’t define was the subjective and relative concept of ‘success’. This could mean the fact clients found through that platform accept the translator’s rate, but that rate could be anything.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, ProZ (free) and Website have a success rate of 45-55%. What is notable here is that marketing efforts using the two major social media – Facebook and Twitter – are not futile, as claimed by some translators. But the biggest surprise here is LinkedIn (which I expected to score higher), a network that represents one of the greatest opportunities to market ourselves to direct clients online, outside of our professional circles. The same can be said for maintaining a website, though LinkedIn is better for SEO (unless you’ve worked with an SEO specialist on your website). This raises the question of whether we are perhaps too passive on LinkedIn and not using it proactively to target clients in the sectors of our specialist fields.
Blog and Google+ were cited as successful means to attract clients by around a mere third of translators who responded to the survey, while the one person who said they use Instagram to attract clients in question 4 did not report it to be successful.
The next post examines the free text comments by respondents to the survey, looking at feedback on individual platforms and how an online presence should complement, not replace, an offline presence and more traditional client acquisition methods.
Are you thinking of becoming a professional freelance translator? Or have you recently started out and want to learn how to manage your translation business? Setting Up as a Freelance Translator is an eight-week course of online tutorials, led by eight translation professionals and organised by the UK’s Institute of Translation and Interpreting. Get your business off on the right foot. Find out more here.
Acknowledgement: Thank you to Jonathan Downie for his input on interpreting the results.
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