When a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? There are two possible answers to this old philosophical riddle, depending on how we define the concept of “making a sound”. If it is defined as something that is perceived by human ear, than the answer is “no” if nobody heard the falling tree. If it is defined as the vibrations and waves caused by a falling tree, then the answer is “yes”.
When translators complain about low rates and shady and repugnant practices of some translation agencies on their blogs and discussion groups, does it make a difference? The answer to this relatively new riddle, which is more practical than philosophical, depends among other things on how we define the term “complain” and the term “make a difference”.
Not so long ago, almost nobody would have heard the voice of a lone translator crying in the wilderness because her invoice has not been paid for the last three months. All she could do would be perhaps to e-mail or call a few friends to warn them about another dishonest company, but that was about it. Her voice did not carry very far.
But things have changed. Although as we learned in our Latin class, “Vox audita perit, litera scripta manet [a voice heard perishes, a written letter remains] was true centuries ago, it has never been more true than now when words that are written by somebody who is complaining on LinkedIn, for example, can be instantly read by thousands of people on their PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones.
The written words that we leave on the Internet will stay there practically forever. A negative comment about somebody’s business practices may over time translate into many lost sales opportunities.
It is not just negative comments of other people that can cause damage to the bottom line. Short-term savings driven by greed can sometime also result in long-term losses because unlike in the past, the sound that a falling tree makes on the Internet may now be heard by many people and for many years.
A translation agency operator was recently looking for translators who would be interested in translating the text on his website into several foreign languages in exchange for a vague promise of potential work sometime in the future. He did not have to wait long because there are thousands of translators (mostly would-be translators) out there who are in fact willing to work for nothing. So he saved several hundred dollars by taking advantage of these people.
I wonder whether this person realized that every time when a new potential customer searches for information about his company, every such potential customer may find out also that this particular company is saving money by making people work for them for free.
Most companies understand that what people say on blogs and social media is very important because it can have a positive or negative impact on sales. That is why every company now has a corporate blog and tweets and posts on Facebook, and every company now has to pay their own employees who are basically PR people whose job it is to try to create a positive image of the company on the Internet.
The problem with the corporate blogs is that nobody reads them because the people who are paid to periodically post something positive about the company are usually unable to come up with something that people whose attention span is generally quite short would be interested in reading.
But still, even bland and boring corporate blogs help to drive sales when the key words contained in them are picked up by web crawlers of search engines such as Google.
It so happens that as I was writing this post, I received an e-mail from a translation agency (like many translators, I suffer from so-called compulsive e-mail checking disorder, one of the signs of a pernicious modern disease called translator’s dementia).
The e-mail said among other things this:
I’m contacting you as I’m recruiting for a new project with one of our major clients.
Strong medical translation experience is required for this project. The work is on-going from this client. The volumes for projects we are already receiving are expected to increase whilst we have also won new studies from the client for this language combination.
And this was my brief response to them:
When I searched for information about your company on the Internet, I came across a lot of very negative comments of translators about your company’s business practices.
I am not interested in working for your company.
Have a nice life.
When a tree falls these days in the endless green forest we call Internet, the question is no longer whether somebody will hear the sound of the falling tree, but how many hundreds, thousands, or millions of people will hear that sound, and for how many years the sound will reverberate through the Internet.