Several months ago I watched an edited for TV movie, “Almost Famous”, a story of a young boy on the doorstep of the 70s rock scene, tasked by Rolling Stones magazine to write a gritty behind-the-scenes article of an up and coming fictional band. What ensues is his journey as a “groupie” that captures the essence of the 70’s classic rock movement woven in with a coming of age introduction to the world and the struggle of the young journalist. No doubt history repeats itself, and while our work is a far stretch to musicians in the music industry, I consider many of my sign language interpreter friends “rockstars.”
Before I go on, I have to offer up a confession, I am a StreetLeverage “groupie.” I should also offer up a disclaimer, it was a little over two years ago that Brandon called me with an idea, StreetLeverage.com. If you’re reading this as a result of your interest in the site’s content, then it may seem to you a no brainer to pitch in. Although at the time, in the desert of creativity that nothingness was the unknown. I remember late night discussions about content, strategies, and the regular question—were we the only audience of the site.
With my interpreter toolkit slung over my shoulder and a leap of faith in the vision, I got on the StreetLeverage tour bus and provided a couple articles on my favorite business tool—social media—and a year and a half later presented at the first StreetLeverage – Live event. While this article may seem a selfless plug of something I am passionate about, I believe there are lessons to be learned from my backstage access to the StreetLeverage story.
(Thanks to Brandon for graciously honoring the wager that allowed me to publish this article. Never under-estimate the power of thumb-wrestling.)
Dare to Dream
As you may know, the most recent stop for StreetLeverage was in Indianapolis, IN to provide social media coverage of the 2013 RID national conference. The online access to conference sessions via Facebook, Twitter, video interviews and photo sharing was unprecedented in our field, and better, the offsite and virtual discussions amongst sign language interpreters will echo conference topics long after the conference now ended.
Shortly after the event I was talking with an interpreter friend of mine, a rockstar by the way, unable to attend the national conference. She commented that after watching the StreetLeverage coverage from her social-web streams that she was inspired to be present at the next RID conference and to stand and be counted.
I share this because her comment embodies the entire ambition of StreetLeverage when it dared to dream that a community of reflective practitioners amplified by social media could inspire action within the sign language interpreting industry.
To me, understanding the online path StreetLeverage has taken offers a type and shadow for anyone looking to leverage socially oriented communication to coalesce a group of people around a vision.
What people may not necessarily be aware of is that StreetLeverage began more intentionally exploring the power of social networking beyond blogging with StreetLeverage-Live 2012 | Baltimore, which offered a new format for professional dialogue and professional development within the sign language interpreting field. StreetLeverage – Live introduced a TED-like presentation format with social media coverage on Facebook and Twitter to complement. The event was followed with the posting of the recorded presentations online for free viewing and sharing.
StreetLeverage expanded its exploration of social networking with StreetLeverage – Live 2013 | Atlanta and the 2013 RID national conference in Indiana by creating a content delivery team to better capture and share intelligent, insightful, and germane content with the broader sign language interpreting industry. StreetLeverage will perpetuate further live and digital dialogue on strengthening and building the industry with StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin May 1 – 4 and other projects underway.
Aside from the obvious benefits of immediate access to sharing information and connecting with people on a larger scale, StreetLeverage has intentionally and strategically explored how to use social networking to introduce and connect its vision of change to sign language interpreters.
What I have learned watching all this connecting, amplification, and vision casting is that if people will dare to make a difference and take that challenging first step to share it, others will follow. It is bringing people together to reflect on the field that has made the StreetLeverage story so special.
The positive engagement that StreetLeverage has generated over the last couple of years is proof that using social generosity, connection, and amplification to create a shared vision is applicable to our industry too.
What Has Come into View
Why has StreetLeverage been so successful in bringing people together? To me, it is because there is an understanding four basic principles of social media.
Online Transparency Builds Relationships
The quick one-liner interactions in bits and bytes online may not seem like much, but they can go far in developing trust and engagement. Interacting offers a sense of empathy and understanding, and its only when people feel understood that they will begin to listen to your message.
Strength in Numbers
There are more sign language interpreters “out there” using social media than there are “in here” attending events designed to create change, which should give pause to any organization to prioritize their communication planning. And therein lies one of the greatest benefits, the more an organization communicates “out there” the more likely individuals will join you “in here.”
Crowd sourcing online comments on a particular topic offers a wider cross-section of sign language interpreter disposition, preventing the “one” public comment or the “loudest” to stand as representation of the interpreter masses. Social media provides an outlet to engage those less willing to take the stage or find themselves supporting a more unpopular opinion.
The awareness that anyone anywhere could be tweeting, posting and recording your actions or words increases the level of accountability. While it may sound, “big brother-ish,” it incentivizes industry stakeholders, leaders, and practitioners to say what they mean, mean what they say. And yes, opinions will be formed. With everyone only a mobile app away from broadcasting, our virtual community compels action and professional restraint.
The sign language interpreting profession needs people willing to consider that they are accountable for the future of the field. With all the good that social media can do, it behooves every member of the sign language interpreting profession to sharpen the tools in their social media toolkits and strategically add their perspective.
Where can this knowledge and accountability take you?
The Secret Sauce
Not all individuals and organizations are equipped with the social media structures to pull off fantastic social media campaigns like StreetLeverage did with its coverage of the 2013 RID conference. While there is no “one size fits all” solution, with some strategic thinking you and potentially your organization could be broadcasting with transparency and efficiency. Both individuals and organizations within the field are at a distinct advantage because content grows organically from within, and sign language interpreter niche content isn’t crowded, at least for now.
Assuming that one identifies with the benefits of communicating through social media; greater inclusion, accountability and stronger personal and organizational branding, the question is how? At the risk of giving away the StreetLeverage secret sauce here’s how you and your organization can create an online presence to promote greater communication, thus greater engagement to drive real tangible change.
Create a Platform
Create your online presence and focus on communicating within one domain. Once you’ve got it down, expand to another social medium.
Set a schedule
Take a few minutes to consider how much time you can spend focused on social media, sketch out a schedule, and stick to it.
Create a Social Media Statement
Create a statement to help you guide your thinking, both as an individual and as an organization, to proactively think through how you would like to make use of social media. How to respond to social media interactions? How to respond to conflict or negative interactions? What should be posted? Finally, what do we want to accomplish with our social networking?
Content, content, content.
Produce quality content quickly, economically and often.
In a world big on ideas and short on implementation, I hope that you are able to take full advantage of social media communication. How do you know its working? Engagement, measured in the amount of shares, likes, re-tweets and comments are a few of the indicators that gauge effectiveness.
Like the bands of the 1970s and as StreetLeverage has demonstrated as of late, our community has always been greater than the sum of our parts. But, it’s the consistent functions of individual components that keep us moving forward.
As Stephanie Feyne so eloquently put it in her recent article, Authenticity: The Impact of a Sign Language Interpreter’s Choices, “This means we interpreters have a great deal of power. And we have a tremendous responsibility. The hearing parties are relying upon our language to help form their impressions of whether the Deaf party is genuine and credible (and vice versa).”
While this speaks specifically to the sign language interpreting process (our language choices), the same could be said about our communication choices online. What kind of impression does your social media activity leave? Are you contributing to the betterment of the field?
<Cue John Lennon’s “Imagine”> Grab your online toolkits and I’ll see you at the next sign language interpreter event.
Do you have any online or social networking tips? Share them with us.
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