As freelance journalists looking to market ourselves and our work, we get that we ought to use social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. But once we obediently set up accounts, few of us know what to do next. Here, fellow freelancers and experts in social media provide tips for getting the most out of social networking tools.
NETWORK WITH OTHER FREELANCERS
Connect colleagues with job leads and tips, and they’ll return the favor. Amy Eisman, director of writing programs at American University’s School of Communications, says Facebook helped her connect a friend who had left a newspaper job with another who needed editing work done. “I would have done it anyway, but networking is just more instantaneous this way,” Eisman says.
CONNECT WITH YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE
Former freelance writer and author Kathleen McCleary says she has marketed “House and Home,” her novel about a woman obsessed with her house, by connecting on Facebook and Twitter with other writers and those interested in houses and home decorating.
THINK ABOUT ONLINE NETWORKING LIKE ACTUAL NETWORKING
That’s the advice of Shashi Bellamkonda, social media guru for the Web-hosting company Network Solutions. Budget your time and adjust your expectations accordingly. “If you’d spend one day a month networking offline, use that time to build up your online profiles or to make new connections,” Bellamkonda says.
Post updates about your career and links to your work in your status message, or promote an event you’re organizing or planning to attend. Share colleagues’ links, blog entries and other updates on your own Facebook or Twitter feeds. “Those people will be more likely to give your stuff a look when they see it come across the screen,” freelance writer Amber Watson-Tardiff writes on Sparkplugging.com, a blog network offering resources for solo entrepreneurs working at home. “It’s called karma, and it works.”
Like it or not, you’ve got an online identity. Make sure yours says what you want it to. Creating an online presence with a professional Web site spotlighting your work, plus accounts on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, can help ensure that column you wrote for your college paper isn’t the first thing that comes up when a potential client Googles your name. Unsure about how to design a Facebook page or personal Web site that represents you as a freelancer? Study colleagues’ sites for cues.
FIRM UP CONNECTIONS MADE OFFLINE
After meeting a potential client or a helpful colleague at a conference, friend them on Facebook or connect on LinkedIn. Bellamkonda recommends replacing the default invitation with a personal message.
Just as you would with a blog, you should post intelligent comments about friends’ status messages, post in the “answers” section on LinkedIn or link to interesting information in your field.
When you post a link to something you’ve published, make it clear what others will get out of reading it. McCleary says a link to an essay she wrote in The Washington Post Magazine recently yielded little interest at first. But when she re-posted the link with a message saying, “this is an essay on learning to let go,” responses poured in. “Just saying, ‘Read my essay’ can come across as self-serving, but saying, ‘This is one woman’s experience in learning to let go’ tells people what’s in it for them,” McCleary says.
You know better than to post work-inappropriate content online. But posting only work-related information misses the point. Facebook is a good way to virtually get to know clients and colleagues only if you post information that gives them a window into your life. “Don’t be a stick-in-the-mud,” Eisman says. “Write about your kids’ college tours. Post pictures of your vacation. Share the kinds of things that might be conversation starters.”
This is often the last frontier for even Web-savvy journalists. McCleary says hits to her Web site have doubled since she joined Twitter in April. Though she doesn’t have statistics on how paperback sales have gone so far, she says she’s optimistic the increased traffic has led to more book purchases. She suggests joining a “Twibe,” or a group of Twitter users with like-minded interests, to spread the word about your work. “There’s so much marketing potential there,” McCleary says. “It seems like at this point, you ignore social media at your own peril.”
Amy Reinink is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md., whose work has appeared in publications including The Washington Post, Entrepreneur, Running Times and Women’s Running. Reach her through her Web site, amyreinink.com.