Social media has its ups and downs.
These sites help you stay in touch with people you otherwise wouldn't. They can bring you news quickly, and direct from people on the scene of a story. Or they can help organize movements. They also connect businesses with customers.
But social networks also amplify the spread of misinformation. They routinely violate the privacy of their users (and with some, like Facebook, if you use them you've probably also helped them violate the privacy of non-users you know). Some have gotten worse for businesses over the years, essentially extorting access to their own followers' feeds for pay. And especially when it comes to independent pros like freelancers, they can be a huge drain on your marketing time.
What's a Freelance Writer to Do?
Given both sides of social media, it's understandable if you aren't sure how to handle it in your freelance writing business.
- Should you bother with any social networks?
- How many?
- How often do you need to update?
- What is it OK, and not OK, to talk about?
As one of the earlier social media consultants you'll come across -- someone there when forum marketing was the norm and whose clients came up along "MySpace millionaires," whose own clients were some of the most forward-thinking groups to use social media (many folks are only now catching up to where they thrived 15+ years ago), who has watched numerous social media sites go through the same life cycle over the years, and as someone who has kept a close eye on the internal business and tech practices of some of the largest social media sites around -- I'd like to share some thoughts on that.
Do Freelance Writers Need Social Media?
Short Answer: No
Long Answer: It depends.
As with any other form of marketing or PR, you need to consider who you're trying to reach.
Do your particular customers even use social media?
More important, how do your prospects use certain social networks?
If they're only using them to reach their own customers, selling to them there might be a waste of your time. Also consider who runs their social media accounts. If it isn't the decision-maker who would hire freelance writers, why would you waste your time?
On the other hand, let's say you work with smaller businesses or with editors who have a direct social media presence. In those cases, it makes more sense for you to work social media into your marketing plan because it can directly connect you to a network of prospects.
So, no, in general freelance writers don't need social media to land gigs.
You can reach the same people in other ways like direct pitching and through networking events. You can use PR and inbound marketing to attract them to your website designed to convert them into clients (SEO, thought leadership publication, etc.).
But depending on your target market, social media might be a good option for you.
Reasons to Engage on Social Media
There are several reasons you might opt to engage on social media as a freelance writer. And they don't all involve prospects. For example:
- It lets you connect with colleagues and other professionals in your specialty area.
- You handle social media writing for clients and need to demonstrate you can consistently run an account of your own.
- You run a professional blog (or a niche blog in your specialty as your own thought leadership project). And you use social networks to promote that content.
- Maintaining social media profiles lets you claim them for your brand or name.
And of course, those are just some professional reasons to be on social media. Many of you are likely also on social networks for personal reasons. Not everything you share needs to be professionally-focused.
Social Media as a Time-Suck
This might be the biggest problem I've seen fellow freelancers, especially more experienced ones, share about social media involvement. It can take a lot of time.
More than that, social media can slip into "distraction" territory.
I don't blame freelancers who feel this way.
If you've been at this while, you might not see much value in using social media to land freelance writing work. You might already have enough gigs through other outreach efforts. And that's fine. You might not need it at all for that very reason.
But I at least recommend securing handles where possible that match your name or brand.
This will leave the possibility open if you change your mind later, and it prevents someone else from using those handles which could cause confusion if prospects search for you and come across wildly different accounts.
If you do opt to use social media in your business, how can you avoid letting it become a distraction?
Here are Some Tips:
- Map out a social media plan, then stick to it.
- Schedule posts ahead of time if possible (once a week for example).
- Set aside a limited amount of time each day to respond to people who reach out to you on social media (such as when you also respond to email).
- Either remove the apps from your phone and only check professional accounts at your computer or lock them during certain hours with something like the Stay Focused app. Similar apps are also available for browsers if desktop access is your bigger issue.
I'm all too familiar with how much of a distraction and time suck social media can be. These days I mostly use it on a personal level and for site promotion with accounts for my various blogs and other projects. If you aren't at least somewhat organized and disciplined, it can eat a lot of your day (something I'm still guilty of at times). So if you're going to use social media for your freelance writing business, be aware of that potential and do what you can to build better habits around it.
Why Less is More in Social Media Marketing
Here's one of the most important things I've learned in all my years in social media marketing and PR:
When it comes to social media, you do not have to be everywhere.
I'd go so far as to say you shouldn't try to be everywhere.
And that's good news to the social media skeptics or those who simply worry social media marketing will take too much time with too little return.
A surefire recipe for disaster in social media promotion is spreading your resources too thin.
And as a freelancer, you might be your only resource when it comes to managing your social media presence. Doing too little everywhere is not the way to go.
Why is This a Problem?
- When you try to be everywhere, you're forced to a create a relatively shallow profile in each network, or spend far more time than necessary on this marketing tactic, costing you gigs better obtained through others.
- You probably aren't reaching entirely different groups of people on each network anyway. If your follower groups are similar, one -- two tops -- is all you need.
- The more social networks you're active on, the bigger the chance they'll become a regular distraction.
If you want to get more out of social media for your freelance writing business, consider cutting back if you're already using these sites, or make sure your marketing plan focuses on only the best outlets for meeting your individual needs.
For me, this is easy. I stay away from all Facebook properties for ethical reasons (comes from having been in the business so long and watching the constant dishonesty, exploitation, privacy abuses, and other missteps from the company). So that eliminates one of the biggest time wasters. Note that Facebook has also become one of the least business-friendly networks, making it increasingly harder for professionals to get their content seen without paying.
I don't need social media to bring in gigs directly, so instead I use LinkedIn mostly to connect with colleagues. Then I use Pinterest and Twitter to share site-related content. And I also use Twitter in a more general way, combining personal updates with professional commentary that suits the brand I've built over the years.
That's more than enough to manage. If I were starting now, I'd skip LinkedIn altogether (and don't use it much as it is beyond private conversations anyway).
Your Balance Might Look Very Different.
If you currently feel like you have too many profiles to manage, I'd suggest cutting it down to 2-3 and see if that helps you build consistency and more engagement with your contacts.
If you're still just thinking about dipping your toe into the social media pool, I'd say start with one and go from there.
Stop treating, or thinking of, social media as some overwhelming mountain of content you have to regularly climb, and it will stop being that. Better yet, when you invest time into building a more consistent presence in one or more places, and you keep them true to your own professional goals, you'll find you can get much more out of them without letting them pull you away from your writing and other marketing.
Personal vs Professional: What to Post on Social Media
Once you've narrowed down which social networks you want to use, it's important to understand they're not well-designed to be everything to everyone. An account you use to connect with family and friends is almost certainly not an account you should use to reach potential clients.
The type of content you post on personal accounts vs professional ones won't be the same. And it shouldn't be.
At the same time, again, you have to know your target market and you have to have a solid grasp on your professional brand. Things that might be appropriate for me might not be appropriate for you, and vice-versa.
How Personal Should You Get?
As an example, I can get away with talking about politics and social issues very openly, because it's true to the brand I've built. I don't actively seek clients through things like my personal Twitter account (which will be undergoing some changes to make it slightly more professionally-focused soon). But I've had numerous clients over the years tell me my outspokenness helped sway them in my direction.
Of course, that will also cost you some prospects. So how active you can be in those areas depends on other prospects in your pipeline.
On the other hand, I make it a point not to talk much about family things on that account (and I don't connect with family there at all). You might find pet pictures. But you'll never see photos of my nieces and nephews, other family members, or anything too personal about them.
Others can get away with sharing a lot of family info on their social media profiles. If your specialty is writing about parenting, family, or home issues, that might make more sense for you.
Ultimately, there is no black-and-white when it comes to which social networks you should use, how many, or what you should share. But know that cutting back doesn't always mean you'll have less reach. It can help you reach more of the right people while wasting far less time.
We'll talk more about social media marketing in the future such as ways to more efficiently manage multiple accounts if you have them, directly finding leads for gigs on these sites, the issue of vanity metrics and what your follower account really does (and doesn't) mean, how to plan out a social media strategy, and more. If you have specific questions you'd like me to answer on the blog, or ideas you'd like to see covered, please leave a comment or contact me privately, and I'm happy to consider it.