Social media is everywhere. I attended a writer’s conference last Saturday and in the “housekeeping” announcements the attendees were given a hashtag. Our church encourages attendees to post or Tweet during the service and provides the necessary hashtag. But each outlet has pros and cons and often those depend on your purpose. Here are some notes on four popular options for freelance writers: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It’s a lengthy post so if you’re curious about only one or two areas, feel free to scroll down.
Ideas and opinions are welcome in the comments section to keep the conversation going.
1. Blogs – To blog or not to blog, that seems to be the biggest question. And the answer is: to blog. The two main concerns that I’ve heard voiced from freelance writers considering a blog are 1) What if someone steals my ideas? and 2) If I write my ideas on a blog, won’t that limit the ideas that I can pitch.
The two answers that I’ve found to be true myself but that I’ve also heard echoed by other freelance writers and editors are 1) Haven’t heard of this actually happening; and, 2) Actually, it creates room for more ideas – not every idea you have will be a good fit or good timing for a publication. I actually have a few potential posts in mind that were pitches that haven’t landed anywhere yet so I’m going to do a version on the blog just to put the idea out there and make room for more. With these “failed” query posts I’ll likely also use them as clips of my writing when I pitch other pieces in the same area.
Those are the common hindrances to starting a blog, what are some of the possible motivators? For newbies, a blog provides clips to send to editors. I struggled with this initially because I was hosting blogs that I considered to be fun outlets for anecdotes and general miscellaneous – in other words, decidedly different from what I would think of writing for a publication. As I realized that my blogs were being treated as places for potential editors to “check me out” I had to change my focus and my writing. Now I have a place where I can showcase my writing for interested editors.
A common idea is that a blog can create “followers” and that is attractive for clients. I think perhaps this is more true for someone with authorial ambitions. Followers can translate to potential readers and can suggest to a publisher that a person has a foundation for a marketing platform. For a freelancer, I think it is nice to have followers and to engage with the wider blogger community, and I suspect that editors don’t mind seeing sites with significant action, but I have not heard it mentioned once as a contributing factor to whether a pitch is accepted. The angle of the query, it’s applicability to the publication’s audience, and the quality of the freelancer’s writing most influence an editor’s decision.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, a blog provides practice writing. Whether you post daily, weekly, or monthly, a blog is an opportunity to practice your craft. Bloggers write fiction, nonfiction, opinion, humor, reviews, criticisms; they have platforms for family, culture, politics, DIY, photography, and most anything you can think of (and if there’s something you’re interested in but can’t find a blog for, that’s a good place to start for your own platform). You can play with style and voice and tone and punctuation. You can meet other writers and bloggers and experts and newbies. You will be inspired, challenged, and encouraged.
2. Facebook – I have had the most success using Facebook for personal reasons. When I was working in international education I created a “professional” account to connect with colleagues and graduated students. I didn’t keep up with it very well though. When I chose to become more active on my previous blog, I created a page for it on Facebook. That seemed to be the thing to do. But again, I was horrible about updating it and not terribly motivated to worry about a sense of community. I knew if people were following my blog they would get updates and that the comments section provided an outlet for interaction.
I have seen Facebook pages work for bloggers, though. Blogs with already established high levels of followers are natural candidates for a Fan Page. Blogs that are actively engaged in link-ups, giveaways, and a niche community can also successfully recruit a hundred or so fans to a page and make it a meaningful space for further interaction.
Mostly, I see Facebook Fan Pages successfully used by authors who are promoting their books. Can any authors out there comment on their experience with Facebook Fan Pages?
3. Twitter – I am a wildly inconsistent Twitter user (@RRVincent). Some days I post several times. Then I go for weeks without saying anything original. I periodically use hashtags but never strategically – mostly for snark and not for searchability. For me, Twitter differs from the other forms in that I am much more accepting of contacts. I have just hooked up this website to Publicize and am slowly figuring out how that works with my Twitter feed and LinkedIn. Also, I’m exploring HootSuite as a way to manage my tweets so I can set some up in advance for times when the responsibilities of motherhood trump social media time.
There are many ways to manage and utilize this one, but I have one caution for what I see abused regularly: don’t make it just about trumpeting your success. It’s meant to be “social” media, not “promotional” media. It’s okay to post your successes and your posts but be sure to fill it in with some personal tweets, occasional retweets (of something other than someone singing your praises), and conversations with friends.
For freelancers there is possibly one other benefit. This was suggested at a writing conference I recently attended in a presentation on Convergent Media by Dr. Augie Grant of the University of South Carolina. Writing for Twitter is like writing a headline – you need to develop the emotion and essence of the information in a compelling snippet. Now, this doesn’t mean that everything in your life needs to be BREAKING NEWS (though some days it may seem like that), but think about sending those pitches to editors and wanting to include a subject line that will grab their attention and possibly suggest a workable headline for the piece. What would you say on Twitter? How would you relate this information to your followers in 140 characters? Maybe it will work for you or maybe not. In any case, it’s good practice.
4. LinkedIn – I deleted my LinkedIn account almost exactly a week before I took a class on freelance ins and outs that would subsequently motivate me to start pitching ideas. The account was something I had set up when I had a “day job,” and I had left it idle (with no significant ramifications) for over a year while I was engrossed in mommyhood. In that class the instructor changed my mind about the need for an account. One simple argument convinced me: as a freelance writer, I needed a professional way to keep in touch with editors. When an editor moves to another publication or covers a different area, that information changes on their LinkedIn information (hopefully they update it), and I would have the benefit of knowing that change and possibly checking out a new outlet. I went home, created an account, and started meeting editors. I don’t send connection invites unless I have worked with someone. I use it strictly as a professional tool and not as a personal outlet. On the flip side, if an editor that I have not yet worked with connected with me, I would accept as long as their publication was legit and appropriate.
For other thoughts on the social media topic, check out this post by author Laurence O’Bryan (one of my Twitter connections) where he further elaborates on these ideas – particularly the value of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter – from the perspective of an author. He also touches on some of the outlying social media avenues.
Social media can easily become a time suck. In many cases it is useful, strategic, and necessary, but be clear about what you want to get out of it. Be honest about your role as a writer. I anticipate that if I eventually change gears towards an authorial career, my perspective and use of these outlets will change a bit. For now, I’m interested in using them as a freelance writer. Most importantly, don’t let them pull you away from your writing (guilty!) – you can have a great following, but if you haven’t done any writing then it’s not really helping you.