Social Media Basics For Freelancers

Social Media Basics for FreelancersAs a freelancer you’ve probably heard a lot about social media. You’ve probably heard about a bunch of different social networking websites and, if you read FreelanceFolder a lot, you’ve probably also heard about a number of different tools we recommend for social media too.

The simple truth of the matter is that social media is a very powerful tool for freelancers. Some people have doubled, tripped, or even created their entire business using social media. But it isn’t all good news — social media has a number of downfalls as well.

For those of you who are new to using social media, or for anyone who wants to learn how to use it for freelancing, here is an overview of the social media basics for freelancers:

Barriers to Using Social Media

Before we get into how to use social media, let’s take a look at some of the top difficulties of using social media. It is important to address each of these concerns if you want social media to be really effective for you. Here some barriers to effective use of social media:

  • Too many options. Like many freelancers you may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of social media options available. In addition to the well-known options like Facebook, MySpace , and Twitter, there are literally dozens of other social media sites available. With all those options, how can a freelancer find the right social media too for his or her networking needs?
  • Too little time. You may also feel intimidated by the amount of time that it takes to be effective on social media. To become a power user on most popular social media sites it seems that you would need to camp out there 24/7. Most freelancers don’t have that kind of time available for networking, so how can a freelancer possibly become an effective user of social media.
  • Too many users. Nearly everyone and their brother is using social media. However, not everyone has helpful information that will help your freelance business nor is everyone a potential customer. Discovering the helpful contacts within the sea of social media contacts can seem to be a daunting and impossible task for the average freelancer.

If you recognized your fears in any of the above, this post is for you. I’d like to present a common sense approach that nearly every freelancer can use right now to make the most of the social media tools that are out there.

Finding the Right Social Media Websites

Many freelancers make the mistake of taking a shotgun approach to choosing social media websites to participate in. That is to say, they try to create a profile at as many social media sites as possible. The problem with this approach is that their social media efforts are spread far and wide, and there is very little chance of having meaningful interactions and creating strong profiles on any of the sites.

Being overextended among in social media is an easy mistake to make. I’ve made it myself. It happens something like this: you read of an exciting new social media tool and you rush over there to set up an account. You use the account once or twice and then never return. Pretty soon, you have inactive social media accounts at dozens of social media sites.

That’s not the way to use social media effectively. You need to be focused and make real connections.

Here are a few tips to find the right social media websites for your freelancing business:

  1. Look at what you are already using. Is there a networking site that you are already somewhat active in? Are you using it for personal or business use? Choosing a familiar social media tool for your business increases the chances that you’ll actually use it. In addition, you may be able to leverage the presence that you already have for your freelancing business.
  2. Look at what your clients and colleagues are using. If you’re not sure what they use, ask them. If you are a member of an industry forum or message board, you may simply be able to start a thread asking “what social media sites do you use?” If not, ask clients that you have a good relationship with whether or not they would like to be able to contact you through social media.
  3. Look at what your industry trendsetters are using. If the top firm in your field is using Twitter regularly, then Twitter is probably worth your time too. If you find industry trendsetters all have LinkedIn accounts, then perhaps you should have a LinkedIn page too.

Effectively Using Your Time on Social Media

Larger industries and corporations can afford to hire social media specialists who are dedicated to creating and maintaining a social media presence for the company. As a freelancer, though, most of us can’t afford that option. We freelancers are used to wearing many hats, however, and most of us can learn to be our own social media specialists and develop a presence without much outside help.

Here are some tips to get a maximum social media impact for a minimum social time investment:

  1. Focus your presence on two or three social media sites. A focused presence on one site is always more effective than an unfocused and barely active presence at many sites. While you may never become a power user on your social media site of choice, you can develop a healthy network of social media contacts by using a small number of tools.
  2. Schedule time for social media interaction each day. By scheduling a small amount of time each day to interact, you make sure that your account stays active. Also, make sure that you are participating at various times of the day and not just a single time of the day to maximize the number of people that you reach.
  3. Don’t just promote yourself. Many business owners make the mistake of thinking that social media is all about them. Their social media participation seems almost like advertisements. Social media is actually about interaction. Think of what your target audience (clients and colleagues) would find helpful and share that type of information even if it doesn’t directly relate to your company.
  4. Use the right tools. The tools you use to manage your different social media accounts can make a big difference in how easy it is, and how much time it takes. Check out this article for 35 social media tools that make life easier.

How to Connect With the Right People

There are many articles and blog posts that tell entrepreneurs how to build the biggest community as quickly as possible, generally without any regard for who is in that community. Personally, I don’t see any point in that approach. Social interaction isn’t very rewarding unless you actually can find and create valuable relationships. And that’s not just about numbers.

In contrast to that numbers-based approach, I suggest a more thoughtful and targeted approach. I believe it is better to have a few hundred social media contacts who are really interested in you and your business than a few thousand who are just there because of some follower tradeoff scheme.

With that in mind, here are a few connections you should consider making through social media:

  1. Industry leaders. If possible, add industry leaders to your friend list and make an effort to interact with them. You will learn much about your business from them and by following you may eventually find other contacts. You may even be able to develop a mentoring type relationship where you can turn to them for advice.
  2. Colleagues. If you are on friendly terms with your industry colleagues, by all means connect with them through social media. It can be very helpful to brainstorm with colleagues or to have a trusted colleague to refer projects to that you can’t take.
  3. Clients. You can connect with clients and potential clients by inviting them directly to contact you through social media and by including your social media contact information in your communications with your clients. Since you’ve focused your social media efforts you can even include your social media contact information on your business card, letterhead, or in your e-mail signature.

Share Your Social Media Tips

For every freelancer who is feeling overwhelmed by social media, there’s probably another who feels that they have it under control. If you’re one of those who has it under control, please share your thoughts and tips in the comments.

A post on social media probably wouldn’t be complete without me sharing my profile information. I focus my social media efforts primarily on StumbleUpon and Twitter. I am TXWriter at both places: at StumbleUpon it is TXWriter and at twitter it is @TXWriter. You can also follow FreelanceFolder on twitter @FreelanceFolder.

Feel free to connect with us or to share your own social media information in the comments.

Comments

  1. says

    Very useful information! I believe learning about how to use social media sites to anyone’s advantage is simply by trial and error. Kind of like trying on a bunch of shoes to see what you would be most comfortable with and what fits your needs. I help small business owners and the self-employed with their social media needs. I come up with unique social media plans that fit their specific marketing needs. Everyone doesn’t need a Myspace, but I believe in using Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In to one’s advantage. All it really takes are a few good connections, or like you said a few 100 followers on Twitter who are actually interested in what you have to offer, rather than scam artists who promise you 1,000 followers each day. Blogging is also a useful tool, because it shows personality and expertise.

  2. says

    Hi Tracey!

    Your comment has a lot of wisdom. I think that social media consultants potentially have a lot of good advice for the freelancer.

    Thanks Bill – It’s always nice to meet another Texan.

  3. says

    Though it’s hard to admit, I am most certainly one of those freelancers who has been overwhelmed by the plethora of social media options and the time it might take to make proper use of one or more. :-(

    Because I want it to be more of a professional, rather than personal, place to interact, I decided to start by focusing on one: LinkedIn. To be honest, I have found the benefits to be minimal thus far (four months in). I have connected to the people you suggest, but will now use your advice on how to effectively use my time there. Thanks for the clear, concise tips!

    I’m still at a bit of a loss as to how Twitter can help my freelance (writing and translating) business. I’d love to hear your or other commentors’ thoughts on its uses and benefits in particular.

  4. says

    Hi Lisa!

    I’m so glad that you wrote, because I had exactly the same first reaction to social media and especially to Twitter.

    I quickly saw that I was wrong, though. Now, I often see freelancing gigs promoted on Twitter before they are published on blogs or in other places. Try searching on hashtag freelancing (like this #freelancing) as well as hashtag your specialty (for example #designer).

    Also, if your clients participate in Twitter the private messaging capability can function sort of like an instant messager.

    Finally, if you make business announcements Twitter can be a great place to make them.

    I’m not saying it’s for everybody – but there’s more there than I first realized.

    Good luck!

  5. says

    Thanks a million for the Twitter tips, Laura! I’m inspired. ;-) I’m finishing up a big project this week, but will sit down next week to see how I can make it work for me.

  6. says

    Social media sites are definitely a force to be reckoned with. Although I would say that Facebook has basically monopolised the sector recently and Myspace has been knocked off the top spot and declined, so it seems that nothing is ever certain in these circles. Who knows how we’ll be keeping in touch in two years even.

  7. says

    Well, hello, my Twitter friend!

    I know a few freelancers who’ve gotten gigs through Twitter, which goes to show it can be an effective marketing tool for us.

    But you’re right: social media can be a major time suck! My strategy is to reward myself with 10-15 minutes of Twitter time a few times a day AFTER I complete my most important tasks for the day. I also use Tweetdeck and Tweetlater so I can go in and out quickly and still maintain a “presence.”

    Incidentally, have you heard of Blellow? That’s a social networking site for freelancers. There’s also Herd Huddle, which is for direct marketing/copywriting/advertising people.

  8. says

    At the moment, I focus my energies on Twitter, StumbleUpon and Facebook, having pretty much shelved everything else.

    I tweet in the morning and then I return about 2-3 times during the day between writing projects. I’m not as active on SU (I think I’ve been ghosted, thus the pull back) while Facebook I use merely to post links to articles I’ve written.

    Can it seem overwhelming at times? Absolutely. Hit and run social media works for me, while I have noticed others stay on it for hours every single day.

  9. says

    I find Twitter to be quite effective with my blog. And I use FB for networking. I put most of my concentration in those two more than anything. Social networking is really good as long as it’s used in moderation. It’s easy to get caught up in it all.

    As Lexi mentioned, I use Tweetlater and tweetdeck. They both help immensely when it comes to being to be active on social sites without being on there all day. There are tons of other tools to use with twitter too.

    I think social sites are a great way to network, as long as it’s used in moderation.

  10. says

    Thanks to everyone for sharing your social media experiences!

    Keep the comments coming!

    Thanks for sharing those new social media sites Lexi – I’ll definitely check into them. I’d say when evaluating a new social media site look to see who is already there. Are they an industry leader? A potential client? A peer?

    If none of the above are on the site, I’d think twice about joining.

  11. says

    For a huge time-saver on the gathering content side of things…I feel that it’s important to set up a google reader / rss reader that brings content to you. I have mine set up to scour google blogs, technorati, bloglines, flickr, youtube, backtype, and more, for search queries relevant to my industry, and my brand. That way I don’t have to spend time searching all of these sites independently and Google reader give me a way to immediately share out articles via Google readers rss.

    Backtype is a site that searches the comments of tons of social sites, allowing you to quickly jump into a conversation about you, your brand, or your industry even if the conversation is going on at a blog or site you have never visited.

  12. says

    Great post, Laura! I would add that even though you should focus on a few social networking sites at a time, a wise blogger told me to reserve my username on any and every site in case I decide to use that site later on.

  13. says

    Great post Laura, very complete guide. At the moment I use Facebook only. I find that I have a lot of distractions on there. Genuine friends uploading photos and then there are all the idiotic things I try to avoid like FarmVille and Mafia Wars. I use Facebook Lite ( http://www.lite.facebook.com ) but still end up spending too much time on there. Does anyone have suggestions?

  14. says

    I am in love with Twitter, have recently broken up with Facebook, still use StumbleUpon occasionally (but not to its full potential), I’m being spammed by Friendster (which I never signed up for – is it possible for someone else to sign you up?), and strongly believe that MySpace is the Detroit of social media.

    That tip about “don’t just promote yourself” is one I repeat to my clients every day. If you use social networking just for self-pimping, you will turn everyone off. Just as with everything else in life, you need substance to be interesting.

    W

  15. Ajay Mehra says

    I am working as Sr. Social media Analyst for last 4 years now and now since I have some good experience in online marketing, I am looking for some freelance work , I did applied for projects in oDesk and Elance but got no response being new on these platforms i Think. I really want to prove what I am capable of, but not getting opportunities. Please suggest what to do?

  16. says

    I appreciate all the great time, focus, purpose advice and links here for small business and independents. It seems the and next big thing is integration and lists, respectively. Staying up with the big platforms (facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn) can be a challenge as social media evolves, but worth it. My #1 choice is LinkedIn for validation and credibility, as I number of my clients go there first to check things out. LinkedIn is now adding twitter capability, I believe I’ve heard. I’ve already integrated my WordPress professional blog posts to that site. That part was easy.

    On the other hand, upstarts like posterous have made it INCREDIBLY easy to post or repost excerpted blog entries. Tuning integrations with Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and now posterous is necessary, but when done well, powerful.

  17. says

    Excellent Article…I like the all points should be kept in mind when we are in the stage of the handling the social media as the highly advantage of the business tool…keep sharing.

  18. says

    I am interested in furthering my media consulting services by learning the new ropes. Your article gave me more insight into how to do this. Many thanks.

  19. says

    Hi Laura,

    As new player in the seo game this article has been really helpful, especially in light of google’s recent updates and the rise of social media signals in website ranking.

    Thanks!

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