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.