Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #13: How Social Media Really Works

Recently, I was reminded that many freelance writers are still new to social media. One Freelance Writers Den member commented that she was down on Twitter.

Why? She had tweeted some writers’ stuff, and they had not immediately reciprocated by retweeting some of her stuff.

So now she was mad at them. She also thought social media didn’t work. She didn’t see how using it would help her promote her writing.

I’ve given out tips on social media before — on how to get the most out of Twitter, and LinkedIn…and I had a guest post with more tips on using LinkedIn, too. Plus a fascinating one recently on Pinterest…though I consider LI and Twitter currently the two most important platforms freelance writers should get to know.

But it seems like we need to back up and talk first about how social media works.

There are a million different platforms, but the principles are basically the same. If you read this a year from now, there may be some new platform that’s the hot thing. But I think the basic idea of how to use social media to promote yourself and find clients won’t change.

The first thing to know is social media is a viable platform for promoting yourself and finding clients, as well as sources for stories, trend ideas for pitches, and lots more. I’ve gotten hired by several Fortune 500 companies through LinkedIn, and did $14,000 of business with just one editor I reached out to on Twitter last year.

So yes, social media is worth doing — if you know what you’re doing.

Here is how social media really works:

  • Begin by listening. Social media is a conversation. Listen in and find out what’s going on. Start learning about trends and topics that are of interest to people in your niche.
  • It’s about being helpful. Social media is like a gigantic networking meeting. Focus on finding out how you can help others, and you won’t go wrong.
  • Start searching. Begin looking for people who are popular and talk about your subject. Watch what they do. Start reading their stuff.
  • Learn the etiquette. Every platform has its own flavor. On Twitter, there’s hashtags that help you follow topics, for instance. Get the hang of the slang.
  • Make new friends. You can meet the most amazing people through social media. Read and follow people whose stuff you like. Then, connect with or follow them, and start a conversation. Invite them to take a Skype virtual lunch with you. Find out how you could collaborate.
  • Reach out proactively. Don’t wait to get discovered like Lana Turner on a barstool at Schraffts drugstore on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1930s. That might happen — that’s actually how I ended up guest posting on Copyblogger — but you don’t want to bet the farm on it. So once you’ve gotten acquainted with some influential people, start sending them stuff and asking them to share it with their audience, as in “Your readers might like [LINK].” If you do this right, the result looks like this tweet on the right.
  • Don’t expect tit-for-tat. People are not going to retweet your post because you retweeted theirs, because that’s not the point of social media. It’s not a link-exchange club. Every person is on social media to help their audience with useful stuff and build their reputation so they can occasionally promote their own stuff a bit, too. They’re going to spread your content if it’s amazingly helpful to their followers. If it’s not, they won’t.
  • Bring great stuff. You become successful in social media by offering terrifically helpful information to people. Concentrate on writing to serve your readers, and social media will be a great tool for you.
  • Don’t waste time on it. You shouldn’t need to spend more than a half-hour a day on all your social media work combined. Don’t turn it into a time-waster.

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13 comments on “Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #13: How Social Media Really Works
  1. Hi Carol!

    Another great post!

    I must admit, I never really “got” (or understood) Twitter and how it works until about a month ago, when I wrote my article, “Semper Fi! How the Marine Corps Prepared Me For Entrepreneurship”, at Entrepreneur.com. But once they Tweeted my article out the Tweeter followers and blog viewers (and readers) just began to grow, what seemed to be, overnight.

    Just last night my website/blog got hit 9,500+ times. That didn’t happen until my article on Entrepreneur was published. It’s quite exciting!

    I have been spending a lot more time on Tweeter now since this amazing exposure that I have received. I still use Facebook because the majority of my audience is there, but my LinkedIn connections have also grown.

    So, with all that said, no one can tell me that Social Media does not work.

    Thank you for another insightful post Carol and look forward to reading the next one!

  2. Elke Feuer says:

    Great tips! I agree that it’s about sharing information of value and communicating with readers. We sometimes forget that and treat it like an announcement/advertising page. I know I have. I’ve met some amazing people and great business contacts by just listening and responding to interesting conversations.
    Elke Feuer recently posted…Deadly Bloodlines Is HereMy Profile

  3. Social media is a great place to meet people with like interests and to post your availability for freelance services. I’ve been approached by a few people on FB and LinkedIn, so reaching out really does work. Joining groups and being an active participant is also a good way to meet people and perhaps land work. I recently reached out to a group member on LinkedIn who admittedly stated she needed a story edited for verb tense but couldn’t afford to pay. I gladly offered to help her in return for giving me a recommendation. It’s not always about the money; sometimes you just have to be a real person and offer to help someone in need. What comes around goes around.
    Shauna L Bowling recently posted…Nailing Down Your Writer’s Niche Isn’t EasyMy Profile

  4. Leslie says:

    I just went through a few months with little work, so spent a lot of time investing in social media. I’ve been blogging, reading other peoples’ blogs and commenting when moved to do so, participating in LinkedIn forums, and Tweeting.
    Last week, I got my first client through my website.
    My first client through LinkedIn
    And a potential client through my blog.
    I’d have to say social media works if you work it properly, with purpose, integrity and understanding of what it’s really about. I’ve been surprised at how much fun it can be, and how many fascinating people I’m “meeting.”
    Leslie recently posted…Blogger Goes Missing in Action — Full Details BelowMy Profile

  5. David Suvada says:

    This is an excellent guide. When I speak about social media to colleagues and clients I also use another point frequently. Social media is a marathon and not a sprint! I sadly see too many people embrace social media as a tool and then discard it when they do not see immediate results. Typically when I see this happen, I recommend a revaluation of one’s goals.Thanks again for the helpful information!
    David Suvada recently posted…6 Tips to Minimize Office InterruptionsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great point, David. I think that was the problem for the writer I mention up top, too. She did a week or two, didn’t get a gig off it immediately, and then felt it was a waste. Like all networking, it’s about building something over time.

  6. Corinne says:

    this is a great comprehensive guide. thank you for putting this together.
    Corinne recently posted…Make a Schedule … But Don’t Always Stick To ItMy Profile

  7. Retweeting this – as ever, Carol, you bring effective and informative advice to the table, great post!
    Susan B. Bentley recently posted…Can’t keep up? 7 ways to simplify your Twitter feed and keep your Twitter rep goldenMy Profile

  8. Debra Stang says:

    Hi Carol,

    I tried Twitter once, gave up on it, and then found a short book about how to use it properly. Since then, I’ve stopped just trying to sell myself and become focused on being part of the Twitter community. No gigs as a result yet, but lots of fun and some valuable information as well.

    Debra
    Debra Stang recently posted…25 Quotes to Cheer You Up After Your Writing is RejectedMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’d have to say finding gigs is the minority of what I do on social media. I use it a lot for finding sources for stories, and for building my network.

  9. John Soares says:

    Good points Carol. I also think it’s important for people new to social media to be very focused on what they plan to do with it — have clear and realistic goals.

    And more importantly, set limits on the amount of time you will spend per day or week on social media (including commenting on blogs). If you are not careful, half your day can go by while you’re fooling around on Twitter.
    John Soares recently posted…Is a College Education Necessary to Be a Successful Freelance Writer?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for adding a great point, John — know why you’re on there. Is it to connect with influential bloggers? Find editors? Build your audience on a topic? Stay focused.

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