3 Reasons Freelance Writers Need to Build Their Social Media Audience Now

Have you wondered if social media isn’t all just a big waste of time?

If so, I’d like to give you three reasons freelance writers need to start building a social-media presence right away — reasons you may not have considered.

The world of social media may seem like a fuzzy, timewasting mess from your point of view, but that’s not how it looks from the other side of the fence.

Both businesses and publications have already seen how marketing blog posts, articles, and white papers in social media can bring them new customers, subscribers, and sales.

And they’re hungry for more.

If you can bring social-media knowledge, it is going to be an increasing advantage in the years to come. If you don’t know how to use social media to build an audience, on the other hand, you may find yourself shut out of a lot of plum writing opportunities.

My forecast:

A year from now, social-media savvy won’t be optional for writers – it will be required.

If you’re not conversant in how to use the popular social media platforms, you will be out of the running for a lot of lucrative online writing gigs.

It won’t matter how brilliant and informed your writing is, if you don’t have the social piece of the puzzle.

Here are three important reasons to learn about social media and build your presence there ASAP:

1. It won’t be easier later.

I often hear from writers who say they feel hopelessly left behind.

They see people with 40,000 Twitter followers and give up. After all, you’ll never catch up, right?

This is wrongheaded thinking.

First off, you don’t need to catch up. I’ve been doing fine landing paid blogging gigs from when I had less than 1,000 followers on Twitter. Even a few hundred followers (net of the number of people following you) will help convey that you get how it works.

Second, every day you’re not starting to build your following, everyone else who’s already on social media is only getting smarter, and their audience keeps growing.

The gap won’t be smaller a year from now. So you want to get on this right away.

2. Demand is exploding. 

For instance, I came across a piece from B2B marketing firm Real Capital Media about content marketing trends. How do they advise companies fight back against Google search algorithm changes?

Better content — and more aggressive social media marketing. “Keep pushing for social shares on your content,” they advise.

Who will they be looking to hire? Talented writers who also know how to drive social traffic.

Every tweak of Google makes you more in-demand and valued as a writer with a social media audience.

Increasingly, your audition for an online writing or blogging gig includes your prospect taking a look at the size of your Twitter/Facebook/other social media audience.

Want to know the first thing Entrepreneur magazine asked me when I started blogging for them a few years back? “Can you retweet your posts?”

At the time, that question was novel. Now, it is increasingly commonplace, and no longer an afterthought, but part of the main deal.

For instance, here’s a recent ad we posted in the Freelance Writers Den‘s Junk-Free Job Board. It was from MarketWatch, a division of Wall Street Journal Digital Network:

“…looking for talented journalists in various disciplines, including: Top-flight reporters/analysts, editors and specialists in creating markets-based charts/graphics/tools. Do not send material if you are not demonstrably experienced and comfortable operating on multiple platforms and formats including social media as part of your job, blogging, and stand-alone writing or editing/producing.”

If you want to work for quality clients like divisions of the Wall Street Journal online, this is the skill set they want. The faster you build these skills, the more likely you can catch this train.

You can sit around whining and wishing for the days when all writers needed to know how to do was find a good story and report and write it, but those days are all but gone. I believe more and more job listings will look like the one above as the months roll along.

The number of markets that care about social traffic is only going to grow. More magazines will be migrating to online editions or creating exclusive online content — and they’ll be looking for writers who know how to write Internet headlines and drive traffic to those pieces.

3. You’ll need social skills to report stories.

If you are trying to interview any prominent person in the future for a magazine or ezine article — a movie or TV star, a business mogul, even a startup entrepreneur — email may not work.

People like this get 500 emails a day. And they often just delete them all. (It’s called ‘declaring email bankruptcy.’)

Their PR people may be an impenetrable wall of non-response.

You’ll be at risk of having your stories get killed if you can’t line up the sources you need some other way.

I’m already confronting this problem in stories I report. Recently for Entrepreneur, I needed to sift through dozens and dozens of businesses that had appeared in all the seasons of the ABC show Shark Tank and determine which had been most successful after appearing on the show. ABC was useless. The Sharks’ PR teams weren’t helpful.

I could only get the answers I needed by asking the billionaire Sharks directly which of their investments had paid off the best — and I could only connect with most of them through the method you see here:

Yep — they responded on Twitter. Right away, too.

You can work this angle only if you know how to present yourself in a professional way in social media, and you have a presence there that feels legit.

I also got some top venture capitalists to answer my questions for my print book How They Started — but only by sending InMail to them on LinkedIn, or commenting on their personal blogs.

This is what new-media journalism looks like. Social media is already an essential reporting tool. It needs to be one in your arsenal.

How to get results in social media

What keeps writers from getting involved in social media? The fear that it’ll just be a big timewaster, and it won’t result in real clients or valuable connections.

But if you know what you’re doing, social media is a gold mine for freelance writers. You can use it source stories, find clients you might never connect with otherwise, and grow your income — all without having social media eat all your free time.

I’ve found amazing clients through social media — and later this week, I’ll be teaming up with other successful freelance writers to share our techniques for effective social media marketing.

Need to learn how to use social media? Join me for my upcoming bootcamp, How to Use Social Media to Get Freelance Gigs. It starts Thursday — four weeks of concrete, actionable strategies to find clients and build your social-media presence (with a free month in the Den thrown in).
How to Use Social Media to Get Freelance Gigs

  1. Great points made here – particularly the one about it not being easier later.

    ‘The gap won’t be smaller a year from now. So you want to get on this right away.’

    Like so many things, we are put off from starting things because we think that the task is too big or we’re too far behind compared to “everyone else”. All that type of thinking is doing is wasting precious time and energy that could be spent actually GETTING STARTED! Whether that means on social media, on making a living from writing or anything else for that matter. Thanks for a great article.
    Kirsty Stuart recently posted..Why You Should Quit Your Job and Become a Freelance Writer Instead

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Kristy –

      One of my favorite comments from Dear Abby would always come when people wrote to say their secret dream was to become a doctor, but they were afraid they were too old to start the 7-year path to the training.

      She’d always reply:”How old will you be in 7 years if you DON’T do it?”

      If there’s something we want to do, the smart thing is to go ahead and get started. ;-)

  2. I agree totally Carol, I’ve thought for a while that Social Media will become increasingly important to writers as a vital way to showcase skills and as a source of work producing content for site owners.

    I’m approaching this one from the other direction. As someone who came across the social media world fairly late on after a career in banking and commerce, I’ve found that it’s opened up a flair for writing that I never knew I had. I already have a ‘social media presence’ having established a fairly popular blog but changing the emphasis to promote my own services writing for others isn’t necessarily straightforward.

    So my advice would be for writers to get on with embracing the social media world without delay but to structure it in the right way from the outset so that it’s clear what you offer. Many thanks for your interesting post Carol, you have certainly given me much food for thought as to the best way forward!

    Tony
    Tony Hastings recently posted..Blog Like A Hobbit – 8 Blogging Tips From Frodo and Friends

  3. Amandah says:

    It’s important to pay attention to each social media website’s guidelines. I read an article on KISSmetrics about ghost banning on social media sites such as Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and others. Twitter will ghost ban you if you constantly self promote, if you post mostly links and no personal updates, if you post duplicate content on multiple accounts, and if a large number of people block you. Learn all you can about using social media and conduct testing. You may find that tweeting on a certain day, at a certain hour, works for you.

    Good luck!
    Amandah recently posted..One Simple Lesson Will Boost Your Non-Profit Organization’s Donations and Support

  4. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been one of those people who think that social media are a complete and utter waste of time.

    But just lately I’ve started to change my tune.

    If you want to get yourself and your work out there in front of a wide audience then there can be fewer easier ways than social media to achieve this.

    Only wish the penny had dropped sooner.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted..Get your website in shape for 2013 with these 3 New Year copywriting tips

    • Carol Tice says:

      I got a $14,000 account from a tweet I sent an editor…the thing is that social media is an opportunity to connect in a casual way to editors who might respond to you there, where maybe your query letter just gets lost in the email inbox. It’s really worth having it in your marketing arsenal.

      • Carol, gotta say that the tweets from my existing Twitter network are by and large just noise (although I did think I was quite picky about whom I follow).

        So it appears to me that, rather than occasionally following back those new followers that at least have a feed that’s vaguely half decent, I should be actively going out there and following those who actually know what they’re doing.

        So let’s just say that you’re just about to get another new follower.

        Maybe I’ll learn or thing or two.
        Kevin Carlton recently posted..Get your website in shape for 2013 with these 3 New Year copywriting tips

        • Carol Tice says:

          Hi Kevin –

          Well look forward to seeing you on Twitter!

          Sounds like you’ve figured out one of the key things on Twitter — you need to follow people you can learn from. Following back a bunch of random people gets you a tweetstream that is no earthly use to you.

          If you compare my following with followers list, they probably don’t overlap by 40% even. I follow who I NEED to follow, to learn, and have high-value stuff to share with my people. Which is now about 5% the size of my followers list, and shrinking. People follow me for the same reason — for the value of what I share, for their audience and their own learning.

  5. Chris Weigl says:

    Carol,
    Thanks for staying on top of matters critical to freelancing success. This social media bootcamp is just what I need! Your timing is perfect. Keep up the excellent work.

    • Carol Tice says:

      See you there, Chris! Can’t wait to get started — have some juicy stuff in the first session I’ve never shown anyone, including a sneak-peek at Technorati data on companies’ marketing spend for blogs & social media that they won’t release officially until February…that only give yet ANOTHER reason you want to get into social media.

  6. Carol,

    Your insights are right on with social media, and you might even have been more extreme when you said that by next year social network savvy will be required. I have found the same response from writing gigs – social connections on various platforms are required for this position. I think most freelance jobs now are already looking for your social connections.

    Equally important, we sometimes forget that blogging is a social network, and failure to maintain an awesome blog while freelancing is detrimental. Everyone wants to check out your blog, and there isn’t a better way to showcase your writing, and maybe tap into another revenue stream.

    Your article has awesome insights, and I appreciate it,

    Darin
    Darin L. Hammond recently posted..How the elite plan the new year

  7. I’m happy to say that I received your e-letter this morning with this advice column …. and coincidentally, two hours later, I had on the calendar a job interview with a potential client. This firm specializes in EXACTLY what you are describing!

    Before the interview, I studied their Web site. I looked up the co-owner and read the types of articles she’d written and the media. I studied what was important to them and drilled down into their company values and came up with questions about how I could help drive growth for them.

    When she called, I was more than prepared! I have the job, and she’s sending the first assignment a week from today. I discovered this opportunity online on Friday, applied for it Friday afternoon, got the phone call for the interview within the hour, received your e-letter Monday morning, had my interview at 11:30 a.m., and WHAM.

    DONE.

    THANKS!
    Heidi Lynn Russell recently posted..The 2013 Pledge to Start and Finish a Book

    • Carol Tice says:

      YES! This is why I write this blog. So excited to hear your quick-results story.

      Thanks for making what was already an exciting day — found out I won Top 10 Blogs for Writers! — into a REALLY exciting day. In fact, your news is MORE exciting than the win, because it’s what really matters.

  8. Phil says:

    Howdy Carol,

    Been reading your interesting messages for some time, and plan to join your site soon. As a clueless social media bum :-) ie. your target audience for this mail, I thought I might reply here.

    I’ve been working online since 1995, and have read 25 trillion words about social media, and they are almost all of the general nature you share above. Social media is amazing and awesome etc etc. Thus, I’ve not been sold on social media, and must honestly report I actually hate both Twitter and Facebook (though I LOVE forums).

    However, there was one sentence in your mail that will keep me reading…

    “I’ve found amazing clients through social media…”

    This reader would be receptive to a follow up article with that title, that dives in to the details of exactly how that happened. Not expecting you to share your client list, but a step by step story of how you got the jobs will be read with interest here.

    I admire your energy and hope to be learning more from you soon.

    Phil

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Phil — I’ve given a lot of specific details on Twitter and LinkedIn strategies in previous posts — take a look in the popular posts sidebar for a quick link to the Twitter one.

      This particular post isn’t focused on specific marketing techniques for any one platform…I’m talking trends and how important knowing social media is becoming, and fast.

      In the bootcamp I’ll be spending 4 entire HOURS discussing specific strategies, and reviewing actual profiles and social media posts for students…so tons more detail will be coming in the class.

  9. Yes! One of my biggest goals this year is to have over 4,000 likes and follows (separately). I’m checking out the writer’s den now :)
    Sarah L. Webb recently posted..Zora Neale Hurston Born and Read

    • But it’s not just for the numbers. I want to find people who feel like my writing resonates with them. To do that, I have to cast a wide net, because most of those people are probably outside of my current circle. That’s why I’m focusing on increased numbers. It’s a means to an end, not an end itself.
      Sarah L. Webb recently posted..Zora Neale Hurston Born and Read

  10. Erica says:

    Awesome post, Carol. (And congrats on having a top 10 Blog for Writers!) I’ve been using LinkedIn to get pretty good results over the years as a corporate copywriter. Now, it’s evolved into my centralized location for professional networking contacts and as a portfolio for my skills, history and professional testimonials. Handy dandy now that I’m a freelancer.

    As for Twitter, I can really relate to #1. I used to be intimidated but quite frankly, it’s not going to be easier tomorrow. So you may as well start today. Even the “gurus” started at the beginning.

    Something to consider…if you focus on following people you can learn from, your Twitter feed basically becomes a clean, centralized list of information resources.Less having to go directly to other people’s sites to track down new and interesting information. It comes straight to you. I love that.
    Erica recently posted..Readers and Writers: Two Sides of the Same People

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks Erica!

      And yeah, that’s exactly what I use my tweetstream for, as an information channel. If you build it right it can be very useful that way, as well as feeding you great stuff to share with your followers.

  11. Pinar Tarhan says:

    Social media works with resources and interview subjects because even the celebrities have understood why it matters. There are many actors/directors who either run their accounts themselves or run it to such perfection that it looks very personal – like a PR specialist couldn’t have done it.

    There are writers who snatched book deals from developing an insane amount of twitter followings (and their unique tweets.)

    I love it how it helps our careers by getting rid of the six degrees of separation all together.

    I have a few more things to learn & improve before snagging assignments via Twitter, though. :)
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted..6 Cliché Writing (Career) Tips To Benefit From

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