Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Penny J. Leisch
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This article addresses the most popular social media sites as of 2010. The sites, the ownership of the sites, and the features available change with lightning speed. My goal is to help you use these new tools to further your writing goals. Therefore, I'll explain the advantages and disadvantages, as well as a bit about how to market in these venues, after we talk about what these sites do. For instructions, there are plenty of how-to articles and each site offers a tutorial, but I'll list a couple in the resources too.
First, you need to know that all writers who use this form of advertising and networking are your competition. I recently read about a company that only tweets their jobs. They do it to lower the number of applications they receive. You can be one of the people who get a shot at that job.
Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter allow an individual or business to set up a profile. Think of each profile as a mini-website. These services provide tools that allow you to limit who sees your information (called privacy controls), who may contact you, how they contact you, and how much information you share. The biggest challenge for newcomers is that you must define your purpose for the site to be effective.
First, let's talk about each site and what they offer, as well as how they differ.
Facebook is a hybrid of personal and business users with over 300 million users (SiteProNews, October 9, 2009). According to Alexa.com, it's the third most trafficked site in the world. It's also the number one social network (Nielson.com). If you want exposure, you can get it here. Set up a basic account and a great profile, at the very least.
The demographic is primarily 35 years old and up (Facebook.com), with high incomes: 51% over $75K and 33% over $100K annually (Jayde 2009); people now spend three times more on Facebook than on Google (Jayde 2009). That's a lot of market potential, and it's an international market! I bet those folks with $100,000 annual incomes can afford to hire a writer to help with their memoirs, newsletters, and resumes.
This website appeals more to professional and mature audiences than MySpace, partially because the format is cleaner and easier to navigate. It's designed to allow people to communicate through messages, posting to the wall -- which is like a bulletin board -- sharing photos, news, blogs, and more. There are also fun features, like sending flowers or hugs, to customers, friends, and family.
Business users also add personal touches to their sites. They use logos showing charities the business supports, company picnic photos, and good PR news. It's very important to check the privacy settings carefully though. You'll quickly annoy friends and family if you send every update to the entire list. It's also not a good idea to send your boss a note that says you sent flowers to your girlfriend or applied for another job. These risks are good reasons not to mix business and personal use.
MySpace earned its fame among the teens and college crowd first, as did Facebook. However, Facebook evolved, and the primary users are now older. MySpace still has a lot of wild, sometimes offensive, content. This may be encouraged because MySpace allows anonymity, which the others don't. Who needs to be anonymous to contact friends or run a business? MySpace statistics show steady decline (over 55% decline in traffic between 9/08 and 9/09, Experian Hitwise). Most sources I checked give it only a quick mention.
Some businesses focus on MySpace because they have a strong market among a specific demographic that hangs out there. For example, this is a great place for an author of popular teen books, but it may not net much for a CPA. MySpace is available in twenty languages, and it's still the largest networking site in the U.S. Therefore, there may be added value here if you work in multiple languages.
Parents and employers sometimes maintain accounts for the sole purpose of keeping an eye on kids or employees. Other individuals and businesses use it solely to have a presence on all major social media, as I do. The ease of use has improved, but it's still not as clean as the others are. It's also not rated as favorably for business use as Facebook or LinkedIn. If you are just starting out, minimize the time spent here or skip it, unless you have a clear connection to the under 25 audience.
This is the most respected and widely used site for business networking. LinkedIn is where you share ideas and get answers to questions from professionals that you'd never meet any other way. Industry specific professional groups help each other through advice, resources, referrals, and more. Plus, employers post jobs and recruit here.
LinkedIn isn't a fast-track to becoming an executive editor at Random House, but it is good exposure that can be focused on your specialty. People get to know you through discussions. They learn about you and your expertise when you answer questions for others by responding to a discussion. Again, it's about others and earning the respect of others in your network who can make referrals.
In addition, customers and employers can post public recommendations on your page, and you can see when people in your network change jobs or location, which helps you maintain a current network with viable contacts. Your network can be as wide or narrow as you want to work to make it.
Because of my LinkedIn profile, I netted a job offer from one of my husband's connections. A former co-worker of his is starting a small business and had no idea that I write professionally. Once that became known, I got an email asking if I would edit their website content. I accepted, and two more projects followed, with more to come.
The Twitter phenomenon is still relatively new. It's really a micro-blogging site, and it grew by 1,928% from June 2008 to June 2009 (Nielson.com). It is now the fastest growing social network in the world.
One resource, istrategylabs.com, states that 46% of Twitter users are college graduates, and 31% are between the ages of 35 and 49, with use roughly equal between males and females. According to TechCrunch.com, the 50 millionth unique visitor arrived in July 2009. That's a lot of potential exposure.
The purpose is to create awareness of your presence. Messages should provide helpful tips, entertain, or inform your target market. Yes, there are spammers and hookers here too. It's easy to block the undesirable element though. The big no-no is blatant self-promotion. Like all customer-oriented content, it's about them, not you.
The short message format is also the ultimate test of your ability to get to the point, which isn't a bad thing to practice. You build a following by offering information that people want, solving problems, and engaging in useful conversation, not by promoting your work ad nauseum. There is an amazing amount of good research information available by doing simple searches too.
Two job offers appeared within the first week after I set up my Twitter account. First, I searched for writing jobs and followed them. Second, I tweeted daily. I tweeted a couple of writing tips, a coupon for a discount on resumes, a new blog entry, and an entertaining quote pertaining to writing.
One day, I received a DM (direct message) from a manager asking if I'd be interested in writing for her company. She had visited my website and seen my writing on other sites. We exchanged e-mail addresses, and a contract followed. The other employer tweeted a job that I saw because I was following writing jobs, and I replied. Many of the jobs posted are SEO [search-engine optimization] content writing and bid-for-work sites. However, there are agents, authors, writers, individuals, and businesses online. Any of them may need a writer or may be looking without advertising. You can easily maintain a presence and monitor your account with simple management tools.
I only spend a couple of hours each week managing my accounts. In fact, the time people spend on Twitter is declining now that the novelty is wearing off. That may bode well for the content becoming leaner and more meaningful.
And How Many More?
Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn are only a few of the social media sites for business networking. They are in the top five used in the U.S. There are over one hundred others, including Naymz, Fast Pitch, Ryze, and Biznik. Nexopia is among the most popular in Canada, and Friendster is a very popular site in Asia.
Some sites focus specifically on one industry. Others attempt to create a niche and eliminate annoying features. They may screen posts more carefully, eliminate advertisements, and/or charge for membership. I get an invitation at least once a week from someone who wants me to join a new networking site. Just settle on one or two top sites and don't try to cover all the bases. You'll save valuable time and your sanity.
Using Social Network Sites
Think of anything on a networking site as public information. If you wouldn't share the information with your boss or your grandmother, don't put it on a website that's open to the public. There are privacy controls that allow you to limit access. However, we are talking business here, and you won't get business by hiding your profile.
A recent article I read says that 56% of employers say hiring decisions are affected by what an applicant puts on social media sites (SitePro News). This is of significant importance to writers, since many writers have other full time jobs. Have you Googled your name lately? You should check to see what's out there occasionally to protect your image and your work. For example, I used to use Penny's Pen. A search of that term brought up a website about a pet pig. Hmmm. Apparently, it was a very popular pig.
Brian Solis of Future Works, a Silicon Valley PR firm, performed a social media gender study and found that women outnumber men by a minimum of 5-15% on most social networking sites. If women are your audience, social media is where you want to market. How you market in this arena may not be as obvious. In real life and in online marketing, customers don't usually hang out with your peers.
What types of activities engage your ideal customer? Do you write about finance? High net worth clients may be in philanthropic or investment groups. Find a reason to be there. Are you a printer or publisher? Get in front of marketing professionals. Are you a resume writer? Join job search forums and networks where people actively search for jobs. Then, participate in discussions, start discussions, and offer tips to show your expertise.
It's not necessary to advertise everything on every site. Focus on the purpose of each site. Use Facebook to advertise classes, teleclasses, products, services, or webinars. Try to offer some free incentives. To do business-to-business advertising, post workshops, meetings, conferences and articles on LinkedIn. Search for groups of potential customers that need to be aware of you and join them. Tweet short tips and useful information.
Another thing that builds visibility and credibility are discussions on LinkedIn. Start one. Not only do you learn a lot and gain visibility, you get a wealth of information. I asked the members of several LinkedIn groups this question, "How many of you are using Twitter? Are you networking with others or connecting with customers? Do you have more than one account for different purposes? Tell me your experiences and strategy." I received fifteen responses at last count. Everyone openly shared information. One Freelance Success member tweets twice a day about her editing business and books and tweets occasional social comments. She states that she gets some referrals to her website from Twitter, but more from LinkedIn. She keeps Facebook for personal use to connect with friends and former co-workers.
Another writer from the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA) group has used Twitter for about a year and states she has landed a few projects, but she uses it mostly to learn about her industry, "like my own online library of resources."
What else can you do? You can pitch a job to a journalist that followed you back on Twitter. You can share a link with valuable writing tips. You can build your personal brand and create an image that makes you approachable and human.
This is especially important for writers who mentor other writers or teach lifewriting skills, because personal stories are always a sensitive topic. You can even do advanced searches to find people in your area to network with in person. Don't be intimidated. Just take it one step at a time.
LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook
Basic accounts are free on all of these services, and it's easy to set up a profile by following the instructions. All offer a variety of controls that allow you to decide which information you want to show the public.
For example, you may want to display your state of residence but not your birth date. Remember, don't include too much personal information, such as a home phone number, home address, or photos of your kids and where they go to school. Save those things for a site restricted to family.
On the other hand, if you want to do business, you have to accept some form of contact. If you elect only to accept contact through the message feature on that site, you must also remember to log in regularly. Most sites forward email from the site to your personal email if you wish.
Gmail or Yahoo email accounts can provide an extra layer of privacy, but you must remember to login and check them. Originally, I had a mail store mailbox for snail mail, because I work out of my home and posting street address on the website increases business. However, I have so little need for business snail mail that I closed the box last year. Your type of work and clientele should guide your choices.
Be consistent and decide what you want to emphasize before you set up profiles. Business people need to be accessible and personable, without being naive and vulnerable. That's a fine line to walk in the world of the Internet. However, it's a proven fact that a photo can increase sales by 50%. You must be real. Before you set up accounts, pick a photo, write a tagline or short description, decide on several different login and password combinations you like, and draft a statement that describes you, your accomplishments, and your services.
In addition, some password systems don't allow you to use your first name, two letters in a row, or your email address. You may have to come up with one that fits the site specifications. Remember to write all of them down.
Don't use the same login and password for every social media website, and don't select one you use for personal banking or logging into your blog. If a company has a security breach, that could leave you vulnerable in other areas. Once you have all of this information together, you are ready to create an account and build a profile. Select groups and contacts based on what you want to accomplish. If you are an author who wants to get to know publishers, follow publishers; join publishing groups, post messages about what you write and how you build your platform. If you work in publishing and want a new job, your messages could be tips you've learned in the trade with subtle information about your accomplishments.
Compliment others on their blogs, websites, and successes too. Those entries create an awareness of your presence that can result in referrals and work later.
Twitter's profile is limited to 256 characters. With this limit, you definitely want to draft the profile before you set up your account. It must be highly focused to fit and be effective. There are limits in the communication format too.
Your message is a tweet. Tweets have a limit of 140 characters, and your followers are called tweeps. You can also send and receive a direct message, called a DM. The idea is to follow people in your industry and in subject areas where you want to gain information or contacts, e.g., This Old House for home renovation tips. Tweeting is where you gain real visibility.
Most people you follow check your profile to decide whether they want to follow you back. That makes them aware of you. The exception is companies. They usually follow back automatically or not at all. While there is a convention that says, "If someone follows you, you follow them," don't take that too literally. We don't all need real estate in San Francisco or a daily update from the BBC in London.
The easiest way to read and manage Twitter is by downloading free software called TweetDeck, which consolidates the messages in one window that's organized in four sections that are easy to scan. For tweeting, the free management tool I use is SocialOomph (formerly TweetLater). This program allows me to monitor mentions of my profile, and it lets me set up tweets in advance, which is essential when I need concentrated time to write. It also allows me to generate a daily digest email of specific people or subjects that I want to watch.
There are tons of paid upgrades available for all of the services, but there isn't any need to pay. The free services work fine. One other caution is to be very sure of the meaning of any shortcuts or abbreviations you use. Many text terms have multiple meanings that can lead to great embarrassment. A good source of clarification is the Urban Dictionary at http://www.urbandictionary.com/
Of course, there are disadvantages too.
People sometimes complain that too many of the group messages on LinkedIn are spam. It is true many people don't follow the guidelines, and some marketing gurus advocate for breaking the rules. Many new users follow these "gurus" blindly. Once you see how annoying it is, you'll understand why it's not a technique to use to build relationships for freelancers and small businesses. You can always drop an annoying group.
One means of control is to set up mail sort folders. Send group emails to a separate folder that you read at your convenience or on a set schedule, such as Tuesday and Thursday. That way those messages don't clutter your inbox, and you don't waste time. It's easy to scan quickly through the headings to see whether you've received a DM or an email from an individual that may need attention sooner.
Beyond the Basics
You've set up your account, navigated through the basics, and you're at least familiar with moving around on the sites you've selected. Now, it's time to talk about how to build your contacts and how to use these sites to build your business.
The first thing to understand is that this is a part of marketing yourself as a writer. It's not a magic job magnet. I've read the articles where the author announces instant fame and a book contract within weeks, but that's not what happens for most people.
On the other hand, a writer who doesn't learn to market online loses many opportunities. More and more people search online for all of their services from doctors to carpet cleaning. You don't have to be an Internet guru, but you need a presence.
When you set up multiple sites that describe your work and your services, the consistency of those descriptions establishes your brand. In marketing, it is said that a customer has to see an ad seven times to remember it. Plus, all of these sites provide an opportunity to link back to your main website too.
Use your website name or your name to customize the link (for example, facebook.com/pennyleisch). Select whichever name you use to do business, if it's available. You can further solidify your brand by selecting colors that are consistent with your website. Unless you are a programmer, you might not have a perfect match, but you'll have a consistent image on the sites that offer color options.
Next, it's time to start selecting groups to join on LinkedIn. You also need to find people to connect with on Facebook and MySpace, and people or organizations to follow on Twitter. Of all of these, Twitter seems to be the most confusing to novice users, and I understand why. Hash tags (#), address signs (@), abbreviations (U, R, 2, etc), and unique things like follow Friday (FF) make it look like alphabet soup or a kid's coded message.
Give yourself time and find a good tutorial. If you have a friend that is already tweeting, watch and ask questions. It isn't hard. It's just new and different. This article explains what these tools are and how to benefit by using them. There are many very well done systematic tutorials available to teach the rudimentary skills. If the first one you try isn't easy to understand, try another. Two good ones are listed below.
Now, go have fun and try something new.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Penny J. Leisch is an independent writer. Her work appears in newspapers, magazines, online, and in two Cup of Comfort anthologies. She also wrote Writing & Photography: A $Winning$ Combination. You can learn more about Penny at http://www.pennyleisch.com. She has profiles on MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook.