We all read articles about how important it is to market ourselves through social media.
I’ve been talking to successful freelancers to find out the realities of using social media for business and getting their tips for the best ways to network and promote their work. Here are 7 tips that will boost your social media effectiveness.
1. Develop a Social Media Strategy
Being clear from the outset on why you are using social media for business purposes will save you a lot of time and wasted effort in the long run.
What is the aim of your social media time? Are you trying to drive more potential clients towards your website, network with other professionals to make useful contacts, boost traffic to your blog, or raise your status as an expert? A social media strategy doesn’t have to be complicated, but it will help to keep this aim in mind when you are sharing information and interacting with other people.
Technology and consumer electronics writer Michael Kwan has created a strategy whereby he feeds links to all the new blog posts from his blog Beyond the Rhetoric to the various social networks to help improve its reach but says he is “careful not to tread too far into the realm of simply spamming my followers” by ensuring a good mix of other links and taking part in conversations.
2. Choose the Right Sites for Your Niche
Some social media sites may be better than others when it comes to the right fit for your freelancing profession or niche. Is your work visual or verbal? Think about the best way to represent your work, and don’t worry if you aren’t great with words: many sites are almost entirely image or video-based.
A social media strategy doesn’t have to be complicated, but it will help to keep this aim in mind when you are sharing information and interacting with other people.
Twitter is a great tool for sharing links with a large number of people, but Pinterest is good for showcasing images, and is very popular with artists, photographers, graphic designers and craftspeople. Similarly, Tumblr is a good way of sharing short snippets, quotes, images and videos, but is not the best medium for lengthy blog posts. Don’t forget YouTube and presentation-sharing site Slideshare: you can build active communities around these video-based sites too.
Freelance copywriter, blogger and illustrator Steff Metal has a Gothic wedding planning blog that she promotes using her Pinterest page. Although there is a link to her site for people wanting to find out more, the site is more about building a community using the visual inspiration from her work as an alternative wedding celebrant.
The boards are imaginative and engaging, with such themes as ‘Eldritch Edibles and Deliciously Dark Potions’, ‘Elegant Gothic Beauty’, or ‘Spooky Stationary’; in short, everything you could need to help plan your Gothic wedding. The site works because the images complement her work perfectly, and she has built up a good following who would no doubt think of her site when planning their own Gothic weddings.
3. Think Long-Term
A good social media strategy should be about community-building, not simply about broadcasting your message: that is a sure-fire way of turning people off. It’s not about the number of followers you have, but about the quality of your interactions, and building this sort of community takes time and investment of your effort.
Writer and blogger Sharon Hurley Hall is highly active on Twitter. She doesn’t think so much about short-term gains but about building relationships with other users based on mutual interests:
I might start a conversation with someone around a post I’ve shared, they might ask about my work and then months later they might suggest a project. It’s more about connecting and interacting with people.
4. Raise Your Profile
Social media is more than a tool for directing people to your blog or selling your product or services, it can showcase your expertise and involvement in your specialty. Having a large number of Twitter followers can impress clients or collaborators for future projects, and you can quickly reach a wide audience with your articles, videos and links.
It isn’t just potential clients who will be impressed by a solid social media following; it can open all kinds of doors for your career.
You can think of your social media accounts like an evolving portfolio of your work. “It’s about ongoing brand awareness and ensuring that my name and the services that I offer are always “out there” for clients to see,” says Michael Kwan. “By sharing some of the content that I have created for my existing clients and discussing some of the work that I do on my own blog, I help to elevate my status in the eyes of potential clients.”
It isn’t just potential clients who will be impressed by a solid social media following; it can open all kinds of doors for your career. Steff Metal recently obtained a book deal for a wedding planning book, largely because of the strength of her online following. “I can show clients (in this case, a publisher) that I am an expert in a niche (alt. metal. Gothic) and even if it's not a niche they work in, they can see that I know how to build an audience and keep them interested.”
If you are going to use your social media accounts as a portfolio of your work, it is important to realize potential clients and colleagues might look back through your history to get an idea of the sorts of things you post about. That means keeping in mind that everything you link to or comment on could be seen by people you want to make a good impression on.
5. Hang Out Where Your Clients Do
Do your research about a social media network before you commit time and effort to building your following there. If you are trying to network with potential clients or other useful contacts, it’s best to spend some time finding out which networks they tend to use. You may find that a smaller, more business-focused site like LinkedIn is actually a better platform for your niche, or else that Facebook is better for meeting fellow freelancers than clients.
Sharon Hurley Hall plans to spend more time on two sites in the future. LinkedIn, because it’s “more business oriented”; and Google+, “because I believe it will help my online visibility.” This sort of clarity can help you target your time on social networks and prevent them from becoming a time-sink. “If I had to do it again,” says Hurley Hall, “I’d probably concentrate on just a couple of networks where potential clients are instead of trying to be everywhere.”
6. One Size Doesn’t Always Fit All
It’s important to note that different sites can require different approaches and automatically setting your posts to appear on multiple sites can make you appear disengaged. It’s worth looking into the benefit of each site to understand how to use it so that you get the most out of your time there. For example, a strong Google+ presence can boost your search rankings, as well as give you a good local presence, if your customer base is drawn locally. Twitter can be great for speaking to large numbers of people at a time and sharing links, as well as using it for functions such as Twitter chat.
“If I had to give one piece of advice to people using these networks to improve their business, I'll recommend communicating in an individualized and friendly way. Don't use the prewritten request or replies but try to create a real contact with the people you're aiming to work with,” says freelance translator Celine Petit.
Steff Metal uses multiple social media sites, but engages with each one differently.
For me the biggest thing has been to understand who is using what social media platforms for what. For example, I find Twitter great for interacting with other bloggers and industry professionals – across a variety of industries – but Facebook is where all my fans are. Pinterest has been an amazing traffic resource for my wedding planning site, and that traffic converts into eBook sales because so many of the users are brides planning their weddings.
Understanding the benefits, audience and etiquette of each site is essential if you want to have a successful social media strategy.
7. Think of Your Social Media as Part of a Greater Whole
Michael Kwan considers social networking to be “an important part of the overall marketing strategy.” He has been approached by potential clients through his various social media channels, and says that for him social media is “about ongoing brand awareness and ensuring that my name and the services that I offer are always “out there” for clients to see.”
The theme of branding, and the role of social media within that, came up several times in my discussions with freelancers. It is important to have an identity, or a voice, that is recognizable and sets you apart from the competition. Your social media effort should reflect your professional persona more than your personal one, meaning that you remain business-like when you have public accounts.
You don’t have to make your posts impersonal, but be aware that potential clients could be reading your posts. Celine Petit has put her social media strategy at the heart of her marketing, believing in the importance of personal branding:
To improve my marketing, I'm learning a lot about personal branding, as I really believe in the power of good branding for freelancers. I'm convinced that knowing what you want and what you offer is a good way to build your perfect business.
Forming Meaningful Connections
And finally, remember that social media networking is very much like any other face-to-face networking. You don’t just walk up to people and start pitching; it can take plenty of small talk before you even start discussing business. But what is important to remember is that making connections with people should be your primary focus, not generating leads: people can smell that a mile off and will shy away from a hard sell.
Be interested in what others have to say and don’t worry about conversion rates or sales: networking is more about the quality of the conversation and meaningful connections than it is about shouting about your message.
“Don’t be a commercial,” Michael Kwan recommends.
By and large, people don’t want to hear you “sell” your services to them through social networks. There is nothing wrong with using social media to promote what you have to offer, but make sure that you really engage with your audience in a genuine manner and provide some real value to them. People are far more likely to do business with someone they like.