Nowadays, it's rare to meet a freelancer who's not on Twitter. Most of us have an account, and many of us hang out there in our free time. Sharing our lives, and glimpsing into the lives of others in bite-sized chunks of 140 characters is strangely compelling.
But how about using Twitter for your professional life?
In a new series of FreelanceSwitch articles, I'm going to show you how to make the most of Twitter as a freelancer. In particular, I'll be looking at how to use Twitter as a marketing and networking tool.
If you've yet to dive into the world of Tweets, I'll show you how to set up your Twitter account. If you don't get Twitter, I'll show you how to make sense of it.
I'll also be looking at what to Tweet about, how to record and understand Twitter metrics, how to grow your Twitter following and find clients on the network, using Twitter for research, and the dilemma every professional Tweeter faces: to schedule or not to schedule?
Before we get into that, it's worth deciding whether Twitter is right for your freelance business. Ultimately, you'll only find this out by trying Twitter for yourself. However, this article will serve as a handy primer to help you make your decision.
Twitter's a communications platform, which makes it suitable for marketing your services. But is it worth your while, and all the time and energy you'll invest?
Let's take a look, starting with the argument for Twitter.
Twitter Means Business
Twitter is not only a social platform; it's also a business platform. People don't only use Twitter to hang out with other people. They use it to meet customers, clients, business partners, employees and contractors.
You can use Twitter to engage with clients, find work and grow your freelance business.
Research has found that 42% of Twitter users log on to learn about products and services, while 21% use Twitter to make purchases (see slide 46 of this slideshare presentation).
Big name firms including Dell, Zappos and Sony have all used Twitter to drive revenue and profit. At the extreme end of Twitter success, freelance bookbinder Sue Green used Twitter to boost sales by 1000%.
It's perfectly okay to use Twitter with the aim of doing business. You can use Twitter to engage with clients, find work and grow your freelance business. You can also use it to network with other freelancers, find trusted referral partners, and find other freelancers you're willing to outsource to when your workload gets overwhelming.
That alone should make Twitter worth it for many freelancers. However, there are more advantages to hanging out on Twitter.
Twitter Means Learning
Twitter is an engine of knowledge. Interested in learning something new, or developing your professional skill base? Chances are, somebody, somewhere in the world, has Tweeted about it recently.
Simply type what you want to know about in Twitter's search bar, and you'll discover a wealth of knowledge and useful links. Twitter's big advantage is that it's human-powered, so you'll likely get more interesting and varied results than with Google. Its disadvantage is that it's time bound, so you'll only discover what's been talked about recently.
In addition, you can use Twitter to search for work, and research clients and prospects. You can scope out potential clients on Twitter to find out what help they need, and what their interests are before you contact them.
You can also use Twitter to gain insight into what your competitors are up to, allowing you to stay ahead of the game.
The Freelancer's Watercooler
A few year's ago, FreelanceSwitch ran a feature on 'Lonely Freelancer Syndrome'.
Despite all of the benefits of freelancing, one of the drawbacks is the lack of social interaction. Those who work in an office take for granted the moral and emotional support their colleagues provide during their chats around the watercooler.
Twitter - used in moderate doses - can be the freelancer's watercooler. Checking in to see the latest updates, replying to tweets from friends, and sending out an update or two provides a much-needed and meaningful connection with the outside world.
Yet great as Twitter is for finding clients, learning new things and hanging out with your peers, it's not all rosy.
Twitter's Dark Side
Twitter's a handy tool that's suitable for most freelancers. However, before you take the professional plunge into Twitter, there are a few potential pitfalls you should be aware of.
If you're prone to addictive behavior, or online procrastination, then you're best to steer clear of Twitter.
First, like all social media tools, Twitter is addictive. If you have a smartphone, Twitter is available pretty much anywhere and everywhere. Whether you're at the office, in bed, at a cafe, or reading in the library, Twitter is only a touchscreen away. Research has found that Twitter is harder to resist than cigarettes or alcohol. If you're prone to addictive behavior, or online procrastination, then you're best to steer clear of Twitter. The time you'll sink into Twitter constantly checking updates far outweighs the benefits you'll receive from networking.
Second, when using Twitter, beware of intermingling your personal life with your professional life. I recommend keeping your personal life personal. Twitter is public, so only share what you're happy for anyone to know - from your latest client to your Grandma. You never know who is watching. Confidence coach Steve Errey fell into this trap when a potential client emailed him. "I’m finding a real disconnect between writing about building confidence and your frequent references on Twitter to your drinking bouts," the prospect wrote.
It's also a good idea to decide ahead of time how far you're willing to go in sharing your religious and political beliefs on Twitter. Twitter has become a tool for social change - which is great - but it's worth asking yourself if you're happy to alienate certain clients for the satisfaction of promoting a political agenda. If you'd prefer not to mix work and politics (or work and religion), consider setting up a separate Twitter account for your political or religious tweets.
Third, Twitter is time-consuming. I don't buy the argument that it only takes 10 seconds to write a 140 character Tweet. Sure, the act of writing the Tweet only takes 10 seconds. But it can cost way more than that in lost attention. Log into Twitter to post a tweet, and you can find yourself pulled into a sticky, time draining web of conversation or interesting articles to read. Even if you're careful enough to avoid getting drawn in, you're still compromising your work performance. Research shows that it can take up to 25 minutes to recover from an interruption and get re-immersed into a work task.
Fourth, you should be sure Twitter is the right tool for you. LinkedIn is a better tool if you find most of your clients through connections in your current network. If driving traffic to your website is your aim, then you'll find Facebook - or even Pinterest - more effective for the time you invest. But if you want to connect with a diverse group of people you might otherwise never have met, or build a tribe of people who trust you without the effort of a full-size blog, then Twitter is your perfect match.
Though these problems are significant drawbacks, they're true of most social networks. What's more, most of them can be tackled using tools and apps I'll share in this Twitter series.
Put Yourself in Line for Twitter Success
Like all social networking tools, Twitter is not a catch-all marketing solution. It's one cog in your marketing wheel. Through Twitter you can connect with prospects, build trust, and pull potential clients into your marketing funnel. You can also meet other freelancers, learn new skills, and have a heap of fun doing so.
You'll still need to put in the marketing legwork elsewhere. But Twitter could make the long-walk to finding clients that little bit shorter.
Over to you. How do you use Twitter? Do you use it to market your freelance business? What have you found are the advantages and disadvantages of being on Twitter?