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A Q&A about freelancers and social media

You'd think the relationship between freelancers and social media would be all hearts, flowers and expensive choccies. But it isn't. It's often love-hate, sometimes like-fear and sometimes hate-hate. So, which social media channels work best, why, how and to what extent? Don't worry; we'll tell you. What follows is a Q&A ménage-à-trois: Tiffany Markman, Jo Duxbury and you. Enjoy. And please pass the choccies.
Tiffany Markman & Jo Duxbury
  1. To what extent does social media generate actual money for freelancers?

    Tiffany Markman: For me, it hasn't. At least, not in ways I can quantify; eg "That Twitter contact got me this jobbie..." But being noisy-ish on social media channels keeps me front-of-mind where grammar, language and related issues are concerned, so I get asked to do other nice things, like judge writing competitions, go on radio, go on TV, review beauty products, review movies.

    And who knows how many of my high-end clients found me on Twitter initially and then visited my website or gave me a call?

    Jo Duxbury: I need to learn how to get those fringe benefits, Tiffany! I agree that social media is often more about letting people know you exist, than being a sales pipeline. You could be very aggressive about, say, following all mentions of the word "freelance" and @ messaging whoever tweeted it. But that's more likely to annoy people than get you work.

    However, having a relevant, consistent presence on social media can keep you front-of-mind and is something clients will judge you by when Googling you.

  2. Can you be yourself on Twitter or should you toe the professional line?

    TM: I'm careful about this, but not as careful as I used to be. In the beginning, I only tweeted work stuff. Then, when I was pregnant, I wanted to be able to tweet baby stuff too, so I opened a protected account. Now I couldn't be bothered to split the two sides of my personality, so I only use the one.

    I don't swear ("kak", "bollocks" and "damn" are not swearing) and I try very hard not to say inappropriate or risqué things. Unlike Jo, who is far more restrained, I do occasionally rant about (the crazy 5% of my) clients, using #hitiffany - but it's a bit like caffeine addiction; I just can't stop.

    JD: Well, I'm not always that restrained - I have had a good Twitter rant or two about my bank and Telkom. But I'm very aware that, when potential clients research me online, my Twitter stream comes up. Clients are going to consider the personality of a freelancer they hire, as well as the quality of her work.

    It's good to let your personality shine through, but keep it professional. I never say anything on Twitter that I wouldn't say to someone's face. If you bitch about someone, your potential client might think you'll slag them off next. If it's NSFT (not suitable for Twitter), take it into private email. You don't want to leave that little 'd' out of your tweet by accident.

  3. Does anyone actually use LinkedIn to make professional contacts IRL?

    TM: Everyone who has ever contacted me via LinkedIn under the pretext of making professional contact has wasted my time. I have a profile there because I feel like I have to, but I've never really used it. Or benefited from it. As far as I can tell. I'm also super-lazy about filtering the people I link with. Naughty me! #MustmimicJo

    JD: Tiff - it sounds like you need to be more discerning! I've had some really nice reconnections with former colleagues on LinkedIn. None have resulted in work yet, but I do find it a useful networking tool. Before Twitter-LinkedIn delinking, announced on Friday 29 June 2012, I used to link my Twitter feed to my LinkedIn profile and often got responses from non-Twitter contacts, which was interesting.

    I don't connect with strangers (I've heard that some people accept invitations from anyone to build a list of people they can market to - perhaps it serves a purpose).

  4. How much time should you spend updating your various feeds or accounts?

    TM: Not as much as I should, especially where my tiffanymarkman.co.za blog, book review blog and mommy blog are concerned. But recently my team and I have dedicated one morning a week to updating the site and the blogs, updating Facebook and managing our newsletter database. I tweet about five times a day, in 'dead' time (while waking up, waiting in queues, sitting in reception areas, drinking my coffee).

    JD: There's no rule about this. Far more important: post or tweet when you have something to share that will interest your audience. Your dilemma about cheese or ham on your sandwich has limited appeal. It's about quality, not quantity. And don't RT (retweet) compliments - that's just arrogant. My professional blog is updated pretty infrequently (usually when I've had articles published), but my team and I do make sure we add interesting content to the Freelancentral site and Facebook page a few times a week.

  5. Are there any don'ts for Facebook? When does it work? When doesn't it?

    TM: For me, Facebook is a way to keep friends and family - particularly those overseas - in touch with my life. I don't use it for work, although I do have minimally populated Facebook page for my business. I write regular columns for portals, websites and other platforms, so Facebook is probably a good way to aggregate these, but I've not done this yet.

    Incidentally, my personal Facebook account has a pseudonym; I don't really want clients examining my holiday pics.

    Note: If I were a photographer, a graphic designer or an illustrator, Facebook would be a MUST.

    JD: Agreed. I keep Facebook for friends and use Twitter and LinkedIn for work. If you're thinking about a Facebook page (note: not profile) for your freelance business, spend time working out why you think that is the best platform. What sort of content are you going to post, and how often? (Visual freelancers have an advantage here.) What kind of effort will you need to make? Your content must be regular, consistent and relevant to your audience.

    I spoke to someone who couldn't understand why his building supply company's page only had 12 fans (all employees). Because nobody is interested in roof trusses and cement when they're on Facebook - they're looking at their friends' holiday photos. Context is really important.

  6. Do I need to blog/tweet? It sounds like a lot of hard work, for no money. Is it?

    TM: In terms of blogging, if you're trying to market yourself as a freelance writer in particular, or a freelance creative in general, you have to blog - or, at the very least, contribute free articles to popular sites. How else is the world supposed to a) know you exist and b) get a taste of what you can do?

    In terms of tweeting, you'll come across as very outyds if you admit that you're scared of Twitter. For years I used it to consume news, rather than to say stuff. And that's okay. Do with it what you will.

    JD: A blog is a great way to showcase your work (think of it as a constantly-updated portfolio) - and your personality. It can also connect you with a whole online community. On your own blog, aim for at least one post per week but make it good - and short, and preferably visual. A client might not find you via your blog, but if they hear about you another way, they will probably Google you. If this leads them to a well-run blog, they're more likely to pick up the phone.

    I disagree with Tiffany about tweeting - while it can help raise your profile, it's not for everyone. Often, clients are not even on there; it can be a bit of a social media professionals' echo chamber at times. And if you are not desk-based, rather focus on a weekly blog post that's more 'sticky' for search engines than a handful of tweets.

  7. Should I put my portfolio on YouTube?

    JD: If you're a visual freelancer, then this could be a great idea. If you're in film or animation, then a showreel on YouTube is a must. Don't just leave it on YouTube for people to find though - link to it from your blog, Twitter bio, email signature, etc.

    Wherever you're promoting yourself online, cross-link to your other online properties. If you're a designer, a YouTube video of your work could also be amazing, if you get creative about how you produce it. Hey, even writers can have fun with it. Again, make sure your personality and professionalism come across.

    Visual freelancers might also want to think about Pinterest - it's potentially a wonderful platform to get your work out there. But my sense is it'll deliver awareness, rather than leads.

    TM: Never mind YouTube; as a writer, I don't even have a hard copy portfolio. This is largely because a) I've done so many different jobbies for so many clients over the years, b) the clients/agencies never give me copies (digital or otherwise) of the finished products, even when I nag them and c) I've signed non-disclosure agreements with many clients, for whom I produce internal comms copy.

    So, when a prospective client asks to see sample copy, I refer them to the client list on my site and ask them to identify companies whose work they'd be interested in seeing. Then, I ask the clients' permission where necessary and email that specific copy through.

A final word


Start with one channel. Don't leap into a Facebook page, and a Twitter account, and a LinkedIn profile, and... and... and... all at once.

Chances are you'll find it overwhelming and will neglect them all. Pick one - the one where you think you're most likely to find clients - and give it decent time and attention for, say, six months. Then assess whether it's been all hearts, flowers and expensive choccies - or tears, angst and tumbleweeds. You'll have a good sense then of whether or not you're ready to add another social media platform to your marketing toolkit.

Good luck!

About the author

Tiffany Markman (www.tiffanymarkman.co.za) is a highly opinionated freelance copywriter, copy editor and writing trainer who has worked for over 180 clients in South Africa and across the world. She is an EMPOWERDEX-certified EME who hates misplaced apostrophes and dangling modifiers but loves pizza and pina coladas. Reach her anytime on , follow @tiffanymarkman on Twitter and sign up for her newsletter.

Jo Duxbury has been providing a platform for marketers to find over 4500 industry freelancers since she launched her company, Freelancentral, in early 2006. January 2010 saw her launch Peppermint Source, which offers a full outsourced marketing strategy and management service to companies that don't have the time, skills or staff to handle their marketing themselves. Follow @JoDuxbury on Twitter.
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