How to Stop Your Freelance Writing Career from Slipping into the Twilight Zone

Carol Tice

Have you picked up some new lingo recently?

Retweet. Blog. Hashtag. Friend. Like. New words, and old words with new meanings.

Freelance writers should pay close attention to these changes. Because words are powerful.

New words signal a shift in our culture. The way we communicate is changing — and I believe it’s going to transform how writers earn a living in the future.

What’s happening now reminds me a bit eerily of the old Twilight Zone TV series’ episode, “The Parallel,” in which an astronaut returns to find Earth is similar to — but not exactly like — the planet he left.

One notable change: He can’t read anymore, because the language has evolved in a different direction. His child has to teach him how to read again.

Otherwise, he’ll be left behind in a bewildering, familiar-yet-strange society.

This is where freelance writers who don’t know social media are right now.

There’s a new language that’s emerged, and a new way of connecting. If you don’t understand it, I believe you will soon find yourself in a parallel world — one where you will struggle to earn well.

Eventually, you may find yourself with a limited potential client pool, as social media spreads into every corner of media and business life.

A couple comments I’ve heard recently:

“What’s a hashtag, anyway?”

“My editor told me to send the related links with my story…what does that mean?”

When I see a blog-post headline like, “Another Day,” I know that blogger doesn’t understand Internet search and how important headlines are now.

What’s happening here?

Writers are getting left behind

These writers are slowly making themselves obsolete, because they don’t know how to communicate online.

I don’t tell you this because I want to scare you.

I want you to see this coming and get ahead of it.

Why you should learn about social media

Writers who aren’t on social media often tell me they don’t do it because they don’t get it. Where’s the payoff?

So here’s what social media has done for me lately:

  • One editor I found on Twitter last year assigned me ten $2,000 online articles.
  • I routinely locate hard-to-find sources I need by asking my network on LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • I connected with the founder of a major corporation (unreachable through ordinary corporate-PR channels) whom I urgently needed to speak to for a book gig by commenting on his blog.
  • I discovered business-finance sources I needed for one story no longer check email, and can only be contacted on Twitter.
  • A top blogger contacted me for a guest post after seeing one of my posts linked on Twitter, which led to several awesome writing opportunities.
  • I make $100 an hour training small business owners on how to socialize their blog posts.
  • I got lucrative blogging gigs for both magazines and businesses based on my social-media audience and knowledge of social-media promotion.

It’s already an advantage if you’re social-media savvy

But a year or two from now, you may be unable to develop queries and get the interviews you need for today’s online markets. Which are growing bigger and more lucrative all the time.

So if you haven’t already taken the plunge, get started and learn it. There’s plenty on this blog about Twitter and LinkedIn (even more here), and more all over the Internet.

Yes, it can seem intimidating when others have thousands of followers.

But I can promise you, it won’t be easier to start next year.

Are you active in social media? Leave a comment and tell us about how you use social media as a writer.

35 Comments

  1. Linda H

    I use Linked In a great deal and when I post blogs I use Twitter. I’m increasing my Facebook exposure and will be learning more about social media, it’s use and getting into it. FastCompany.com has been posting a multitude of articles on how fast our global business environment is changing, what consumers demand, and what is required now of all business people. This includes freelancers if we expect to move forward.

    Carol, your blog post is candid and filled with what matters. If it doesn’t drive writers to change, it should influence enough of us to follow our natural curiosity to see what you mean. Either way, marketing has changed and we all need to align with that change to stay afloat. Otherwise, we may end up like the Costa Concordia with holes in our hull and teetering on a ledge that drops to deep water from which recovery of our success will be much harder.

    Great post! Thanks for writing it.

  2. Cathie Ericson

    Loved this post. I have definitely seen the value of social media and am an avid user of FB and LinkedIn as well as a fun personal blog.

    I don’t do any of these specifically for networking (except LinkedIn of course) but have gotten jobs nonetheless from friends/readers who like my style.

    I will admit that while I have a Twitter handle, I have resisted diving in because I don’t want to be the newbie with only 5 followers. However, excellent point on it not ever getting any easier…Twitter is not going away (as I tell friends who have resisted FB, “If you want to know about my life, better friend me! I am not doing long emails as much as I used to”.)

    However, I think it was Dear Abby who once said to a reader who said expressed hesitation at going to medical school because they would be 50 in 5 years when they finished, “Well, how old will you be in 5 years if you don’t go?”

    So true! I willl still only have 5 followers the day I join…whether it’s today or next year. So, it might as well be today!

    • Cathie Ericson

      I’m in! Now I just have to figure out how to balance robust FB, LinkedIn and Twitter platforms. I am not a fan of content across sites; believe that they have different purposes. Already anticipating information overload but I am sure I will manage the juggle before long.

    • Carol Tice

      I personally don’t do a ton on Facebook to get clients…though I do use it to get out word about this blog. Sort of depends on what you’re promoting, but I don’t know a lot of writers who say Facebook is a big channel for getting clients for them.

      Yes, the info-overload is kind of crushing…but we all just need to suck it up and learn this stuff.

    • Debbie Kane

      Call me crazy but I find the social media stuff fun, even if I don’t understand how to use it all.

    • cathie ericson

      Right…for me Facebook is all fun and personal. I have some frients (friends/clients) but I still tell them to find me on linked in. I am quite irreverent on fb and just think it is best to have that line.

  3. Ronda Swaney

    I a tweet/retweet virgin, but I just tweeted your article. 🙂 I’m behind the curve on some social media, but I’m getting there as fast as I can. I love Google+ but not enough people seem to be playing along yet. I have been on board with LinkedIn for years. I haven’t gotten any work yet directly from my social media activity. So far, it’s mostly been a tool I use to convince prospects that I am who I say I am and that I’ve done the work that I told them I’ve done. I know I can use it better and make more conversions from it. That’s one goal for this year.

    • Carol Tice

      Yay!

      Stuff your LinkedIn profile with key words about what you do…helps people find you. Businesses do a lot of searches on LI for writers, I’ve found.

  4. jaebi

    Social media has been integral to my fiction and business writing. It’s a great place to bounce ideas off of the crowd, find inspiration and of course, promote.

    I actually ran a cohort of workshops to help other writers and authors make the most of social media and networking last year. It was fun and I didn’t reach nearly enough writers but so many of them don’t get why it matters or place much value on the entire process. After all, it isn’t selling. Reading your article gave me some more insight into this group and why my client list isn’t spilling over with more writers 🙂

    Guess I’ll settle for doing social media storytelling for businesses!

    • Debbie Kane

      Jaebi — I belong to a writers’ group and most of my cohorts are fairly serious journalists (former AP, Boston Globe reporters and a former journalism professor). NONE of them use social media to the degree that I do (and I don’t consider myself a whiz yet) and two are working on books. After listening to me drone on about it for a year — hey guys, I have a blog, hey guys, I’m on Twitter, hey guys you should tune into LinkedIn — they’re slowing getting it.

      BTW — that’s why I joined Carol’s Writers’ Den. Wanted to be around other writers who “get it.”

    • Carol Tice

      No kidding. That’s what I LOVE about paid membership community — you suddenly have a group of all the serious writers, instead of the annoying mix of qualified and total wannabes you see on LinkedIn groups (if you’ll excuse me). I still belong to A-List for blog monetizing learning, and I love it in there, too.

  5. Debbie Kane

    Thanks, Carol, for another timely reminder about how important it is to keep up with technology. I haven’t gotten any writing assignments yet through social media but I’m actively trying to market what limited social media skills I have. Now I have a topic for my next blog post!

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