Have you wondered if social media isn’t all just a big waste of time?
If so, I’d like to give you three reasons freelance writers need to start building a social-media presence right away — reasons you may not have considered.
The world of social media may seem like a fuzzy, timewasting mess from your point of view, but that’s not how it looks from the other side of the fence.
Both businesses and publications have already seen how marketing blog posts, articles, and white papers in social media can bring them new customers, subscribers, and sales.
And they’re hungry for more.
If you can bring social-media knowledge, it is going to be an increasing advantage in the years to come. If you don’t know how to use social media to build an audience, on the other hand, you may find yourself shut out of a lot of plum writing opportunities.
A year from now, social-media savvy won’t be optional for writers — it will be required.
If you’re not conversant in how to use the popular social media platforms, you will be out of the running for a lot of lucrative online writing gigs.
It won’t matter how brilliant and informed your writing is, if you don’t have the social piece of the puzzle.
Here are three important reasons to learn about social media and build your presence there ASAP:
1. It won’t be easier later.
I often hear from writers who say they feel hopelessly left behind.
They see people with 40,000 Twitter followers and give up. After all, you’ll never catch up, right?
This is wrongheaded thinking.
First off, you don’t need to catch up. I’ve been doing fine landing paid blogging gigs from when I had less than 1,000 followers on Twitter. Even a few hundred followers (net of the number of people following you) will help convey that you get how it works.
Second, every day you’re not starting to build your following, everyone else who’s already on social media is only getting smarter, and their audience keeps growing.
The gap won’t be smaller a year from now. So you want to get on this right away.
2. Demand is exploding.
For instance, I came across a piece from B2B marketing firm Rep Capital Media about content marketing trends. How do they advise companies fight back against Google search algorithm changes?
Better content — and more aggressive social media marketing. “Keep pushing for social shares on your content,” they advise.
Who will they be looking to hire? Talented writers who also know how to drive social traffic.
Every tweak of Google makes you more in-demand and valued as a writer with a social media audience.
Increasingly, your audition for an online writing or blogging gig includes your prospect taking a look at the size of your Twitter/Facebook/other social media audience.
Want to know the first thing Entrepreneur magazine asked me when I started blogging for them a few years back? “Can you retweet your posts?”
At the time, that question was novel. Now, it is increasingly commonplace, and no longer an afterthought, but part of the main deal.
For instance, here’s a recent ad we posted in the Freelance Writers Den‘s Junk-Free Job Board. (Editor’s note: The Freelance Writers Den no longer includes a job board because so few jobs met our minimum requirements.) It was from MarketWatch, a division of Wall Street Journal Digital Network:
“…looking for talented journalists in various disciplines, including: Top-flight reporters/analysts, editors and specialists in creating markets-based charts/graphics/tools. Do not send material if you are not demonstrably experienced and comfortable operating on multiple platforms and formats including social media as part of your job, blogging, and stand-alone writing or editing/producing.”
If you want to work for quality clients like divisions of the Wall Street Journal online, this is the skill set they want. The faster you build these skills, the more likely you can catch this train.
You can sit around whining and wishing for the days when all writers needed to know how to do was find a good story and report and write it, but those days are all but gone. I believe more and more job listings will look like the one above as the months roll along.
The number of markets that care about social traffic is only going to grow. More magazines will be migrating to online editions or creating exclusive online content — and they’ll be looking for writers who know how to write Internet headlines and drive traffic to those pieces.
3. You’ll need social skills to report stories.
If you are trying to interview any prominent person in the future for a magazine or ezine article — a movie or TV star, a business mogul, even a startup entrepreneur — email may not work.
People like this get 500 emails a day. And they often just delete them all. (It’s called ‘declaring email bankruptcy.’)
Their PR people may be an impenetrable wall of non-response.
You’ll be at risk of having your stories get killed if you can’t line up the sources you need some other way.
I’m already confronting this problem in stories I report. Recently for Entrepreneur, I needed to sift through dozens and dozens of businesses that had appeared in all the seasons of the ABC show Shark Tank and determine which had been most successful after appearing on the show. ABC was useless. The Sharks’ PR teams weren’t helpful.
I could only get the answers I needed by asking the billionaire Sharks directly which of their investments had paid off the best — and I could only connect with most of them through the method you see here:
Yep — they responded on Twitter. Right away, too.
You can work this angle only if you know how to present yourself in a professional way in social media, and you have a presence there that feels legit.
I also got some top venture capitalists to answer my questions for my print book How They Started — but only by sending InMail to them on LinkedIn, or commenting on their personal blogs.
This is what new-media journalism looks like. Social media is already an essential reporting tool. It needs to be one in your arsenal.
How to get results in social media
What keeps writers from getting involved in social media? The fear that it’ll just be a big timewaster, and it won’t result in real clients or valuable connections.
But if you know what you’re doing, social media is a gold mine for freelance writers. You can use it source stories, find clients you might never connect with otherwise, and grow your income — all without having social media eat all your free time.
I’ve found amazing clients through social media — and later this week, I’ll be teaming up with other successful freelance writers to share our techniques for effective social media marketing.