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freelance.stanford.edu – Jun 18-19 – Stanford University

The Tweets that Launched a Bestseller, and Other Ways Social Media is a Freelancer’s Friend

Freelancers: Tweet and Facebook Your Way to Jobs and a Devoted Following

By Kathryn Roethel

Freelance journalist and author Damon Brown said his morning routine has changed since Apple released the iPad in April.

"When I wake up in the morning, I get on my iPad from bed and go directly to Twitter to find out what people are talking about," he said.

With few exceptions, the 48 speakers at the Future of Freelancing Conference at Stanford University agreed that social networking – particularly Twitter and Facebook – are critical to surviving as a freelance journalist in the new era of journalism. These outlets help writers create names and brands for themselves and gain a following that will be attractive to editors and book publishers.

In fact, three panelists at the conference’s very first session tweeted from the stage and named each other in the tweets.

"It helps my audience feel connected to me and gives them a glimpse of what my real life is like," said Marci Alboher, author of One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success. Alboher is vice president of Civic Ventures and a blogger and public speaker. Her Twitter name, heymarci, was inspired by her career advice column of the same name. It is also her website URL.

"I don’t even pass out business cards anymore," she said. "Hey Marci is easy to remember, and my readers and followers have come to know me that way."

Throughout the conference, several other panelists told stories about their own experiences with social media and answered questions from the freelance journalists in attendance.

HOW DO I GET FOLLOWERS?

"Put your Twitter handle on your business cards, in the tagline of your emails and at the bottom of every single article you write," Brown said. "Also, follow writers who you admire. Many of them will follow you back."

Alboher added, "Eighty percent of my Facebook and Twitter friends are people in the media. I feel like we’re in an online virtual conference all day long. That is my water cooler."

"Twitter should be about a one-to-one ratio of followers to people you follow," added freelance writer Matt Villano. "Re-tweet what other people tweet. Interact. The more people you follow, the more people will follow you."

WHAT SHOULD I POST ABOUT?

"If you’re going to do it, you have to be pretty aggressive about it," said Dan Fost, a freelance writer and author of a recent book about the San Francisco Giants. "I have a friend writing the unwritten rules of baseball. Every day, something happens in a baseball game that relates to one of his unwritten rules, and he blogs about it. He’s establishing himself as an expert."

"Post about your latest work and where people can find it," said Scott Robson, vice president for MTV’s new movies initiative. "Get involved and respond to comments. Get people to see the work that you’ve done. It’s not shameless self-promotion. You’ve worked hard on it; you should be proud of it."

"I tweet my own work to let people know it’s coming," Villano added. "An editor might see that I just wrote a story on a topic, and he needs a story on that topic next week. It’s happened to me before. Social networking should be a part of a freelancer’s marketing budget. But don’t spend more than 10 percent of your time doing it."

SHOULD I MINGLE BUSINESS AND PERSONAL POSTS?

"I’ve given up a lot of the personal networking on social media," Alboher said. "If it’s too private to share with 1,000 Twitter followers, I’m not going to do it. If I Facebook about my dog, it often relates to my work. Like how my dog is sitting next to me doing something funny that interrupts my work."

WILL A SOCIAL NETWORK FOLLOWING MAKE ME ATTRACTIVE TO EDITORS?

"If you want more money for a story, you have to think about what more you can bring to the table," Alboher said. "If you have a devoted Twitter and Facebook following, can you mobilize them to read the publication you’re working for?"

Dawn Davis, an editorial director for Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins, cited writers who got book deals as a result of their Twitter and Facebook promotions.

"The Twitter page Sh*t my Dad Says was started by Justin Halpern in 2009. In less than a month, the feed was being followed by 500,000 people, received coverage in news outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times to Maxim. He’s now the sixth most popular person on Twitter," Davis said. "He already had his marketing juice when he came to the book publisher." HarperCollins won the book after a heated auction. "His book started at number eight on the bestsellers list, and now it’s at number one. "

Start engaging your readers before you even try to publish a book," Davis added. "Come to the publisher with some of your ideas for marketing and who you think your target audience is."

"I encourage everyone to put things out on Facebook, but remember that time is finite," said Sydney Trent, Style editor at the Washington Post. "All this technology doesn’t change the amount of time you have to reach a level of quality with your work, and it’s the quality that’s going to carry the day."