You probably hear the same tired old advice that I do: social networking is where the money is! You've got to get your tweets twittered, your face booked, your tumble tumbled! You've got to get out there, everywhere; don't miss the chance! And if you're like me, you probably signed up for more than your share of accounts with good intentions that were quickly abandoned. You can't be everywhere, so where do you focus?
There are lots of options to choose from: Twitter, Dribble, Forrst, LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr, the list goes on and on. Large corporations seem determined to cover their bases-there's a new CNN account each week, according to whichever service is in vogue. Just as quickly, old accounts on services are ignored and forgotten, caught up in the wave to be active on the Next Big Network.
Don't do this. Please.
Rather than slavishly signing up and littering your site with social icons to show you're connected, take the time to think about which social service is right for you and the most efficient use of your time and your clients' time. Things to consider:
Why do I want to join in? There are many virtues and positives to engaging with your clients, fans, or prospects on a social level, but you have to know your goal going in. Do you want to drum up new business? Associate with other experts in your field? Promote your latest product? Your goals here are going to shape your intended audience, what service to use, and how to deliver that content.
Who do I want to reach? As an experienced freelancer, you probably already have a very good idea of who your typical client is. Are you looking to further engage your typical client, or are you targeting a new, untapped market who might need your skills? Or are you communicating with fellow professionals? Pick a venue that will best target your ideal audience. Which leads us to!
Where are my readers already? So you've identified that you want to target a new source of clients-stay at home moms who frequent Facebook. Then why lose time building up your Forrst profile? Forrst is a fantastic service for communicating with fellow designers, but non-designers or average businessmen will likely never see it. Research the characteristics of different communities. If possible, ask your clients or representatives of your audience where they spend most of their time. Go where your clients are.
What do I want to share? Every social network is geared towards a certain kind of content. While many services will allow you to include multiple types of media in your updates, usually the service can only feature one or two types well on a consistent basis. Twitter excels at short, instantaneous bits of text. Tumblr excels at multimedia photos and videos. LinkedIn features your publications and accomplishments. Also consider the tone of your content: Facebook followers are going to expect a much more casual conversation than LinkedIn professionals.
How much time do I have to devote? Participating in any one of these social communities is going to require some kind of time commitment. Do you have several five-minute increments through out the day, or is a single block of an hour a week better? Can you respond instantly to a follower or should they expect a delay? Select a service that works with your schedule.
Start by getting out a piece of paper and answering each of the questions we walked through above-don't think too hard about it, just an idea or two for each one will suffice. For example, I'm a designer that needs to expand my local client pool, so here's my answers to get you started:
Why do I want to join? : I have a few steady gigs, but I'm looking to secure my income by finding more professional contacts. I'm also tired of building mom and pop designs, so I'm looking for more web-savvy clients.
Who do I want to reach? : I like to work face to face, so I want to get in touch with local businesses with a web presence that are relatively savvy about technology.
Where are my readers already? : Here's where I do significant research. Not only do I check out my local Chamber of Commerce to see who's active or part of any web-related projects, but I also look for savvy organizations in my area. I'm in Omaha, so I find out there are great communities and organizations like Silicon Prairie, BIGOmaha conferences, and various leading edge web agencies. (Bonus: collaborating with agencies for leads was a business idea I hadn't thought of before doing my research!) Turns out, the members of all those organizations tend to have a pretty strong presence on Twitter. A lot may have accounts on Facebook or Tumblr, but Twitter seems where it's at for local web-savvy businesses.
What do I want to share? : I want to earn credibility with the technology businesses and entrepreneurs in town, so I want to share my professional knowledge and exciting projects I've completed. I also want to get to know key players personally and drive more eyes to my portfolio.
How much time do I have to devote? : I'm a busy lady, but I'm also always plugged in. I can probably fit in a few minutes here and there through out the day.
Your Answers Are Your Focus
After answering those questions, you should know a lot more about how to reach your ideal clients and where you should focus your energies. For me, it looks like Twitter is the best tool to reach local web gurus. When you've picked your ideal social network, keep focus with a few general tips:
Make it a homebase. Keep that social network at the core of your on-line activities. If you complete a new project or achievement, make sure it's updated. Be responsive and active in the community-you're not just there to follow the latest trend any more, you're setting up a digital homebase.
Set the pace. Know how often your target followers, friends, or fans will expect you to participate in order to be considered an active member. Some networks will expect more or less updates, so set your pace accordingly.
Set the tone. For Twitter, it will be important for me to be personable, friendly, and actively respond to comments and replies in a casual tone. For more professional networks like LinkedIn, you may be better off with a more formal tone.
Provide value. Different social network communities will value different things, but no one wants a mute or a mimic. Don't just echo or repost what's popular. Take the time to watch conversations and see what gets people excited and figure out what you can uniquely contribute.
Reach out. Don't wait for admiring fans and accolades from the community to come to you-reach out and get involved. It can be as simple as commenting, talking to people, or answering a question.
Keep it up! Above all, be consistent with your schedule. You need to meet the expectations of the community in the way you interact, whether that's updating every hour, day, week, or month. It's not enough pick the right network and create an account-focus requires engagement over the long haul.
Find Social Network Focus is an excerpt from Freelance Confidential, an authoritative guide to growing your freelance business, written by Amanda Hackwith and now available from Rockable Press and Amazon. Get more tips for reaching clients and learn more about Freelance Confidential: http://www.rockablepress.com/books/freelance-confidential
Digital download of pdf/epub/mobi:http://rockablepress.com/books/freelance-confidential/
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