Social media is vital for freelance journalists to show their skills, make new contacts and become better known in their field. But how to strike the right balance between giving your work more visibility and obnoxious boasting? What platforms should you focus on and what content should you share with your followers to make the most out of your presence on social media?
According to ex-BBC journalist turned social media consultant Sue Llewellyn, freelancers need to start by asking the 5 Ws and 1 H and have a clear strategy for building their online presence. Ask yourself: Why am I doing it? Who is the audience? What do they need?
"Always check to make sure what you are sharing is accurate, readable, respectful, and not offending anyone," says Llewellyn. "As we used to say at the BBC, if you wouldn’t say on air, don't share it on social media."
When planning your personal social media strategy, make sure you are clear on what success means to you. If you are after a high number of followers, you may be on the wrong path. Llewellyn said that having the right type of followers and engaging with them regularly is far more valuable than having lots of random users following your account. Be proactive and friendly, start and join conversations, listen to what is being said but do not forget to set your boundaries.
Another thing to bear in mind is that each platform has a specific audience and popular topics. Instagram, for instance, is a good place for journalists who cover food, fashion, travel, and beauty stories. LinkedIn helps you find sources and stories about business and the world of work, while science and climate journalists, and those working in breaking news, will find Twitter the most valuable platform. Often it is more efficient to focus on one platform that is best suited to your goals, rather than having a scattered presence everywhere.
Freelance journalist Jill Foster says that, in addition to promoting her work, social media are also an essential tool for writers to find stories, case studies and experts.
"My Twitter feed is not all 'ME ME ME' or 'Here's my story - look at me!'. I chat to other people about stories in the news, I retweet other journalists or PRs or people I agree with (or sometimes disagree with) and I engage with them about humorous or interesting stories. I show my anger about issues, I am not too controversial but occasionally tweet something that I know will get a reaction. It’s about balance," she says.
Foster’s top platform is Facebook, where she co-manages a 20k-strong group FeatureMe! UK that posts media requests from British journalists seeking case studies. She said that this is a good place to share her stories, especially as often people from the group will have appeared in the features.
Angelica Malin, editor-in-chief at About Time Magazine finds Twitter and LinkedIn are the most useful platforms for building relationships and promoting her work.
"I've often got commissions off the back of a tweet that's had a lot of engagement and it's a good platform for discovering who the best contacts are at certain publications. LinkedIn can also be useful for getting more eyeballs on your work and regularly updating it is useful if you want to build more of a following around your work."
Malin encourages fellow freelancers to be proud of their work and share it to attract more commissions. Building a community around your work and having a niche as a freelance journalist will also help you stand out from others.
The flipside of using social media for work is FOMO and fatigue, as well as being exposed to online abuse. Sue Llewellyn cautions freelancers to take care of their mental health and assures that it is perfectly ok to take long breaks from social media. She also advises setting up boundaries and using time-saving tools like Twitter lists that will help you follow particular people or topics without needing to mindlessly scroll for hours.