Social media, you guys. It’s something to love, something to complain about, and something that a freelancer can and should use to build up their client base.
The thing about social media, though, is that you can’t just frolic into it without a care. You can’t treat it like a flower-carpeted meadow full of sunshine and freedom from consequence. (Well, I guess you could try it, but it would likely have some unpleasant results that might involve you trying to figure out a new career path.) While the world of social media may be a virtual one, it’s a world nonetheless, and being up-to-speed on social media etiquette can help you look professional, respected, and even make you stand out of the crowd.
Treat it like it’s a job.
Now, I don’t mean that you should treat it like it’s your job. Your job is to create and build things you’re passionate about so that you can live the life you want. What I do mean is that the social media ecosystem is similar to that of an office job… one with cubicles and managers and meetings and watercoolers… and in those situations, a little business etiquette goes a long way.
1. Make it about more than moving up.
With the potential for promotion (and an office with a window!) looming above you, it can be tempting to put your head down and focus only on work… on making sales or completing assignments ahead of time. Being helpful and friendly to your coworkers can pay off big in the form of character references and project assignments.
The same goes for freelancing. While diligence is, of course, important, there’s a good chance that you’ll miss out on lucrative connections while you’re focusing on self-promotion.
Promoting your work and getting your name out there is a big part of social media, but being helpful and friendly to other freelancers in your niche (and in peripheral niches) can snag you referrals, boost your word-of-mouth reputation, and gain respect. Retweeting content you find amusing or helpful and commenting (helpfully) on the posts of others is a great place to start.
2. Make worthwhile connections that will last.
If you’re working in sales, any sale is usually a good thing. The more sales you make, the better you look… but the biggest wins come in the form of customers or clients who will buy from you time and time again.
As a freelancer, it’s those long-term, real followers who will ultimately add to your success. Scoring a bunch of one-off likes after a giveaway or even purchasing followers can feel good at the time, but it’s often a shallow victory. By using helpful content and making actual connections with clients and freelancers, you’ll build a network that will last long after your giveaway ends, or after those followers you purchased get their accounts terminated.
3. Keep criticism constructive and respectful.
In life, in the office, and on social media, things are simply going to make you mad. Your sandwich will get eaten, even though you put your name on it. Someone will ignore a memo, or a coworker (probably Bryan in the corner cubicle) will constantly be too loud on the phone. Certain customers will make you crazy, and it will be tempting to air out your frustrations to anyone who will listen.
Don’t do that. That can get you fired… or turn you into the least-liked person in the office.
The temptation to be loud about your grievances is even greater on social media, where there’s a screen and, sometimes, hundreds of miles between you and the frustrating party. This is where you need to either ignore that person, or confront them respectfully… which can be done publicly or privately.
When it comes to client-based annoyances: Keep your complaints off of social media. Talk it out privately with another freelancer whose opinion you trust, or perhaps bring up the situation hypothetically in a freelancing group… but do not publicly humiliate a current or former client. On the list of social media dos and don’ts, this ranks way up in the “FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, DON’T” category. If you were choosing a freelancer, would you go with the one who bad-mouths his or her clients via Twitter?
4. Keep in touch with current and previous clients.
Customers, generally, like to be remembered. They like it when you recall their usual order, and how long it takes for them to run out of a specific product. Showing a customer or client that you care about their interests and needs will make them more likely to work with you for years to come.
Your freelancing clients aren’t much different, and social media allows you to not only keep up with their activity, but share it with others. A simple retweet of a big announcement, or a comment of appreciation for recent work shows that you’re invested in that client’s well-being, and will remind them of your value.
5. Follow the Golden Rule: Don’t be a jerk.
When the whole office gathers together for a team meeting, there’s usually that one person (come on, Bryan!) whose raised hand makes everyone groan in dismay. Unhelpful insights and comments that are designed to make the asker look important aren’t impressive, they’re annoying… and sometimes offensive.
When you interact with others, especially other freelancers, this is critical social media etiquette. Many freelancers convene in Facebook and LinkedIn groups to ask for and give advice, commiserate over common problems, and discuss relevant developments in their industries.
When you’re participating in any kind of discussion, sharing a post, or commenting on someone else’s, make sure you’re being helpful. Put genuine thought into your answers, and if you aren’t qualified to contribute to a topic, don’t. Don’t flood peoples’ streams with links to your work and projects… look for relevant opportunities to insert them naturally and helpfully.
6. Let people know you’re working.
An office is a great place to view different kinds of workers. Some sneakily try to watch old Jackass episodes (seriously, Bryan?) when the boss leaves the room, and some work throughout the day with obvious diligence.
As a freelancer, you want to be the one who is obviously working. Post about projects you’re completing, important news or interesting developments in your field, and boost up fellow freelancers. While a video montage of cats eating tiny burritos might be fun to share on your personal feeds, it’s probably better to keep it off of your business profile, unless you’ve cultivated an audience who genuinely appreciates them. Showing clients and other freelancers that you’re working hard and following your industry will make you far more appealing in a hiring or collaboration capacity, and will provide followers with consistent reminders that you’re open for business.
7. Play up your strengths.
It doesn’t matter what work setting you’re in; identifying your strengths and using them to your advantage is always a good idea. The best salesmen have fantastic communication skills, the best number-crunchers have an eye for detail, and those who are intuitive and skilled in mediation often thrive in HR.
Personal strengths come to play heavily in social media, too. The number of platforms out there are overwhelming, and if you were to expend equal amounts of effort to each one, you’d spend your whole day maintaining streams, feeds, statuses, and shares. Look at your business and look at your strengths. Which social media option best fits you and your freelancing? While it’s important to at least have a presence on many of them, it’s perfectly fine to focus on the ones that benefit you the most.
According to the April 2016 eBizMBA guide, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the three most popular social networking sites being used, with Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, and Instagram following closely behind.
Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram are highly visual platforms, and may not necessarily be relevant to your work, but the Big 4 (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+) are becoming expected facets of a complete brand.
If you can set up an effective profile on each relevant platform, it’s okay to focus your efforts on the one that appeals to you most, as long as you’re making it a point to check up on the others with some sort of regularity. Putting the apps on your phone and electing to allow notifications will keep you up to speed on any interaction happening on profiles you don’t maintain as proactively, and thoughtful automation can keep those profiles refreshed without expending excessive amounts of time.
Let’s move out of the office, shall we?
It’s fine for a metaphor and all, but we’re freelancers, right? Let’s take our cubicle knowledge out into the world and put it to good use. Treat your business’ online networking with the gravity it deserves, and put some of this social media etiquette to work.
The water cooler in the world of social media is a lot bigger and the people chattering around it are significantly louder than in an actual office, so be cognisant of these social media dos and don’ts, and make sure that chatter is positive.
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