Survivial Skills for Freelancers

A Trump-free Twitter rant: and how brevity improves writing

Ever since I attended Jonathan Pollinger’s Twitter for beginners workshop, way back in 2012, I’ve had a soft spot for the previously pithy, fabulously witty, micro-blogging platform.

This week, Twitter tumbled from the top of the tree – for me, at least.

Yesterday (8 November 2017) the social network announced that its trial of a 280-character tweet limit – double the previous 140-character count – will be universally expanded.

According to Twitter’s Product Manager, Aliza Rosen, this is why they did it:

The platform’s user numbers had been steadily dropping, and they needed to do something to reignite the love for the network – an edit button, perhaps? – but not that!

Anything but that.

By doubling the character count they’ve removed their greatest USP. Without the limit, they may as well be Facebook.

Size matters

Brevity was the one thing Twitter had that no other social network offered. And it was better for it. You could scroll through your timeline and efficiently extract chunklets* of insight, bite-sized news updates, thought-provoking quotes and interesting soundbites.

There isn’t a writer out there who doesn’t benefit from the discipline of the old-school – I can call it that, right? – Twitter mentality.

Make every word count

When competition for readers’ attention is fierce, tight word counts keep our writing lean.

Get in the habit of cutting the fluff and stuffing from your writing, and your message will benefit.

Lose the jargon and meaningless filler words** and your writing will be punchier, pacier and easier to read.

If there’s one thing we can learn from pre-280 Twitter, it’s that.

*Yes, I made that one up. Deal with it.

**Words such as THAT, JUST, REALLY and VERY rarely add to your writing. Edit fearlessly.

The viral accident: lessons from a Facebook post gone mad

This summer a happy accident led to a post on my Facebook page going viral. I mean crazy popular.

Now the dust has settled, there are lessons to be taken from having a post reach over 275,000 people – and if anyone can benefit from my experience I’m happy to share. I’m nice like that.

Credit where it’s due

Like many of the gems I post on social media, I can’t take credit for finding this one*. People often tag me with mistakes they’ve spotted (“Hey – saw this typo and thought of you!”) It’s not the most romantic of gestures but it means I have a limitless supply of examples of bad spelling and grammar. Awesome.

The most viral a post of mine has ever gone was when the sign opposite was picked up by The Poke on Twitter a couple of years back. That picked me up a good few followers, I can tell you.

When I shared the Waitrose typo, it was met with the Twitter equivalent of tumbleweed – fewer than half a dozen retweets.

Lesson one: just sometimes, Facebook > Twitter.

Undeterred, I decided to share the typo on Facebook as shown above. It took perhaps a day to pick up momentum, then…

Did I just go viral?!

Like a ball bearing careering around a pinball machine, things quickly went a bit mental. In what I can only assume was down to a sweet spot of timing and relevance – I shared the post on what was, for many teachers, the last day of the summer term – it hit a tipping point.

Lesson two: timing is key.

People who saw the post reacted in the same way as my friends and peers when they spot a typo: they tagged teachers they knew (and let’s face it, everyone knows at least one) with a “You have got to see this!” eagerness.

Once I realised what was happening I edited the post, adding “Gold star for you if you tag a teacher who’ll appreciate this post”. It did the trick, and the momentum Just. Kept. Going.

Lesson three: keep an eye on response and tweak your posts if necessary. Add in a relevant way to encourage people to share if you can.

Scanning 600-odd comments, it seems most people were shocked it was Waitrose that made the mistake. Had it been one of the cheaper supermarkets – you know who I’m talking about – would the post have had the same impact? Maybe not.

Lesson four: the more well-respected the business, the higher the expectation that they can spell. Companies who can’t, beware. 

When the post began to gain momentum I was out catching up with my social media friend and colleague, Azaria Timms.

Having chatted to her about the post over a cheeky glass of fizz, I decided to boost it to a targeted audience of teachers. It was the first time I’d promoted a Facebook post, and I’ll be honest, I expected great things – even for a lowly… cough… £6.

As it happened, the boost increased the reach by just 330 people, with one major downside: a guy I don’t know and have never worked with took such offence at my promoted post he decided to leave me a one-star rating for – in his words – spamming him. Ouch.

Lesson five: people still have mixed reactions to advertising.

If you only take one thing from this article, make it this trick: when you click the list of people who’ve commented on a Facebook post, you’re given the option to invite that person to like your page. Inviting everyone who’d commented or shared the post netted me over 150 new followers in a week – compared to a previous weekly high of, err, three. Skills.

The flipside was a stroppy message from one lady who replied, “No thank you, I have no need for your services and no interest in becoming your friend”. Err, okay…

Lesson six: don’t expect everyone to understand the difference between a Facebook page and a Facebook profile. And remember – you can’t please all of the people, all of the time.

As for Waitrose – yes, I tagged them in the post, and no, they didn’t respond. Given the reach of their own posts, I’m putting their lack of comeback down to jealousy of my superior social media skills. (Jokes.)

*Credit for sharing the original post is due to my good friend and reptile guy, Steve Jack. He’s @seashaker on Twitter, in case you’re interested. Expect snakes. And spiders. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Social media for small businesses – and why you’re doing it wrong

Let’s get this out the way first, shall we? Social media is as much a pain in the backside as it is a blessing and a way of attracting new clients.

If you’re not disciplined – scrap that… even if you are – it can be a huge, momentous, gargantuan distraction.

It’s also an enormous source of pressure. It sits there in the digital ether mocking you. “Have you updated your LinkedIn profile recently? You really should’ve asked that client for a recommendation by now!” “Wait – you mean you haven’t thought of something acerbic and brilliant to share on Twitter this morning? What’s wrong with you?” “C’mon, you know there’s no point even having a Facebook page these days unless you’re prepared to dig deep and advertise!”

Social. It wants a piece of you. And it wants it NOW.

If you take just one piece of advice away from this post, it should be this: unless you have literally no work – and if that’s the case, I humbly suggest you have bigger problems than how to manage your social media presence – you don’t have time to master all platforms.

You’re not omnipotent. Or is it omnipresent? Or both.

Pick one or two platforms that are best aligned with your client base and do them really, really well. No more.

Sure, you can establish a profile on every platform out there, if you really want to cover all bases – that certainly won’t harm your Google ranking – but as long as your information is up-to-date and relevant, leave it right there, thank you.

Then back slowly away from the time-sapping, energy-draining social media vortex.

Which will you choose?

Those of you with visual businesses – hotels, florists, designers, manufacturers of cute-looking-OMG-I-just-HAVE-to-have-thats – you’ve got it made. In fact, I hate you. Just a tiny little bit.

Your business can flirt with any one of the social platforms and get those customers clicking and buying like a match made in retail heaven. Take your pick. Then take your pics. (Sorry.)

Instagram and Pinterest

Once you know your audience, and you’ve nailed your brand (and I know just the guys if you need help with that) make sure everything you post reflects your brand’s values and a professional image – by that I don’t mean business speak, I mean mistake-free – and you’ll soon be attracting those clients like a match made in retail heaven.

Get busy with that camera and learn to make your business look great. Great social media content doesn’t need expensive gear. Get your smartphone out and get snap, edit, and post happy.

Apps such as Over, Canva and Spark Post help you combine text and images for eye-catching posts, while free apps such as Snapseed and Afterlight are great for editing your pics.

Experimenting will teach you the hashtags and style that works for your audience, and remember, there’s no harm in taking inspiration from competitor businesses that do Instagram and Pinterest well – just no outright copying, please. No one likes a cheat.

Then feel a teeny bit smug – and certainly grateful – that you don’t have to think of clever ways to illustrate being a goddamn freelance copywriter. Because, let’s be honest, Instagram and Pinterest aren’t a lot of use to service businesses. I know. I am one.*

*Okay, so I do them both anyway, but I do them for fun. Any business I get on the back of them is incidental, not planned. Sorry, social media gurus.

LinkedIn

I’m going to stick my neck on the line and say whatever business you’re in, you need a profile on LinkedIn. Not a company page. A personal profile.

LinkedIn doesn’t have to be one of the two or three platforms you decide to do really well. You don’t have to sit on there day in, day out, engaging, liking and posting – but show up and be present.

If I meet someone at a networking event, the first thing I do when I get back to the office is connect with them on LinkedIn. If they’re not on there, I assume either they don’t take their business seriously (and if they don’t, why should I?) or that there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. And believe me, I’m only being a tiny bit tongue in cheek when I say that.

Think of LinkedIn as your virtual CV.

I’m in my 19th year of working freelance, and if anyone is out of touch enough to ask me for a CV, I refer them to my LinkedIn profile. Because even if LinkedIn wasn’t one of my three (it is) it would sit there, up-to-date and relevant, showcasing my skills and experience to anyone who wants to work with me.

That’s the bare minimum.

If you want to do LinkedIn well, start by optimising your profile. There are plenty of people out there who’ll happily tell you how to do that. Keep it open in your browser and check it once a day. Keep your profile up to date. Like and comment on relevant posts. Ask your clients for recommendations (I’m up to 102, at the last count). Congratulate people on their new jobs.

But be authentic. Don’t like and comment and share for exposure. That doesn’t feel good.

You might even consider posting your own articles on there, just like this one.

I’ve had such good results from my LinkedIn articles that I’ve started posting all new blogs on there and using my other social media accounts to drive traffic to the post on LinkedIn, rather than to my website.

I know. Controversial.

But it’s not, really. Engagement on my most popular post – remember the secret confessions blog? – looked a little something like this: a tiny little circle representing all 3,200+ of my LinkedIn connections, and a great big circle representing views from second-tier connections. That’s a LOT of engagement, and a lot of quality leads heading my way.

Thanks, LinkedIn. I love you, too.

Twitter

I love Twitter. There are still predictions of it going down the pan. I hope that doesn’t happen.

But people still get it wrong. They post things like this:

Looking for a copywriter? Let me write your website for you!

*hides eyes*

Has it gone yet? Seriously, that’s the quickest way to turn people right off your business. Social should be just that – a chance to engage with people. Be professional, but don’t be afraid to share your personality. People deal with people, remember? Not bland, faceless companies, bun-fighting for every job that comes along.

So dial down the desperate, and start engaging, informing, and entertaining.

Get your name out there as a trusted source of information on your area of expertise. Share tips, tricks and advice. Reply to questions. And be nice.

Facebook

I’ve never been convinced about Facebook pages as a tool for service businesses, but perhaps that’s simply because it doesn’t work well for me.

If you’re in the business of selling cupcakes, jewellery, or another photo-friendly product, it can work really well – and there are many pages out there that prove it.

That said, I keep my page up to date, and aim to post daily. Language-relevant funnies and thought-provoking questions get the best engagement for me, but trial and error will show what works for your business.

Whatever business you’re in, you’re more likely to attract new customers and sales through Facebook if you’re prepared to advertise. And that’s a whole other subject.

So, that’s it. I know – I haven’t touched on the virtues of scheduling, the value of video, or the pros and cons of narrative vs ephemeral content (think Snapchat and Instagram stories), but then I’m a copywriter, not a social media guru. Besides, I can always save that for another day.

Which platforms work best for your business? Drop me an email and let me know.