For freelancers, does a big social media presence = success?
October 31, 2017 5:06 PM   Subscribe

I work in an industry where most people work as freelancers. I follow a lot of them on Twitter (where I am not very active) and I often wonder if those with thousands of followers and regular updates of themselves at industry events and retweeting industry-related articles are more successful than someone like myself who is not very active on social media. I wonder if focusing more energy into social media would lead to having lots more or higher paying work. On the one hand, perhaps it's a case of people only posting the positive on social media and not comparing your inner self to someone else's social media outer self. On the other, I suppose these people are a lot more easy to find online than I am, which I guess leads to more work. If you work in a freelance dominated field, do you find that being active on social media helps a lot? Or is it not worth the effort?
posted by iamsuper to Work & Money (12 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on the field of course, but generally speaking probably not. The 1% top influencers probably do inordinately well, but there's a whole gaggle of people trying to imitate them without achieving the same level of success.
posted by so fucking future at 5:18 PM on October 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

It does really depend on the field. I would say a robust social media presence is relatively sure to create opportunities but creating work out of those can be hard. I know people personally who have made serious money and gotten book deals out of their social media but /generally/ they have also been great networkers and perhaps had breaks like spouses with jobs or in one case just insanely good timing. Also many of them have found that those great things did not lead to the next thing as easily as they would have liked.

Cynically, sometimes people are given work in order to get access to their audience and then the pack moves on to the next hot social media thing.

(And, the robust presence needs to be for a good reason - back at the start of blogging I had a big following for personal reasons which wouldn’t have helped me in my media career.)

I personally hired writers back when I was in the biz based on discovering them via social media. I have seen photographers hired for editorial work based on their social media, and illustrators, but again not for big bucks - however that may have been stepping stones for them. But it hasn’t been a huge percentage of assignments.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:39 PM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think it totally matters what your kind of work is.

I'm a freelance book editor, and when I started freelancing, a writer told me "readers are on Facebook, but writers are on Twitter." So I got on Twitter, followed writers I liked, and writers who were dream clients and writers who were more realistic potential clients, along with other accounts that involved the kinds of books I edit -- reviewers, book marketers, industry leaders, etc. I slowly started to figure out how Twitter works, and would tweet about what I was working on, funny industry stuff, etc. Four years in, I find that it has enhanced my reputation, made me industry connections I never would have had otherwise, and yes, gotten me jobs. I have no idea if such a thing would work for you but there you go.

Also I should add that my social media presence isn't actually "big" in the scheme of things. I have something like 550 Twitter followers. But a very large percentage of those is the people I'm trying to reach. Meaning, I'd rather have 10 authors who might be my potential client than 10,000 random nonwriters/nonindustry people following me.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:40 PM on October 31, 2017 [19 favorites]

In my field, it does make a difference. People aren't just chatting to chat, they are building relationships and networks. I know when we have a project requiring a consultant at work, the first group I turn to are those I know from/via Twitter (most of whom I have met at conferences by now), and the first place I ask for recommendations is on Twitter. No, I haven't looked at these folks' books, but I know I'm giving them work and looking for them within that group, and I see them pretty actively working for others, too.
posted by Miko at 5:59 PM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Social media definitely does help get freelance work, yes. Two little bits of anecdata:

I went off FB for an entire season. My work slowed down as well I re-activated my profile with a good profile pic just before my birthday, and people wished me happy birthday, which meant my profile popped up in many friends' feeds. The week after my birthday I got three freelance offers from acquaintances who had clearly just remembered me due to it having been my birthday.

Likewise, when I do anything that makes a splash on social media (post pics of a funny Hallowe'en costume, or highlight some kind of professional accomplishment), my phone lines light up with job offers.

I'm not directly making money from my social media posts, but I am definitely reminding people that they should hire or recommend me for work!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:13 PM on October 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

I do public speaking as a decent chunk of my annual income and it's all freelance (i.e. I don't have an agent or a larger organization that I am part of) and I think my work comes from a lot of places. I think social media helps quite a bit (I've been on Twitter forever, am verified, etc) but I think in my profession (librarian stuff, with a side of tech) it's more that I have an online presence, am contactable (email, phone, Twitter, whatever), have a good online "personality" when I am online (i.e. quality over quantity, seriously) and do a bit of interacting with people especially around conferences.

Like, if I am speaking somewhere, I will mention it beforehand, mention it when I am there, usually tweet notes/slides from my talk, but also tweet some things from the conference itself. I think Twitter is a good shortcut, for me, of "meeting" people who I then get to know a bit online before they might decide to have me speak at their thing. So the main thing is that I am good at what I do and word gets around. The second thing is that I have an online presence and am available and accessible and that helps shortcut the networking aspect of things, I don't have to rely so much on meeting people face to face or LinkedIn style friend of a friend stuff.

Related: I have a cousin who is a freelance woodworker and Instagram is his JAM. Furniture porn day in and day out and he really finds his audience there and I think it helps him a lot with his various side hustles (selling ancillary things like posters and furniture wax). So some of it is figuring out which social media is effective for your particular niche. I don't do much professional hustling on facebook, though I am interactive there. I mostly use it to promote and amplify other people.
posted by jessamyn at 7:08 PM on October 31, 2017 [7 favorites]

I've only ever gotten work through word of mouth and I don't have any sort of internet profile but....I definitely feel that if you're an internet celebrity, it can't hurt. Production people will always be glad to show their potential clients that they're hiring with a certain cache...and so, those people are worth paying more because they have the added value of attracting more clients,..not just their labour value.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:45 PM on October 31, 2017

> I often wonder if those with thousands of followers and regular updates of themselves at industry events and retweeting industry-related articles are more successful than someone like myself who is not very active on social media.

For me personally (academic and artist, not freelancer): absolutely yes. So much informal/important/novelty discussion happens on Twitter. People see and spread my work through Twitter. I've met several good friends through Twitter.

IMO, don't use Twitter as a tool for just saying "I'm at X industry event" (unless you're livetweeting a conference) or for just RTs. People follow you to hear about your newest, best-quality work first, and sometimes to see what work lives up to the standards of your taste. Don't dilute the signal with noise.
posted by icosahedron at 9:23 PM on October 31, 2017

I used to spend a lot of time on social media. I got over 1500 connections on Twitter and LinkedIn, and published posts on medium that sometimes got 5000 views. And I did get a handful of people interested in hiring me. Unfortunately none of them were really things I thought I could do effectively -- like most people my social media was kind of boastful and tried a lot of new stuff, and just because I can try out a new data science technique doesn't mean I can take a $5 million contract to hire a team to implement that technique and reasonably deliver on it. So I've stepped back quite a lot and am focusing more on specific things that I'm really an expert on.
posted by miyabo at 9:27 PM on October 31, 2017

If you're a freelance culture writer, it absolutely matters.
posted by Charity Garfein at 9:57 PM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Great question. I'm also a freelancer who has had a fairly high profile career with very little online presence. However I to wonder if a stronger social media profile on both fb and Twitter would help. Some food for thought.... I've noticed mid level people and a lot of newbies in my business often have a big social media presence. But many of the elite top tier people in my business don't even have a personal website and they're certainly not on social media. They stay employed with the help of high powered agents. But I do think some people are really good at using social media to leverage their career. But it's not for everyone. I prefer to use direct marketing and a personal website vs social media. But there's always more then one way to skin a cat.
posted by ljs30 at 9:57 PM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think there are occasional circumstances where a high social media profile can act against you: prospective clients may have heard of somebody who features predominantly on a particular forum, for example - but they may conclude that this - and not their prospective piece of work - is where you spend all your efforts? They may also assume that you are spending this much effort online because you are otherwise unemployed - and thus treat you with the suspicion devoted to a builder who is "available immediately". Finally they may wonder whether any information they share with you in confidence will stay that way.

I don't think this should put you off the idea - but it does emphasise that that quality/quantity ratio of what you put online is important. That "top contributor" badge or that juicy looking level of Twitter followers may look better to you than it does to prospective clients.
posted by rongorongo at 4:20 AM on November 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

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