Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category


How freelance friends & bagels improved my work habits

Up until a few months ago, I had never considered working out of a coffee shop rather than my home office. Sure, I’ve met clients and done story interviews at Starbucks, but it never occurred to me to set up shop there. Then someone wrote a post on a Facebook group of Seattle freelancers that I belong to. In the thread, the group discussed the best Seattle coffee shops and, of course, I had to ask – isn’t it hard to work in a crowded, noisy, people-infested environment?

They assured me that it was the best thing ever, and it was easy to tune out the world when needed. I respected that it worked for them, but the idea still didn’t appeal to me. Interestingly, my doctor suggested the same idea to me a year ago to improve my mood; I ignored him too.

But last week, I could feel myself getting in a rut. I knew I needed to change things up, so I gave it a shot. To my surprise, I loved it. After dropping off my daughter at school, I went to a nearby Panera, got my favorite bagel, and set up my laptop. I was sure the Wi-Fi would be “wicked slow” and the people nearby would annoy me. I was wrong on both counts. The three hours I spent at Panera that morning were three of the most productive hours I’d had all week. I easily tuned out the activity of the restaurant (think white noise), the Wi-Fi was lightning fast, and I was focused and excited about the change of pace. No barking dogs, dirty dishes or laundry to distract me.

I also had to plan ahead to be sure I had the files and data I needed with me or that I could access them from SkyDrive. This exercise added another level of efficiency to the experience – forethought and planning, no more flying by the seat of my pants to get through my morning.

I’ve decided to make this remote workspace a regular habit. I won’t go every day, but I’ll go a few mornings a week. This gets me out of the house, providing a change of scenery and fueling my creativity. It also forces me to make myself presentable to the world – you know, clothes, shoes, make-up, etc. – when sometimes I’d rather just wear pajamas and go barefoot all day.

My freelance friends figured this out long before I did, so maybe I’m the last to know that working away from home is productive and even desirable. But if I’m not, I encourage you to try it.

BONUS TIP:  And if you go to Panera, try the cinnamon crunch bagel! It’s a nice carbohydrate-fueled, sugar-laden kick start to your day.

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Dana Selfie
Based in the Seattle area, Dana E. Neuts is a freelance writer and editor and the publisher of iLoveKent.net, an award-winning community website about Kent, Washington. Her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, 425 and South Sound magazines, Seattle Business, American Profile, AARP Bulletin and more. She is SPJ’s president-elect, membership chair and a member of the freelance committee. You can learn more about her at VirtuallyYourz.com or email her directly at spjdana@gmail.com.

 

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7 steps to a better résumé

Resume adviceWhether pitching for a full-time job or a single project, writers and editors use an assortment of tools and tactics to connect with potential clients. Social media, word-of-mouth advertising, personal correspondence and networking events are great for this; they help sell your personality.

When it comes to selling one’s skills, however, the best tool remains a clear, crisp résumé.

Résumés date back more than 500 years to Leonardo da Vinci, who is believed to have written the first one, but they were informal in style and substance until the 1950s. Today, there are three basic types: the functional résumé, listing work experience or skills categorized by skill area or job function; the reverse chronological résumé, listing work experience by date, starting with the most recent, and going back 10 to 15 years; and the hybrid résumé, which mixes the two types.

The typical résumé is short — two 8½-by-11 sheets of paper in length, at most — and direct, highlighting active verbs and essential keywords related to the job sought. Even video résumés are succinct, lasting no more than 60 seconds.

That’s because brevity is a courtesy in the current job market, as employers and potential freelance clients may receive dozens if not hundreds of applications for one position or task. Given this flood of applications, nothing guarantees that those résumés are read carefully.

But there are a few things résumé writers can do to boost their chances:

Have a clear focus —Résumés are supposed to land an interview, not land a job. Think of writing one as tapping an employer on the shoulder for a quick introduction. Using that approach, the résumé will likely sound more precise than plodding.

For video résumés, have a prepared script and memorize it. Reading from a prepared script or cue cards makes the performer’s eyes shift, giving the impression that the job applicant is distracted or untrustworthy.

Use clean typography — Certain styles of type read better in print than online, and vice versa. Because employers often ask that résumés be emailed, then print out a hard copy for use in a face-to-face interview, it makes sense to employ a type style that works well in both formats. Ariel, Times and Verdana best fit this purpose. And don’t cram information onto the page; leave room for white space to assure a fresh, inviting look.

When making a video résumé, dress as you would for the interview and use a background that lends itself to the theme of the position sought. For example, regarding writing and editing jobs, backgrounds that include books, magazines or other scholarly items add a formal, cerebral touch. Avoid using a plain white or monochrome background, as this can flatten a person’s appearance on camera.

Use clear language, avoid pronouns — Precise, polite English conveys professionalism; jargon and slang do not. Keep a dictionary and grammar guide close by. Steer clear of writing “I” or “me” because they are redundant in a document lacking any other characters. Use “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or any preferred title, if it is known. Include this courtesy in cover letters and contract bids.

An applicant’s demeanor matters, too, almost as much as proper language. A résumé that’s negative in tone or critical of former employers leaves the reader with a negative feeling about the applicant.

Use descriptive titles — Simply saying “writer,” or “editor,” or “manager” to describe yourself is not enough, as these terms mean different things to different people. A detailed title — end-user documentation writer, acquisitions editor, product development manager — suggests what tasks were involved in the role and paints an image in the employer’s mind.

Use bullet points — Long, gray blocks of type are boring and hard to read. Breaking out main tasks and talents in bulleted lists provides something for the eye to latch on to without searching.

Include specifics — As with titles, specifics are important when describing work history and personal goals related to the job sought. Emphasize achievements for each past position, expectations and aspirations for the new one. Tell an employer what you hope to bring to the job and how you may be able to solve problems related to it. If there are statistics that suit this purpose, include them.

Of course, effective use of detail requires research. Investigate the history of the employer or client before starting to write, and find out more about the job itself through a Google search, and previous or current employees if possible.

Edit with care — Nothing devalues résumés faster than poor spelling and poor grammar. Incorrect names and titles can land résumés into the trash, too. So, read through every word, every sentence, at least two or three times and check all facts, then find someone else to read over your work. Inaccuracies cut deep enough through an applicant’s professionalism to also mar one’s personal integrity. Leave prospective employers and clients thinking you’re invaluable, instead of indifferent.

David Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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“No” is not a dirty word

Decision Dice

Photo compliments of Anne-Lise Heinrichs via Flickr

If you’re new to freelancing, or have been doing it a while but are short on cash, it is easy to say “yes” to every client and project that comes your way. Don’t. In fact, there are situations in which you said say “no.”

1)  If your dance card is already full, say “no.” Taking on more work when you are already at capacity is stressful. You’ll have to put in extra hours, shuffle work around, or give up personal time to accommodate someone else’s project and timeline. Unless this is your dream client or a once-in-a-career opportunity, pass on this project.

2)  If you can’t give it your full attention, say “no.” In keeping with the theme above, if you cannot give a project 100% of your time and attention, turn it down. Let’s say you have some extra time, but you’re getting over a cold or you need to start packing for #EIJ13. If you are not focused on the task at hand, you may not give it your best effort. You’re better off saying “no.”

3)  If you are working for low or no pay, you should probably pass. Though there are some exceptions to this rule, freelance does not mean free. Walk away from the assignment if you aren’t getting something in return – whether it is needed exposure, a coveted clip or a reasonable paycheck.

4)  If you interview a prospect by phone and you don’t get a good vibe, trust your instincts. After 10 years of freelancing, I have a pretty good sense when a project is a good fit for me, or when an editor and I are going to connect in a positive way. If you or the client are defensive during that first encounter, however, thank them for the opportunity and run far, far away.

5)  If you’re only doing the project for the money, consider saying “no” before taking it on. If you really need the money to pay your mortgage, you may have to take on the occasional project that you don’t absolutely love, but you should never have to take on something that you can’t believe in.

Here’s a classic example of when and why you should say “no” for all of the reasons mentioned above. I recently had the opportunity to make thousands of dollars doing rewrites of case studies on the effects of herbal remedies for sexual dysfunction. There were a few red flags. First, I don’t know why the case studies were rewrites. Could they have been plagiarized, written in another language and poorly translated? Second, though there was a lot of volume and much money at stake, the amount of work involved per case study didn’t jive with the amount paid for each. My rate of return was low.

The company also wanted to tout me as their expert, but I’m not an expert on this topic. Maybe after writing hundreds of case studies I would have been, but I wasn’t comfortable pretending to be someone I’m not.  And let’s not even talk about the subject matter. I had a lot of misgivings, so I turned it down.

The next time you consider taking on a project or client that you aren’t sure about, run through this checklist mentally to see they fit any of the warnings above. If so, or if they don’t feel right to you on any level, say “no.”

I’ll even help you. Let’s practice. Repeat after me.

– No.

– No, thank you.

– Thank you but I can’t take on anything else right now.

– I appreciate the opportunity but I’m booked.

– Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not sure I’m the best fit for your project.

– I’m interested in the project, but your budget doesn’t align with my rates.

– Thank you, but my schedule is already full.

– No, I can’t; I have to wash my dog.

 

However you say it, just say it. It gets easier every time.

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Dana NeutsBased in the Seattle area, Dana E. Neuts is a freelance writer and editor and the publisher of iLoveKent.net, an award-winning community website about Kent, Washington. She is currently serving as SPJ Secretary/Treasurer and is running for SPJ President-Elect in August 2013. You can learn more about her at VirtuallyYourz.com or email her directly at spjdana@gmail.com.

 

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Naps, Netflix and Other Freelance Myths

time fora break concept clockI write in my pajamas, take daily naps, work four-day weeks, watch Netflix and play Facebook games all day. That’s what some of my friends think the freelance life is all about. “You’re so lucky,” they say with envy. But that’s not exactly how it works. Allow me to explain.

1)      Writing in my pajamas:  I write in my pajamas…sometimes, maybe 10% of the time, but only because I get up in the middle of the night to write down an idea before I lose it. After working on a story all day, I sometimes get stuck on the lede, but once I go to sleep, my creativity percolates and the lede writes itself. I have to capture it before I lose it, and that often happens when I’m in my pajamas. The rest of the time I’m dressed for the day, just like everyone else.

2)      Daily naps:  Yes, I take a nap almost every day, and I won’t apologize for it. I need my naps to recharge after the early morning dashes to my computer, and sometimes just to give my brain a rest from writing, editing, researching and managing the day-to-day tasks that go along with owning a business. In addition, I have to adjust my schedule to other time zones, which sometimes means I have to be up as early as 4 a.m. PST for early morning calls with my East Coast friends and colleagues, but still be available to editors and clients on the West Coast after 5 p.m. PST.

3)      Four-day weeks: Ha! I wish. I usually work at least a five-day week, taking Fridays and Saturdays off, but any freelancer knows you work when you need to. Some days I’ll put in 12 to 14 hours, others maybe only six, but this usually spreads out over at least five days a week, and often more. And let’s not even talk about vacations. What?!!

4)      Netflix:  I’ll confess. I do watch Netflix sometimes, but only after 5 p.m. PST and only if my writing and editing work is done. I watch old episodes of Mad Men while I’m doing my bookkeeping, filing, planning for the next day or other tasks that don’t require 100% of my attention. It’s my reward after a long day. Sometimes this down time even includes a glass of wine.

5)      Facebook games:  If I am in the office all day, I typically have Facebook and Twitter open on a separate monitor on my desktop. This allows me to monitor activity on my iLoveKent and Virtually Yourz pages, but also to keep up with the day’s news and to connect with my freelance friends (see my previous post on fostering freelance relationships). I play the occasional game, but it doesn’t amount to more than 10 minutes every couple of weeks. And when I’m writing or editing, I shut everything down – Facebook, Twitter, email, cell phone, etc.

To my non-freelance, non-business owner friends, I agree with you – I *am* lucky. I wouldn’t trade my freelance life for any “day job,” but it isn’t as easy as it looks. It requires long hours, the occasional sleepless night and a heck of a lot of work. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with my pillow…

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Dana Neuts
Based in the Seattle area, Dana Neuts of Virtually Yourz has been a freelance journalist for 10 years, specializing in business, feature and community writing. She is also the publisher of iLoveKent.net, which won a 2nd place award in the 2012 NW Excellence in Journalism contest for “Best Online Community Engagement.” She was named Regional Director of the Year in 2012, is currently serving as the national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer and will run for President-Elect in August 2013. Follow her on Twitter @VirtuallyYourz and @SPJDana.

 

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It’s National Grammar Day (insert exclamation point here)

This is it, the day all word mavens and grammarphiles relish with a fervency everyone else reserves for major national holidays, weekends, and end dates on the Mayan calendar.

It's Grammar Time!Yes, it’s National Grammar Day, and if you think itinerant commas or cliches stand a ghost of a chance on this auspicious occasion, think again. It is a day that all of us should spend paying greater attention to the craft of good communication and do, as Grammar Girl urges, “March forth … to speak well, write well, and help others do the same.”

That includes using “their” when “there” or “they’re” doesn’t work, correctly distinguishing “to” from “too” from “two,” slicing off dangling participles, and excising unctuous conjunctions, among many other attentions to linguistic and syntactical detail.

The day’s designation isn’t bound by law or scripture, but motivated by common courtesy. In our information-crazy world, precise use of language rises to the level of imperative. To serve society and convey respect for others, we are obligated to employ language precisely, appropriately. Poor grammar muddles our messages and implies ignorance or arrogance. It can cost reputations and dreams.

Journalists understand this perhaps better than most people, but as we enter the age of “citizen journalism,” when so many American citizens possess the tools and potential to stand in a position of authority on news, the grammar imperative becomes acute. The serious task of news gathering also demands serious presentation. Careful use of language conveys not only necessary detail, but also personal credibility. People who use language properly will be assigned more authority than people who do not.

If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who reads resumes for a living how many job candidates are passed over because of spelling errors and misplaced punctuation.

So, take care today to watch what you write and say. Recognize this sixth annual National Grammar Day by putting usage among your top priorities. If you’re smart, you’ll strive to turn that attention to detail from headache to habit.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, adjunct professor of journalism at Lindenwood UniversityRegion 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Fellow Freelancers: Friends or Foes?

Connect with your freelance friends for advice, suggestions and contacts.Last night I attended a Media Bistro event in Seattle. There are usually two or three of these every year, and I’m lucky to make it to one. Not because I don’t want to go, but because I can make a zillion excuses of things I should do instead. I asked a non-freelancing friend to go with me this time to ensure I’d go…because my introverted side (yes, I *do* have one) was taking over, and I wouldn’t have attended otherwise. Last night’s crowd was more on the freelance writer/journalist side, and I had the opportunity to connect with about half a dozen fellow freelancers — all of whom I had met via SPJ at one point or another.

I am so glad I did. The crowd is usually a mix of editors, journalists, PR and marketing folks, and the conversations were lively and informative. We shared ideas, contacts, success stories, pitching tips and a few assignments-gone-wrong tales of woe. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed mixing it up with my peers.

From the outside looking in, my non-freelance friend didn’t understand how this was possible. “Aren’t you competing for the same work,” he asked me afterward. My friend was particularly surprised to hear me offer concrete suggestions to a marketing copywriter in attendance who wanted my advice on growing his client base. Why did I do it? Because that’s what the freelance community is like, at least in my experience.

Whether I’m in Seattle or D.C., I have found the freelance community to be one that is warm and welcoming. People are willing to share ideas, connections and advice freely. Why? Because there are so many clients, media organizations, publications, nonprofits and government organizations out there that need our talent, that we rarely compete directly with each other for assignments or clients. We have each developed our own niche. My specialties are business and community stories, Annika Hipple is focused on travel and hospitality, Crai S. Bower specializes in travel, adventure and humor. Even when our specialties do cross over, there are so many stories to be told that the prospect of two of us pitching the same story with the same angle to the same outlet at the same time are virtually nil.

Here’s an example. I’ve been wanting to write for Northwest Travel magazine. David Volk and Crai Bower both write for that magazine. The geographic area is limited, so there is some potential for cross over. When I told Crai that I’d pitched the editor a few stories last month, Crai offered to introduce me to the editor. I didn’t ask. He offered, and I’ll take him up on it because the “in” will improve my chances of my pitches getting read. Crai doesn’t expect anything in return, but if I can ever repay the favor, I’ll be happy to do it.

This is how the freelance world works. Fellow freelancers are not foes. Far from it. They can be our biggest fans and our greatest allies.

The takeaway:  seek out your fellow freelancers in and around your community, through organizations like Media Bistro and SPJ, and online on your favorite social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. You never know where your next great idea or introduction will come from.

 

Dana Neuts, Freelance JournalistFreelancer Dana Neuts share tips to keep writers motivated.
National SPJ Secretary/Treasurer
2013 Candidate for President-Elect

Based in the Seattle area, Dana Neuts is a freelance writer, editor and marketing pro. She is also the publisher of iLoveKent.net, an award-winning hyperlocal blog highlighting news, events and more in the Kent, Washington community. Most recently, her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, 425 magazine, South Sound magazine, Grow Northwest and Seattle Woman magazine. For more information, or to contact Dana, visit her website, VirtuallyYourz.com.

 

 

 

 

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Freelance writers, this is your week

National Freelance Writer Appreciation WeekThis week, if you see a freelance writer, give ’em a hug.

Better still, give ’em a job.

The annual National Freelance Writers Appreciation Week starts today, and if you haven’t heard it’s a seven-day serenade to all the wordsmiths and keyboard-pounders who give shape and life to ideas on their own time, often on their own dime, so that others without the patience or aptitude to write still have a voice.

No proclamation made this week possible; no act of Congress, or act of God — just the goodwill and good sense of people who put a premium on well-rounded words and the diligent souls who smooth them into shape.

And there are many of these souls plying this heartfelt trade. Besides being responsible for the words you’re reading here, freelance writers create most of the grant applications, e-commerce strategies and advertising copy that shape our world. They break news and they build reputations; they churn out blogs and business plans, pastorals and poems. In fact, you probably can’t make it through the day without seeing a freelancer’s work in ink or digital print.

So, this week, show your appreciation by giving a freelancer more than just a smile. Become acquainted with and support such prime sites for freelancers as the Editorial Freelancers Association, Freelancers Union, and of course, become a regular reader of the Society of Professional Journalists’ own Independent Journalist blog.

SPJ also offers a Freelancer Directory, where one can shop for freelance help, as well as a Job Bank, where freelancers can shop in return. And there’s “On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism,” written and edited by SPJ-member freelancers and free of cost to SPJ members. However, a small donation for it is welcome from everyone, as the money goes to help support freelancers and their efforts.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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They don’t teach this in J school

How freelance writers stay motibvatedOne of the most important skills for a freelancer to have is one that isn’t taught in J school, nor is it something you can learn on the job. It’s something that requires constant nurturing and attention. Yep, you guessed it. The M word. MOTIVATION.

Motivation is what gets us out of bed every day, that elusive thing that keeps us sitting at our desks or working on our iPads until the story is done. It’s what encourages us to pitch to new publications, endure rejection after rejection, and work at our craft day after day. It’s also what keeps us from getting distracted when doing the dishes or washing a load of laundry seems more appealing than plugging away at the computer. Motivation drives us to earn a paycheck, and it is what causes us to choose work over taking a nap.

For some of us, motivation comes easy. We live for words and we can’t wait to see our next story published or produced. For others, it is a daily battle. To be a successful freelancer, we each need to find something that motivates us – daily. For me, my motivation is two-fold. As a single mother, I am motivated by the desire to care for my small family. Freelancing is my full-time day job, and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. But my motivation goes beyond that (most days). I am also motivated by the desire to meet new people, learn new things and to share important stories with the world.

I have slow days like everyone else though, where I just can’t get going. I move beyond those by going through the motions. I get up, get dressed, brush my teeth, have breakfast and sit down at my desk to peruse the latest news. Then I log in to Facebook and go through my friends’ news feeds. Because many of my friends are freelancers or fellow journalists, I see clips of their latest stories. This often inspires me. If that doesn’t work, I log into my @spjdana Twitter account where I follow a number of well-respected journalists. Their work nearly always sparks me to work on my own projects.

And some days I just don’t have it. Unless I’m on deadline, I treat myself to a few hours off to take a walk, go the gym, play with Jelly Bean, or, yep, you guessed it – take a nap! At some point, my motivation kicks in.

These tips might not work for you, but this article offers several dozen ways to get motivated:  Motivation, Inspiration and Encouragement for Writers. Find one, or ten, that work for you. You’re portfolio (and paycheck) will thank you!

Freelancer Dana Neuts share tips to keep writers motivated.

Dana Neuts, Freelance Journalist
National SPJ Secretary/Treasurer
2013 Candidate for President-Elect

 

Based in the Seattle area, Dana Neuts is a freelance writer, editor and marketing pro. She is also the publisher of iLoveKent.net, an award-winning hyperlocal blog highlighting news, events and more in the Kent, Washington community. Most recently, her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, 425 magazine, South Sound magazine, Grow Northwest and Seattle Woman magazine. For more information, or to contact Dana, visit her website, VirtuallyYourz.com.

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In social media, patience is spelled with five W’s

In a perfect world, our words shine like jewels the first time we write or say them.

The reality is, they demand special consideration before displaying them in public. For one thing, so many terms in English have multiple meanings; for another, so many readers own distinct perspectives and biases. Ask 10 people to read the same sentence, and they’re likely to offer 10 slightly different interpretations.

That’s why, in our electron-fast, social media age, extra seconds spent pondering our pedantry before tapping the Send button can prevent embarrassment and thus preserve credibility.

So, at a time we’re still weighing New Year’s resolutions, or wondering whether to uphold the ones we’ve made, consider putting patience high on the list. Armed with it, writers and editors more easily catch spelling errors, check or recheck facts, change tone, even adjust attitudes — particularly their own.

The trick, of course, is finding patience where none existed. Hours spent banging out social media posts as fast as they come to mind can cultivate writing that’s reflexive, not reflective.

It may help then to install social media speed bumps of a sort — a set of objectives that forces introspection. For this, we could adapt journalism’s famous five W’s:

Who — Think first, “Who am I trying to reach?” Though social media networks permit users to group their followers, most users don’t, and their networks are a mishmash of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. The result: just one post intended for a small group of followers could send others packing. Craft posts with the broadest possible appeal, frame edgier posts with self-effacing humor or courtesy, and restrict the hardest commentary to direct messages.

What — Make sure the point of a post is clear and consistent with the facts. Go back through other people’s posts, check associated Web links and references to see whether those people are interpreting the information correctly, and whether you’re doing the same and not relying on conjecture. Only then can you safely answer the question, “What am I trying to say?”

When — Speed is a drug in social media; we assume the faster we post, the more certain we are to ride the leading edge of news. Blame this behavior in part on traditional media, which instilled the belief that “scoops” or “beats” on breaking news were just as important as the information itself. In truth, no newspaper shut down and no TV station went dark from not having enough scoops. Today, the Web is rife with humor and shame over errors by news organizations that moved too fast to gather facts. Thus, the answer to “When should I post?” ought to be, “After I have all the facts.”

Where — The term “social media” is as broad as the horizon. It encompasses numerous networks, each having its own best practices and tolerances. Still, we consider Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others to possess the same reach and intent. But there’s a saying: Facebook is for people you already know, Twitter is for people you want to know, and LinkedIn is for people you need to know. Learn the point and purpose of each social network, then you’ll be able to answer “Where should I post?”

Why — I’d like to think everything I say via social media is important. We all do. Nevertheless, each of us encounters users who think otherwise. That constituency dwindles though with solid answers to “Why should I post?” Whereas flippant or rhetorical commentary only attracts more of the same, social engagement founded on research and reportage is shared and re-shared more widely.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Make a resolution to do better on social media

The Christmas decorations are coming down and the New Year’s fireworks are going up. Also around this time, long lists of New Year’s resolutions go up, too.

Diet and exercise top most lists, as do stronger finances and better personal relationships. One thing also worth reviewing among freelancers and maybe revising for 2013 is the way they present themselves through social media.

Numbers are why. As 2012 wound down, Twitter users churned out 175 million tweets daily. An estimated 625,000 new users joined Google+ daily. Facebook garnered about 850 million active users monthly. And LinkedIn added 50 million members in one year; it needed six years to get its first 50 million.

In other words, social media has skipped well past the point of novelty and entered the realm of necessity, especially for freelancers intent on attracting attention. So then, it pays for freelancers to paint a clean, clear portrait of themselves online, if they haven’t already, to keep that attention coming.

A few crisp strokes can do that. These should encompass:

Profile photos — There’s a reason it’s called “social” media. Nevertheless, a lot of serious people trying to do serious business still hide behind the faceless default icon all social media platforms employ, the result being they don’t gain digital friends or, more importantly, win jobs, says Nicholas Salter, a professor of psychology at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He led a recent study that found those people on LinkedIn with profile pictures are more likely to get hired than those without.

Susan Gunelius, a marketing communications executive who is the author of “Google Blogger for Dummies,” underscores the value. “It’s better to have 1,000 online connections who read, share and talk about your content with their own audiences than 10,000 connections who disappear after connecting with you for the first time.”

Headlines — In a newspaper or news website, headlines are concise declarations of pertinent information intended to announce, inform and attract. In a freelancing proposal, job application or social media campaign, writing with the crisp prose of headlines brings focus and adds clarity to one’s message. Studying the way headlines are written and following their form can do wonders at putting that message ahead of others.

Keywords — And speaking of headlines, keywords give those headlines punch. These keywords are the distinguishing terms lacing online business reports, blogs, and especially job postings, that search engines pluck out for categorization. Special attention paid to keywords helps turn heads and boost Web and social traffic. But keep them relevant; don’t trot out trendy terms just because everyone else has.

Research — Like the way a drip, drip, drip from a leaky faucet can be distracting, so too can social content designed to make more noise than sense. The best, most memorable content reflects an understanding of the intended audience and an appreciation for what that audience finds interesting. Invest time online in 2013 researching audience behavior and trends. Start by getting to know Google Analytics and Google Trends, and reading reports from Gartner, the Pew Research Center, and Poynter.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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