My Over-Networked Life

Every freelancer knows it’s important to use social media to stay connected with editors, sources and the general public.

But with so many networking sites out there –Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, Yammer, Orkut, Plaxo, Jaiku, Bebo, Ning, Hi5, Multiply, Meetup.com, FriendFeed, Friendster, Flixster – the savvy freelancer needs to be choosy. Time is precious, and it’s far too easy to spend so much time updating your Twitter feed that you might not get around to sending out that all-important story pitch.

So which should a freelancer choose? Three tips:

1)  Divide your time between “broad” sites – like Facebook, which has 500 million users – and “specialty” sites, like Geni.com, which serves a very specific, narrow niche (in this case, people interested in genealogy). Aim for a 50-50 mix. But don’t overdo it! You might consider joining as few as two sites — one broad, one niche.

2)  When using that “broad” site, try to zone in on how it can help you connect with sources and ideas inside your reporting area. It might help more than your niche site does. For example, if you’re an entertainment writer, a “broad” site like MySpace might connect you with emerging musicians far better than a niche music site known only by industry insiders. Similarly, broad sites like Twitter can give you new ideas for entertainment stories.

3)   Think about WHY you’re on a social media site. Are you looking for a job? If so, groups that encourage face-to-face meetings – like Meetup, BigTent, or CouchSurfing – would be more beneficial than nationwide sites without local filters or groups. Are you busy juggling work and family, and you’ve joined social media only because your mentor said you should? Then join something quick and easy, like a micro-blogging site, which won’t impose the time demands of building an entire Facebook page complete with photos, or require the hours you’d need to build a LinkedIn page with your resume, detailed job history and references.

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