Content Watch

March 28th, 2013

How to Use Twitter to Yield Writing Assignments

Eight percent of American adults use Twitter, according to the Pew Research Center, I among them. You can count my tweets among the 340 million tweets volleying across the Internet every day.

You can also include me among the 61 percent of LinkedIn members who use it as a primary professional networking site, and among those who spend one out of seven minutes online perusing Facebook (though I use Facebook far less frequently).

Colleagues have tried luring me on to Instagram, Google Plus, Quora, Tumblr, and Pinterest, but there is only so much daily social media maintenance I can muster.

Amidst this thick busy, buzzing social media stratosphere, I have experienced the most professional luck with Twitter, having recently landed three exciting writing assignments with high-level travel publishers that have strong readership traffic, and are all new clients to me.

How did I do this? No magic wand here; I followed these publishers, showed an interest in what they had to say, eventually shared an idea, which eventually led to a one-on-one email or phone conversation, which led to an assignment  and a relationship. For some writers, social media has opened up new directions in finding work.

Tweeting toward a paycheck

Is social media changing how writers and editors interact? Yes, and no. On the one hand, social media allows access to editors without concerns about geography or publication affiliation. On the other hand, social media is a virtual office water cooler, just the latest platform for old-fashioned conversation and networking.

Just because you follow an editor on Twitter doesn’t mean he or she will listen to what you have to say.  Social media is just the tool; you still need the art of conversation, a strong pitch and solid skills, not to mention clips.

“Twitter enables you to show your voice and personality to editors.”

Freelance writer Lola Augustine Brown, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, scored a juicy assignment because an editor spotted and liked her tweets.

“I was tweeting from a spa in Lapland, which I was visiting for one fashion magazine, and their closest rival got in touch and asked if I wanted to review spas for them too, as they’d been following my tweets about the destination,” says Brown, whose work has appeared in Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and The Toronto Star.

“I’d pitched them for years to no avail, and there they were contacting me now,” she says. “Twitter enables you to show your voice and personality to editors.”

Social media does allow for a more unvarnished perception of one’s work and one’s working style. Tweets aren’t edited (usually) and editors can get a sense of a writer’s chops just by reading a writer’s tweets or online posts elsewhere.

Gregory Galant is co-founder of Muck Rack, part of Sawhorse Media Company, an online resource connecting thousands of journalists from around the world with publishers. Galant met his founding editor of the Muck Rack Daily thanks to Twitter.

Steve McGookin, a former Financial Times staff member, responded to Muck Rack’s tweet looking for a writer, and more than two years later, their collaboration continues.

“Our thinking was why not hire people who are already passionate about Muck Rack,” says Galant, adding Muck Rack also uses Tumblr and traditional job boards. “There’s an echo effect, you get concentric networks in social media, and you get people who already understand your brand. Twitter is one of the best things to happen for people who like to write  it’s the only social network that’s text only. It’s hard to imagine someone who likes to write who wouldn’t use it.”

“Twitter is one of the best things to happen for people who like to write.”

Explains McGookin “I answered Greg’s Twitter ad in August 2010 and we started drawing up prototypes and developing his idea for the Muck Rack Daily; it went live in September that year, and I was the writer/editor.”

McGookin also uses Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and smaller online community discussion boards to stay connected.

Social media “can be a symbiotic relationship,” he adds. “You’re both better able to have an idea of whether a potential working relationship will be a good fit before going any further.”

A few fast social media facts

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project,an initiative of the Pew Research Center, Facebook continues to remain the most popular social media website.  Seventy-one percent of women use social media networking versus 62 percent of men.

As of December 2012:

  • 67 percent of online adults say they use Facebook
  • 20 percent of online adults say they use LinkedIn as of August 2012
  • 16 percent of online adults say they use Twitter
  • 15 percent of online adults say they use Pinterest
  • 13 percent of online adults say they use Instagram
  • 6 percent of online adults say they use Tumblr

Be mindful of missteps

If all of this sounds so promising and within reach (and it is), then are there any drawbacks? Not too many, but writers and editors assert a few notes of caution when using social media to procure assignments.

Brown advises “that social media is a conversation, not a soapbox, and if all you do is go on about how great you are or why people should hire you, people won’t follow you or take you seriously.”

Social media is also very unstructured; anyone can say anything from anywhere, and without any introductions or context. Even with these freedoms, professional decorum is still highly valued and very important in forging new relationships with editors and publishers.

Editors need to also be mindful of who they are talking to when considering assigning projects to people they “met” via Twitter or Tumblr but have not met in person.

“Social media is a conversation, not a soapbox.”

Social media followers may limit editors’ and writers’ access to diversity and different points of view, Galant says. You don’t want someone echoing your own thoughts.

“There is hegemony in any following,” says Galant.

That said, there are far more benefits than downsides when using social media to build a name for yourself. Journalists can create a platform that goes beyond being part of a big-name publication.

“It’s very liberating [for writers] because it really marks the first time journalists can publish something without going through an editor,” Galant said.

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