Over the last two months, I’ve seen a lot of people declare on social media that they’re going to spend less time on—you guessed it—social media for their New Year’s resolution.
On one hand, I get it. We could all stand for less screen time and more quality time with the people we love and the offline activities we’ve neglected. But for freelancers, this resolution is somewhat misguided because spending time on social media is one of the most important things we can do to grow our careers. Using Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn shouldn’t be about the amount of time you actually spend online, but rather, how you spend that time.
With that in mind, here are a few reasons why I won’t be spending less time on social media in 2015.
1. I find ideas on social.
“But there’s so much noise on social media!” That’s the complaint I hear when people try to justify going on a digital detox. It’s true there’s a terrifying amount of drivel and dross online that makes you fear for the future of humanity. But that’s true offline too. It’s up to each of us to adjust who and what we’re following and filter appropriately.
If you’re following the right people and conversations—and “right” differs for each of us—you’ll find that social media is a nearly bottomless well of ideas. An eye-catching bit of news can provoke a question on your part that leads to an idea for a pitch.
Take, for example, my story about the phenomenon of muerto para’o—or dead-man-walking funerals—in Puerto Rico, which was published by AP affiliate Latin Correspondent. I came across the story of these odd funeral tableaus via Twitter, and after some quick Googling, I realized the story had been covered widely, but a particular aspect of the phenomenon—its historical antecedents— had been overlooked. That became my angle and gave me a way to give greater depth to a story that already had Internet steam.
When using social media to keep an eye on topics and people of interest to you, always ask yourself the question: “What’s the story not being told?” Then, figure out how you can tell it.
2. I collaborate and research on social.
I’m a freelancer who loves talking shop online, getting all meta about the process of writing with friends and colleagues. That’s why I post regularly about what I’m working on, what I’m struggling with, and what intriguing piece of information I’ve found while researching a story. I’m often rewarded for doing so, constantly amazed by the ways my online followers and friends enrich my understanding of the projects I’m working on by sharing their own insights.
This happens even when I’m not fishing for feedback. On Instagram, I recently posted a picture of a page from an anthropology book I’m reading; the book is obscure outside of its field, so I didn’t expect anyone to engage with the photo, but then a follower in Puerto Rico posted a comment about her experience reading it. Her comment led to a conversation about how the book’s author was received on the island while he completed his fieldwork; this, in turn, led me to do some additional research and helped shape the outline for a future article.
Friends and followers can be an incredibly rich source of information, but they can’t help if you’re not talking about your work.
3. I support other writers on social.
I’m a believer in the maxim that we have to create the world in which we want to live. If writers want to be paid fairly and have people read their work, then they have to support other writers as well.
This support takes many forms. Over the holidays, as non-profits asked for donations at the end of the year, I made a point of using Facebook and Twitter to show my support for organizations and projects such as the ASJA’s Writers Emergency Assistance Fund. I scheduled tweets to encourage followers to back a Beacon project about media diversity. And, of course, I continued sharing links to articles I enjoyed and announcements about book readings and other events.
4. I share leads and contacts on social.
I’ve been in freelance writing long enough to be solicited regularly by editors, publishers, and other writers who are searching for subject matter experts, and as a generalist with a geographical beat that encompasses Latin America, I receive all sorts of assignments and queries that might not be a perfect fit for me, but could be for a colleague. I’ve used Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to share leads with colleagues, and paying it forward has helped some writers land feature assignments for print magazines, guidebooks, and ongoing gigs as columnists for online publications.
I love connecting people, especially if it results in a paid assignment for a writer, but there are other types of leads and contacts that can be shared as well. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn make it so easy to connect people with sources and share opportunities about fellowships, residencies, and grants.
5. I get work on social.
If you’re still skeptical about spending more time on social, consider this: At least $12,000 of my 2014 income can be directly attributed to work I landed via social media contacts. And that work consists of a variety of assignments, from a translating project I got through a Facebook group that netted $8,000 to an $800 article for an in-flight magazine I was able to write after a friend who follows me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram made a referral.
I’ve found that finding work on social networks is relatively simple and doesn’t involve any of the “strategies” that make so many writers want to bail on social media. I follow and engage with editors on Twitter, join professional interests groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, and generally just try to be transparent about my needs to followers and friends on all my platforms.
Spending time on social doesn’t mean you have to constantly “brand” yourself. If you make an effort to tune out some of that digital noise and focus on bring productive, social media won’t seem like a guilty pleasure or a time-suck. My life is enriched just as much by online relationships as it is by those offline. And for that reason, I’ll be spending as much time online in 2015 as I did in 2014.