The Professional Freelancer’s Guide to TwitterBy Emily Gaudette June 12th, 2019
Hi, my name is Emily, and I’m a Twitter addict.
Now you’re supposed to say, “Hi Emily.”
As a professional writer, my relationship with Twitter is especially fraught. On the one hand, my therapist says I need to make some aggressive cuts to my daily screen time, and Twitter discourse does make me feel angry, sad, and outraged about lots of minor news stories. On the other hand, it’s been a boon for my career. I’ve landed stories in publications simply because I had forged relationships with editors on the platform.
Twitter’s UX is designed to keep you engaged from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep. That’s devious, yes, and unhealthy for people like me. But the platform is inarguably a tool for freelancers of any persuasion. I’ve used it to commission logo work and illustrations from artists, to find hundreds of story sources, and to build something of my own following.
If you’re a freelancer hoping to expand your network, enhance your personal brand, drive traffic to your work, and stay abreast of industry news, Twitter is the ultimate tool. You just have to follow a few rules specific to professional creatives.
Create only one Twitter with your real name
If you’re creating a Twitter account to use as a content creator, use your real name. Don’t create two Twitter accounts—one personal and one professional—unless your personal Twitter is private and doesn’t have your name or email attached. (You know, like the kids do with Instagram.)
If the idea of a professional Twitter account wigs you out, don’t worry. Your feed doesn’t have to read like a LinkedIn profile—in fact, make sure it doesn’t! You should post content you want people to like on Twitter, but you should also pepper your feed with opinions, insights, and updates on your professional activity. Use humor to develop a relationship with your audience. Put in the work to build a strong personal brand and what you put out will come back to you—followers will send you tips, resources, story ideas, and who knows what else.
A word of caution: Twitter doesn’t take kindly to bragging, so leave outright self-promotion for LinkedIn and professional Facebook profiles. On the contrary, think of Twitter like a mini portfolio. If you’re a writer, you can use tweets to hone your voice, practice being irreverent and concise, and have some fun. If you’re an illustrator or a videographer, you can find a network of new fans (and potential buyers) by promoting your art and sketching up quick responses to trending topics.
Regularly update your bio with bylines and keywords
There’s a good portion of editors who search for people by keyword. If you have in your profile that you write about tech, AI, and data security, and you tag a couple of publications where you’ve contributed your writing, there’s a good chance you’ll pop up whenever someone searches for those terms.
You also want to keep your bio updated with fun, personality-revealing information—not for search-ability, but as a branding exercise. Let’s say you tweet something insightful or funny, which drives users to your profile. If you haven’t been able to swing that little verified blue checkmark, you can still appear like an influential figure in your industry by making sure your bio gets the point across. Here’s mine.
Notice the publications I’ve worked at or written for aren’t tagged with an “@” sign—that’s purposeful. If someone punches SYFY into the Twitter search bar, I come up under “People”. I also chose three primary keywords to describe my professional functions: two serious (editor, podcast host) and one playful (dungeon master). Although it doesn’t help assigning editors to know that I’m a proficient Dungeons and Dragons player, it does enhance their overall understanding of my “personal brand.”
Post every day via Tweetdeck
I’m not advocating that you stare at Twitter all day, as I do. You should, however, post at least once every day to stay at the top of your followers’ feeds. The things you can post about are endless. Got an idea for an article that you haven’t been able to sell? Turn it into a Twitter thread. Read a great article recently? Share it, say what you liked, and tag the author and publication. Out and about and spot something funny related to your beats or your industry? Post the photo.
Tweetdeck allows you to schedule irreverent or non-timely ideas for tweets later in the week. That way, you can stay present in your life without dipping out of the zeitgeist.
Last note: If you publish an article that you want people to read, there’s nothing wrong with tweeting it out a few times within a span of a couple days, as long as you change your post every time. It’s very common for writers to post a link “for the night crowd” or with “ICYMI” (In Case You Missed It) in the copy.
There’s an ethical argument to be made about being a force for good online. It’s also got to be better for your mental health (and the mental health of your followers) to post about stuff that makes you feel good. However, if you refrain from any critiques of your industry, you run the risk of sounding naive.
In short, follow the golden rule and @ others the way you wish to be @’d.
- Call out the writers whose work you like.
- Ask questions—even pointed questions, if you choose. Just keep within the tonal confines of, say, a professional op-ed writer.
- Remember that everyone else on the platform is overworked. Go easy on ’em.
- Send angry messages to creators whose work isn’t up to your standards.
- Take cheap shots or punch down.
- Retweet so many things that your own voice disappears from your feed.
Don’t be a “reply guy,” always add value
It can be tempting to reply to popular accounts systematically, Krassenstein brothers style, in order to pump up your stats. Yes, replying to verified Twitter users gets you visibility outside your follower base, but it’s also a strategy that the community picks up on quickly. There’s also an element of sexism to it, as many culture writers have pointed out.
Luckily, you can avoid being accused of “reply guy” syndrome by always adding value to a conversation when you join in. If someone tweets out an opinion that you agree with, don’t just say “yep.” Include an article that backs up what they’re arguing, or tag in an expert and connect the two.
Make lists to keep your “following” count down
Now, there’s a lot of talk about ratios on Twitter. When you “get ratio’d,” it means you’ve posted something so controversial and misguided that the number of people replying to your tweet exceeds the numbers of retweets or faves. You do not want that.
However, another important ratio to keep in mind is the one comparing your followers to the list of people you are following. The sign of a hack Twitter user is both numbers being the same; these people just follow everyone they come into contact with, hoping to receive a follow back.
To avoid this, curate a list of people for each topic of interest. You can do this with Twitter’s List function. For example, if one of your beats is healthcare, you don’t have to follow every Twitter-active MD in North America. You can put the best ones into a separate list that doesn’t show up in your “following” list, and anytime you want to check in with that community, you can use Tweetdeck to check the list.
Overall, if you follow the social customs that Twitter users tend to value, you’ll make yourself into a productive, entertaining member of whatever beat or industry you want to follow. Just be careful, Twitter is arguably more fun for writers than any other social media platform. And you don’t want to end up with a bad habit like mine.
Emily Gaudette is the associate editor at Contently. She has covered film, television, and pop culture as a reporter and critic for 7 years.