freelancing · socialmedia · twitter

3 Reasons freelance journalists should use Twitter

Finally, I have a spare minute so I am putting up presentation from the Walkley’s narrative conference.

For me, the reasons for a freelance journalist to use Twitter are really very simple:

  1. Content
  2. Promotion
  3. Nonsense

Let me explain

Content

This is a common theme for social media evangelists, but it’s common for a reason: it’s true. For keeping across breaking news – think the Gillard/Rudd leadership spill or the Haiti earthquake – Twitter tends to be hours ahead of mainstream media organisations. If you’re operating in the news sphere, or just interested, it is a vital update source. For my own work I find Twitter and Facebook vast resources for tracking down sources. I like to think of it as accessing the spiderweb effect of social media. Rather than relying on your own network of family and friends (who no doubt have already either, appeared as case studies in numerous articles, or helped you source someone) you are relying on your network’s networks and so on and on. It is the ultimate instantaneous one-to-many distribution tool. My own examples include:

  • Sourcing couples who made a sea or treechange and it didn’t work out through Twitter
  • Tracking down athletes (I had a list of names and locations, but no phone numbers) who will be attending the Commonwealth Games by sending messages to them over Facebook.

Within the broad area of content, I also use social media as a tool for finding story ideas. It may be based on breaking news, like the examples I outlined above, or it may be for more ‘evergreen’ features. A recent example for me was a story about new heating and cooling technology that groups in Australia were lobbying the government about for inclusion in rebate schemes. Given I regularly write design and property features, I follow a number of architects on Twitter. One of these is  European architects association that posted a link to an article on an Australian company’s website about the lobbying attempts. I’d never heard of the company, but thanks to a link from Europe, via Twitter, I found a nice little local story.

Promotion

Freelancers know better than most that it’s not just about the content, but also about marketing yourself. And while traditionally that promotion has been to editors, social media allows you to promote yourself directly to your audience. And why would you want to do that I hear you ask? Imagine you’re an editor comparing two freelancers with equally good quality content. One freelancer has a Twitter account with 600 followers and a blog with let’s say 1000 hits a week. The other just has their story. Who would you choose? A freelancer that can potentially bring an extra few hundred readers through promotion of their work through those networks can look very attractive to a bottom-line, click through conscious editor.

There is one caveat to this idea however. We can’t expect to form a meaningful relationship with our audience if all we do is send through links to our work.  You need to be active in the social media sphere, , interacting with others and sharing interesting pieces of information (perhaps from all of that research that you are doing) to truly engage your audience and not just broadcast to them. An engaged audience will click through and see your work. An audience that just thinks all you do is flog your latest story won’t. It is also worth remembering that news organisations want content that is developed in such a manner that it creates an opportunity and space for people to interact and discuss. By creating a real presence in the social media sphere you’re demonstrating this.

Nonsense

When I’m doing training for journalists in social media the word ‘nonsense’ is quite often used as a reason for not engaging with the social media sphere. But I honestly believe nonsense is one of the most beneficial reasons for taking part.

I’m lucky now – I get regular rooms full of students who I can engage with. But when I was freelancing full-time there was no social media sphere for me to engage with. There was me, my study at home and my two cats. Now, let me tell you that you can’t have a two-way conversation with cats – no matter how hard you try – really you only become crazy cat lady. For me Twitter provides what I like to call ‘water cooler conversation’ – that is the conversation that may not be directly related to what you are working on, but that you engage in for a little down time in the workplace. You might want to talk about who you think should have won Masterchef or perhaps you might like to join the debate about what campaign song the PM should have been using when she unveiled ‘the real Julia’. It’s a little bit of fun and distraction in what can be a very long and isolating day.

So that’s it – those are my top three reasons freelance journalists should be using social media. No doubt people will have many more, but for me social media is a tool – a very useful tool for sourcing content and promoting you and your work but also, just as importantly, for ensuring a little nonsense in your day.

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