Social Media Do’s and Don’t For Freelance Travel Writers

Social Media networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and others have been growing by leaps and bounds recently, due in large part to the many businesses that are establishing online profiles in an effort to reach out to consumers as well as to protect and enhance their brand image. Social Media offers valuable business communication and marketing tools that any company or entrepreneur is foolish to not take advantage of, and this applies to freelance writers as well.

That said, one of the problems that some freelance writers are having is not using these tools correctly and effectively. If your goal is to promote yourself (or your company), then the idea is to gain friends and followers by providing them with interesting, relevant, and useful information that they will find valuable.

On a daily basis, though, I cringe at some of the inappropriate Blog comments, Facebook postings, and Tweets, or general mistakes that are being made by those freelance writers who are new to the medium and don’t fully understand how to use it. Too often people are trying to accomplish too many differing goals and not succeeding at any of them because of it.

So let me share with some of you a few “Do’s” and “Don’ts” when it comes to your use of Social Media:

In general:

First and foremost, DON’T try to manage both personal and professional communication from a single profile on any community. It’s fine to use Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace to let family & close friends know about what is going on in your personal life, but do that from a personal account only — set up a separate account for your “freelance writing business” to promote your travel writing, your book, or your freelance writing services. Likewise if you have a personal blog, set up a separate blog for your business persona;
DON’T link the two or try to cross-promote them — sure your family may be interested in knowing if you’re in the running for a sweet freelance writing assignment, but do you really want an Editor seeing that video of you drunkenly telling an off-color (or racist) joke that your sister posted on your Facebook page? Let me answer that for you — no. Emphatically no;
DO always keep in mind why your audience follows you, and make sure that the majority of what you are sharing is valuable to them (for example, on Twitter and Facebook I connect with a number of travel writers because I like to hear -and talk – about the business of traveling and writing. Although I DO want to get to know the people I connect with, if all they ever post about are things irrelevant to traveling or writing, they will quickly lose my interest);
DO inject your personality and let people get to know “you” – it’s great to add some sense of humor, sarcasm, or wit as you are offering up information or news that you’ve found, or announcing your latest article or blog post — It’s the “glue” that cements the connections. Just remember that the version of “you” that you share professionally SHOULD be a more professional version than the one you share with family and your closest friends;

On Twitter – all of the General Tips above applies, PLUS:

DO avoid the temptation to Tweet too much. How much is too much? Everyone will have their own threshold, but for me personally more than a couple of times per hour is too much. I only have so much time in my day to keep up on Twitter, so if someone is tweeting a lot of inconsequential noise, or simply too often, I can’t follow them because they drown out the others that I want to keep up with. I’ve unfollowed some people for too-frequent tweeting, or just too much irrelevant tweeting;
DON’T use Twitter as a replacement for IM/SMS/Text Messaging with friends for an active/personal/lots of back-and-forth conversation! Why force your followers to wade through the flood of irrelevant chatter that is better left to your IM Clients?
Follow whomever you want to, but only Retweet (RT) information that you believe your followers will find interesting;
If you’re Replying to a Tweet, DO include a snippet of the original, so that your followers can put your Reply in context – otherwise it’s just more noise to them;
DO use TwitPic, but use it wisely – keeping in mind a photo’s relevancy to your followers, it’s a great way for them to get to know you better;
DO interact with your followers and those you are following — Replying and Retweeting are ways to let people know that you’re reading and appreciating what they have to say;
And lastly – but most importantly – DON’T use auto-tweeting scripts that spit out random quotes or other nonsense – it’s fine to use scripts that Tweet your latest blog post or article, but outside of that if you can’t think of anything to say without an automated script, don’t Tweet.

Facebook, MySpace, and/or your Blog – all of the General Tips above PLUS:

If you have a personal Blog or MySpace page, go as wild or cutesy as you like with the design, but for your business profile DO keep it subdued and professional – remember, Editors and Publishers may be checking out your profile before offering or approving a writing assignment;
Just as with the last Twitter tip above, DO interact with those with whom you have connected – comment on what they share, ask questions, share things you think they’d like. Remember that it’s not just about promoting yourself, it’s about networking and establishing connections, in some cases building friendships around common business-related interests – that’s a two-way street;
DON’T allow your family or friends to “friend” you on your Facebook or MySpace profiles, unless you can absolutely trust them to never post personal or inappropriate content to your page – you don’t want to risk losing a business opportunity due to an offensive posting by someone who doesn’t mean you ill but just doesn’t know any better;

Final Tip: DO set up a business email address (use your Blog domain if you have one) and create an Email Signature that promotes your business Facebook Page, business MySpace profile, and business Twitter account (you do have all three, don’t you? You should!). DON’T use your personal email address for business.

The bottom line is that the point is NOT that you should never share personal information with business acquaintances and colleagues — there are times when it is acceptable — but simply to keep it appropriate and to a minimum. DON’T overwhelm someone you know only online with a lot of personal details about your private life. By all means DO be personable, witty, and charming (be yourself), just be the most professional YOU that you can be.