Freelance Creatives: How (and Why) to Build Separate Social Media Audiences
By Bethany Johnson on February 1, 2018
The purpose of your online presence is to attract and retain the best clients. As a freelancer, I know this can be tricky. Clients want to hire content creators that have established themselves as a voice in the industry, so freelancers often build a brand in their sector to prove their chops. The only problem, then, is that most freelance creatives have inadvertently started two businesses: one educating and entertaining their social media audiences as a niche content creator (much like a conventional blogger), and one that speaks to prospective clients (more like a consultant for hire).
Since time is limited, it's nearly impossible to juggle both. Sometimes it feels like we must choose between becoming a blogger or a freelancer. Muddy the water too much, and website visitors have no idea what you do for a living or, more importantly, what you can do for them.
Image attribution: Kyle Glenn
Launching and running a content brand is no small feat, especially for bootstrapping solopreneurs. So if a freelance travel writer, for example, spends all day creating sightseeing tips for his own personal brand, then he will have missed the opportunity to speak directly to the audience who will eventually sign his checks: prospects.
The answer is not to niche down further. Even our exemplary travel writer, whose niche is clearly defined, must serve multiple audiences. The answer, I've found, is learning how to touch each group.
Use Social Platforms to Your Advantage
Great news: Social media audiences congregate around different platforms for different reasons. Our audiences have already somewhat separated themselves for us.
A good way to take advantage of this is to know general readers' intent on each social platform. Facebook and Instagram users are often catching up with friends, checking out trending entertainment, or joining a lively debate. As a small-business owner, you can jump in with the goal of sharing something useful or fascinating. Rarely are ideal B2B clients hanging around Facebook, hoping to hire content creators, so instead of logging on with the purpose of connecting with prospects, use Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to share and promote your published work.
Twitter and LinkedIn are great for engaging potential clients. Readers here are already in a business mindset, surrounded by relevant industry headlines. I use this to my advantage by chiming in on commentaries, Twitter chats, and trending hashtags.
A few years ago, I narrowed down my list of ideal clients from a few thousand to a few dozen, and began heavily engaging with those prospects on Twitter. Over time, they learned to trust and enjoy my contributions to their conversations. This tactic landed me my best clients to date.
Image attribution: Davide Cantelli
Remember: When it comes to mere traffic, focus on reaching your clients’ client. But when developing deeper, one-on-one professional friendships, connect more intimately with your own prospects.
I'll never forget the day I realized my mom was hurting my ability to build an audience online. Like many moms, mine is the ultimate cheerleader. Her motto is "more cowbell." If anything, I thought her support would help engage social media audiences.
The revelation came a few months ago when biomedical and electrical engineer Chris Aldrich explained how when his familial fans "like" his Facebook posts, the site's algorithm would steer the post into more family members' news feeds. The program was smart enough to deduce that if Aldrich's mom liked it, so would his auntie. And she did. The only problem is that the post's actual material was often on theoretical mathematics or technology-stuff intended for Aldrich's colleagues.
Image attribution: Fabrizio Verrecchia
Adweek recommends small-business owners and freelancers get ahead of algorithm changes by:
- Telling fans and followers how to ensure they see your material in their newsfeed. Usually, your most engaged readers are more than willing to alter their settings to see your posts.
- Using live video more often. Social platforms reward the engagement that live video generates for their site. Take advantage of that competition by learning how to organize your thoughts and present them in video form as opposed to the traditional written word.
- Setting up and administering a Facebook group as opposed to just the usual business page.
I would also advise freelancers to learn how algorithms work. Then set up a Google alert so you know when algorithms shift, how the changes affect you, and what you can do to adapt.
Borrow Someone Else's Audience
Guest posting is one of the best ways to build your audience and attract the attention of potential clients. I think of it as a sort of native advertising for solopreneurs. The trick is to treat the host site as respectfully and thankfully as a paying client.
Guest blogging has its own back story. It began as a great way for "host" bloggers to infuse a fresh voice into their content for hungry readers without burning themselves out. The guest writers would then generate traffic thanks to the established readership of their host. Everyone benefited.
Image attribution: "My Life Through A Lens"
However, guest contributors began expecting the benefits without putting the time and energy into high-quality storytelling. In fact, the shady business of guest posting for SEO alone was born, and along with it, a host of corrupt characters that gave the practice a bad name.
Today, though, most publishers can spot the difference between a spammer and your genuine offer to collaborate. And they're aware of the mutual benefits of guest blogging.
My advice here is to guest post a couple of times on an industry-relevant, influential blog before pitching your services to the next most authoritative site. Slowly move up as you develop your portfolio, a strategy that builds your audience, your network, and your clout.
Collaborate With Others for Reach
Inevitably, you'll mention other brands and content creators in your work. Whether you're speaking to end users or prospective clients, writing on your own site or someone else's, you'll occasionally include colleagues or brands as examples to prove a point. When you do, and your work is published, don't just share it online-tag your illustrative entities.
Don’t let the illusion of being small dupe u into thinking you’re weak. As a #freelancer, your outreach efforts can dwarf even the biggest company’s one-day philanthropic “good deed.” https://t.co/kdNARLqil7 w/ @dodiejacobi@karineben@IKEAUSA #amwriting #writerslife #freelancing pic.twitter.com/KAQ1kHX9Ha
– Bethany Johnson (@thanybethanybe) January 18, 2018
They'll get a little alert that tells them you mentioned them. They'll check out your work and often share it with their own audiences. This can relieve some of the pressure clients apply to creatives to generate traffic.
Strategize Your Why
Carefully consider your strategy as a small business before creating or sharing another piece of content. Avoid the temptation to be everywhere at once, covering every topic. Michael E. Porter, one of the best business minds of all time, famously said, "The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do." For me, that means ditching Instagram. It also means limiting my email list to ensure those addressable followers are my target clients, not a just a massive hodgepodge of fellow writers, fashionistas, work-at-home moms, and foodies. It means promoting my client work more for my client, and less for my own audience-building benefit.
Try not to confuse this with another overwhelming list of things to do to simply boost your own traffic. Instead, think about your business model. Are you a media company, profiting from affiliate links, banner ads, product sales, educational courses, and sponsorships? Or are you a service provider for hire, someone to craft a message on behalf of brands to ultimately achieve the former? If you are trying to do both, then you will own two businesses. It can be done, but not accidentally.
This can be a confusing topic for freelance creatives bombarded with convoluted messages. I've long wanted to bring clarity and relief to content creators. If this raises more questions for you, leave them in the comments section, and I will answer. Together, we'll sort through the strategies available to us as contract communicators.
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Featured image attribution: Warren Wong