Episode 2: Setting up as a freelance writer: website, social media and brand management best practice. Part 1.

Lorrie and I are very excited to announce episode 2 of the A Little Bird Told Me podcast, all about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of freelance writing.

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Setting up as a freelance writer: website, social media and brand management best practice.

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We hope to have a transcript available soon, which I will post here when it’s ready, as well as on the podcast’s main page.

Enjoy episode 2, and we’d love to hear what you think!.

The transcript is ready:

A Little Bird Told Me – Episode 2

Philippa: Hello and welcome to Episode two of the A Little Bird Told Me podcast. I’m Philippa Willitts…

Lorrie: And I’m Lorrie Hartshorn…

Philippa: And you can find the podcast at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. And from there you can find out how to subscribe via RSS, via iTunes and we’re also on Stitcher smart radio, and there’s a link to that. So, to make sure you don’t miss us in the future, get subscribing and also like our Facebook page – all the links are on alittlebirdtildme.podomatic.com

Lorrie: So, today we’re going to be talking about setting yourself up as a freelance writer, and specifically looking at things you need to make sure that you’re doing on the internet, which is obviously where people can see you. There aren’t many potential customers now who aren’t online, so we’re just going to talk a little bit about how to manage your website, your social media feeds and your online presence.

Philippa: OK, so the first thing you’ll really, really need is a website. I think it’s a rare freelancer these days who can make a consistent living without a website. You need somewhere you can direct potential clients to. You need something on your business card so that, if you give it to someone at an event, they can go and look you up and see what they think of you, basically. For a writer, particularly, you need links to other things you’ve written, so they can get an idea of the style of writing you do and how good you are.

Lorrie: Definitely, I completely agree. And I think it, as a writer, it’s important to prioritise words over pretty pictures. And by saying that, I don’t mean to devalue graphic design at all, but I’ve found that a lot of copywriters and editors online, they have absolutely gorgeous websites with terrible content. No links of value, no resources, no contact details – they’re just not very user-friendly websites and that doesn’t make me think very much about that person as a service provider.

Philippa: Because, if you are a graphic designer, you do need your website to look amazing. There’s no question about that. But, the fact is, as a writer, it’s great if your website looks amazing but the most important thing is the content – the words you use and how you use them. That’s what people want to see when they visit your website.

Lorrie: I think a point you were making when we were chatting about this the other day, Pip, is that you were doing some market research and found that proofreading websites in particular have a high rate of errors on them.

Philippa: Yes! I was looking around at various proof-reading websites, doing a bit of market research, seeing what services they offered, what kind of prices they charged and I looked at the top ten Google results for a particular proof-reading search and the number of typos blew my mind. I wanted to email them just because I was embarrassed for them. And say, “Look, this is just your homepage and you have three typos. Your prices page lists different prices because you’ve only updated part of it. And these are proofreading websites! And if they can’t proofread their own site, then I really worry for any services they offer. And it’s similar on writing websites – I think there’d be a similar lack of forgiveness. Of course, everyone makes mistakes and, of course, once in a while, you might do an update without double-checking but really, you’ve got to be careful.

Lorrie: Of course. We’re not talking about personal blogs. I do have people say to me –people whom I know in my free time – “I don’t want you to look at my writing because I’m scared that you’re going to criticise my grammar!” And that’s not me. I have dodgy grammar sometimes. I admit it – when you’re struggling to fit something into a tweet for example. You don’t always want to be super, super careful. That being said, your business website, as a writer, is not your blog, and it has to represent not you but the work you do. It has to be pretty much error free. We’re not talking about someone who offers a non-writing service – it’s fine for them to make typos otherwise we wouldn’t have a job!

Philippa: Yes, this is a slight deviation but not really. There’s a big story in the news about an American politician and there’s a lot of justifiable anger towards him because of things he’s said. But one tweet I saw referenced a tweet that the Republican Party had sent that had a typo in it. And the tweet I saw, said, “Well if you can’t even spell your tweets right, how on earth can you fix this big disaster of a politician. And I just thought, actually that’s ridiculous. There’s plenty to criticise this guy for already – the spelling doesn’t really matter, especially on somewhere like Twitter of Facebook.

I’ve read people who’ve said you should triple-check every tweet before you send it but I don’t do that – I see Twitter as a very fast moving medium where sometimes I might put a comma where I shouldn’t or spell something wrong, and I don’t worry too much about that. My professional website is a different matter – I do everything I can there to you know…belt and braces, really.

Lorrie: Somebody sent me a picture the other day that did make me laugh; it said, “If you make a spelling mistake in your English lesson at school, you get a red mark. If you make a spelling mistake on the Internet, God help you!”

Philippa: Hahahahaha!

Lorrie: And it’s true – sometimes on fast-moving media like Twitter, when someone doesn’t want to go for your argument because they can’t be bothered to have a big debate, they’ll go for your spelling. It’s a side-issue, though – we’re getting off on a tangent. When it comes to professional websites…

Philippa: Especially proof-reading websites.

Lorrie: For goodness sakes, yes – especially proof-reading websites! You almost want to send them a sympathy email, don’t you? Like, come on!

Philippa: I really did! I was like, “I could be your competitor and I could use this to my advantage but in fact, I feel for you so much. I’m embarrassed for you. Please fix it.”

Lorrie: Haha! And I think, another thing we wanted to talk about today, Pip, is that it’s not just your website – it has to be your social media feeds. I know we’ve had a bit of a giggle about Twitter and the mistakes you see on there, but as we’re going to talk about later, your professional tweet feed or Facebook page are very different to your personal ones. Again, if you’re a writer, you do need to start checking what you’re putting out there.

Philippa: Yes, and not just in terms of spelling and grammar. Like we’ve said, I think people generally are more forgiving – well, a bit! – on Twitter but in terms of the content and the tone as well.

Lorrie: Yes, I was having a bit of a nosy on Twitter and I spotted a few copywriters on there. One in particular stood out to me, and not for a good reason, because I went down her tweet feed and there were just unmarked URLs – so just web addresses…

Philippa: With…not even titles?

Lorrie: No! No copy whatsoever…by a copywriter! And I thought, surely she must be spending more time on her beautiful website that’s full of quality copy rather than wasting her time on Twitter, so I clicked through and the website was even worse. Just horrible.

Philippa: And this is a professional copywriting website?

Lorrie: Yup, professional copywriting website. Now, like we’ve said, I’m not looking for the prettiest, fanciest website for a professional copywriter, but this was ugly! It was user-unfriendly. The links were all in the wrong places, there was a squirly, squiggly font and I couldn’t find anything and the copy was poor. So, it was an all over lose.

One point that I would bring up, and it is something that applies to social media feeds – your Twitter profile and Facebook as well as your website – is that it’s important to at least choose an appropriate colour scheme and picture. Like we’ve said repeatedly now, we don’t have to have a wonderfully designed website but if your website has a red background or a black background and white text, it’s not user friendly. Equally, if you have a picture of yourself hugging a giant bottle of beer, or a picture of your baby – you know, babies are lovely, but they’re nothing to do with your writing work. You have to find something that’s appropriate in terms of brand image. So, I would say that people want to know who they’re dealing with so get an appropriate picture, have an appropriate background for your website and have an appropriate username for your social media feeds.

Philippa: Yes, you see some awful ones and you think “No, rename that!”

Another thing about your website is that it can look really good to add images to blog posts on your website or descriptive pages. If you choose the right image, it can really enhance the post. But there are issues around copyright. A lot of people just go to Google Image search and search for “typewriter” and choose a nice typewriter picture and put it on their website…

Lorrie: You can tell we’ve seen a lot of this, can’t you? Honestly, I was chatting to a client the other day and he’d pretty much done the same thing – although, to his credit, it wasn’t a picture of a typewriter! But, I did have to point out to him, though, that if you don’t own these pictures, you might end up in a pretty sticky situation.

Philippa: Yes, if you just take an image from Google image search, there’s a fairly good chance you’re stealing someone else’s work, and that’s not a good thing to do. There are really quite easy ways of finding images that you don’t have to steal. There’s a thing called Creative Commons, and it’s a way for people to license their work – writing, audio or images. They can set their own standards about whether you can use them or not. Quite a lot will say, “You can use this as long as you credit me with a link or my name.” Quite a lot will say, “You can use this for non-commercial purposes” and you can’t use those on your professional website, because that’s commercial.

But what you can do is go to a site called Flickr.com, and go to the advanced search – at the bottom of that page, you get to tick boxes that say, “Only search for creative commons licence” and “Only search for commercial use”. And then you put in “typewriter” – invariably! – and do a search and there will probably be quite a lot of photos you can use. You credit the person, and that’s it, you’re using the image legally.

Similarly, you can go to Wiki Media Commons, which is the media bit of Wikipedia and a lot of the images there have licences you can use. It’s important that you do this ethically because someone’s taken that photo and if it’s not yours, it’s not yours, but also because if someone spots their photo on your page without permission, they can bill you for the usage.

Lorrie: Yeah, I had a client get a bill for about £800 and that was for a thumbnail!

Philippa: Yes exactly, it’s not cheap. They can pretty much ask what they want and backdate it because if they say “It’s been on your website for three months and I charge £750 a month, it’s not inconsiderable. You are in the wrong and you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on! SO ethically and just sensibly, make sure you use Creative Commons or copy left images.

Lorrie: Definitely. One thing I would add, Pip, is that if you can’t find an image you like in Creative Commons, don’t be tempted to stick something like a holiday snap on there instead. The number of times I’ve gone on someone’s websites and there are only tenuously-related images in the middle of perfectly good text… No! Either pay someone to take pictures for you – or of you – and then you have some perfectly clear headshots or what have you, or do without.

At the end of the day, as a writer, people are there for your words not your pictures and it won’t be the end of the world if you don’t have pictures on there. But as Pip says, don’t go stealing someone’s photography. You’d be absolutely livid if they did it with your writing and you have to support other people – photographers are freelancers as well, for the most part.

Philippa: Yes, absolutely. If you wouldn’t want them to go onto your website and nick your ‘About me’ page or your latest blog post to promote their work, then don’t do the same with theirs. It’s just not cricket! Hahahaha! I don’t think I’ve ever said that before in my life!

Lorrie: But I think it works nicely – very British and very true: it’s just not cricket! And it isn’t! So, to sum up this wee introduction to building your website and social media feeds, the point I would make is that you need to make sure that your website and social media feeds are designed around your clients’ needs and not your own. You need to think carefully, in a way you wouldn’t have to if it was your personal website, blog or tweet feed. Everything you say and do, every decision you make on your website and social media feeds, you have to bear in mind that it is hugely visible, widely visible and often permanently visible – to potential clients, to potential competitors so if you think it’s a bit of a bad idea, just don’t do it!

Philippa: And this does tie in to why you shouldn’t have your holiday photos on your blog posts because that’s about you – you had a lovely day there, the picture reminds you of it and it makes you all smiley. But the fact is, when a potential client comes to your website, they don’t care where you went on holiday – they care if you can write. And that’s a really good example of designing a site around what you like rather than what your client’s looking for.

Lorrie: I have a friendly acquaintance who writes blogs posts and it’s very much about the content rather than the design, but the background is black and the text is white.

Philippa: Ooooh, yes, I know someone who has…I just call it the migraine website. It’s got white text on lime green, and it actually hurts my head!

Lorrie: I think, as well, from an accessibility point of view, it’s not very good. It can be extremely difficult for people to read, it’s not clear. I mean, yes, alright, it’s a bold style choice!

Philippa: I’m very short-sighted but when I wear glasses, I can see almost the same as most people. So if I struggle to read it, then someone with sight problems that aren’t resolvable with glasses is going to really, really struggle.

Lorrie: Yeah, I’ve seen the lime green site you’re talking about and it’s stuck in my memory. And not in a good way!

Philippa: Yes, I thought you probably would have! And also, there may be a partially sighted business owner who wants a copywriter and you’re automatically writing yourself out of the picture. If they go to your website and literally can’t read what you’re selling, why on earth would they bother trying? They’d just go to the next site on the list.

Lorrie: I’ve been chatting to a prospective client recently who has a form of dyslexia. Again, you wouldn’t believe – well, obviously you would, Pip, because you’re a disability rights campaigner – one wouldn’t believe the difference a background can make! It can make things extremely hard to read if you choose an obscure background colour.

And I know we’re really focusing on this but I can count on two hands the number of websites I’ve seen recently with very questionable colour schemes.

Philippa:  Yes, you can have the prettiest website in the world but if it’s not useable, it’s pointless.

You might be thinking, “Well, I want a website but if I do it now, it won’t be right because I don’t have a designer and I don’t know what colour scheme I want, and…” Stop panicking! I’m a bit like this in that I get a bit perfectionist and so I just stop. I freeze. And what you’ve got to do, in general about this – and in particular about your website – is just do it. Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect because they never will be. There’ll always be something else you could be doing, or could add. You’ve got to have somewhere you can send people to. You can keep adjusting and changing it – I change the text on my professional website all the time because I’m never 100% happy with it.

Lorrie: Yep, same.

Philippa: But it’s important that, when I started, I had a website up and it’s been up ever since, and it changes. But that’s a good thing – Google likes websites that are updated and just as we mature as people and writers, things will change and you want to update it and stuff. But don’t wait for everything to be perfect. Don’t wait until you’ve got £2000 to pay a designer. If you need to set up a Blogspot website or a WordPress.com, it’s not as professional as having your own domain, but it’s better than not having anything at all.

Lorrie: Exactly, you’re completely right. As long as you’ve got the bare minimum – and hopefully this podcast will help you to establish what the bare minimum is – and a neat, clear, clean website, it doesn’t matter whether it’s WordPress, Blogspot, your own domain name, you’ve got something. So, decide what the bare minimum information is – which should be a little bit about you, a little bit about your services, and ways to contact you.

Philippa: It’s amazing the number of professional websites that don’t have contact information, or it’s always really difficult to find.

Lorrie: Yeah, it’s always a bit of a cliff-hanger, isn’t it?

Philippa: The one thing someone really needs if they like the look of your work is to know how to contact you without jumping through hoops.

Lorrie: I’ve found it very, very hard to find contact details on a number of websites I’ve been to recently, and I get bored. The average amount of time that someone will spend on a website, if it’s not well designed, is under 30 seconds.

Now, the standard place for your contact link along the top header is at the far right and, if it’s down the side, it’s at the bottom. Also, better than just having a link, have an enquiry form. Capture rates for enquiry forms are considerably higher than they are for just email addresses.

Philippa: Ohh, that’s good to know!

Lorrie: Yep. Much, much higher.

Philippa: And also, what I’ve done on my contact page, is not just put my email address, but put my Twitter page, my LinkedIn profile, partly to promote those accounts but also because some people might go to my LinkedIn page and prefer to contact me there – and that’s fine.

Lorrie: Yes, you’re letting them contact you on your terms.

Philippa: Exactly. I don’t mind how they contact me – I want it to suit them, I want it to work.

Lorrie: And if some people aren’t convinced by the time they leave your website, a LinkedIn account or your Twitter might make the difference between them thinking, “Well, actually yes, this person looks like they’d suit me; their writing looks like it’s what I’m looking for.” and just skipping off your website and bouncing on to another site.

Philippa: Yes, definitely. So when you’ve got a website, you need to direct people to it and there are a variety of ways to do that. And what we’re not talking about today is SEO and that kind of thing – that’s a whole separate show that needs more specific attention. Putting SEO aside, there are still ways to promote your website. It doesn’t mean it’ll get to number one in the Google results for ‘freelance writer’ but it does mean that people will start to see it.

One way is to add your web address to your email signature – that way, every time you send an email, it has your web address at the bottom of it. So anyone who’s interested can click and have a look. The added bonus is that if someone forwards your email to someone else, it will still have your web address at the bottom, so the person who receives that email might click through and have a look. You just never know. But it means that anyone you email knows where to find you. The other obvious place to have a link to your site is your Twitter profile and your Facebook page. Twitter in particular because it’s very visible – right at the top of your profile page – so anyone who looks at your profile can immediately see your web address, click and have a look.

Lorrie: Definitely. Another point – and it taps into what we were saying last time we did a podcast about going on websites and posting on there – is that if you’re asked for your web address, don’t miss the opportunity to put it out there. We’re not saying go and post it all over the place like Banksy, but do make sure that if someone say, “What’s your web address?” – and it’s often one of the forms on blog comment posts, you’re often asked for your website address – do put it in there.

Philippa: Don’t be tempted, though, to comment on blog posts just so you can link to your website. It’s blindingly obvious any time someone does that. If you look at well-known blogs that had a lot of comments, you can look through and there are some great, genuinely helpful comments, and there’s there’s a lot going, “Great post…LINK!” or “Great post, I wrote about something a bit like that…kind of…here!”

Lorrie: “…but not really like that at all…”

Philippa: And you can spot it a mile off. Look at it this way: if you were reading a blog and you saw a comment at the bottom saying, “Great post, check out my website.” Would you go, “Oh, that’s someone I want to hire as a copywriter!”?

Lorrie: No, and the same thing goes for the way you talk to someone. If you’re chatting to someone face-to-face and you’ve given them quality information – and obviously this is the blog post we’re talking about – and they say, “That’s great, check out my website!”  It’s ludicrous, you wouldn’t do it in person, don’t do it someone’s blog. It’s really bad manners aside from anything else, and it shows a lack of understanding of communication, which is how you’re actually trying to make your money.

Philippa: And you might think you’ve got a really clever way of doing it that looks different. It doesn’t. It’s the same!

Lorrie: I think this feeds into something we want to talk about later – LinkedIn is very bad for that.

Philippa: Gosh, yes! But overall, if you do get given the opportunity to share your web address in a legitimate, non-spammy way, then do it. If you’ve got a Pinterest account, you can put it at the top of your profile. Twitter, Facebook, genuine blog comments, email signature…anywhere legitimate that you feel good about, that you wouldn’t feel embarrassed telling someone you’d done (that’s a good test!), then do it – you’ve got to promote yourself.

Lorrie: It reminds me of something you said last time, Pip, which is that you have to treat yourself as a business. Now, if you’d put your company address/details on a blog post or in a contact form, then do it – don’t be embarrassed. But, at the same time, don’t think that just because your URL is your name rather than a company name, it’s any more acceptable to spam, because it’s not.

Philippa: Yes. OK, going on from professional websites, we also wanted to talk about engaging with social media. It’s a very good idea to be on at least one form of social media when you’re a freelance writer. You might have been reading around a lot of freelancing blogs and been confused because one will tell you that you absolutely have to be on Twitter, and another will say you have to be on Facebook, and this can go on and on with a variety of different sites. But, if you try Twitter and hate it, don’t be on Twitter. Choose the social media network that suits you because, although it’s part of your job, it’s better that you enjoy it.

Lorrie: Definitely, and I’d go a bit further and say choose a social media network that suits the personality of your business as well. If Twitter is perfect for your business and you find there are a lot of people on there – and it often works very well for B2C businesses – then great, super, get on Twitter, get tweeting. That being said, I have some clients in the scrap metal industry and scrap men just aren’t on Twitter. It’s too industrial, too B2B.

Philippa: It’s important to ask yourself where your clients are, if it’s clients that you want to engage with.

Lorrie: Another point we wanted to make particularly about tweet feeds is the idea of “update it or delete it”. Now, that might seem a bit brutal but if you find you have a social media feed attributed to your business name and you’re not updating it, have a think about what that might be doing to your online image.

Philippa: If a client comes across your Twitter feed and you haven’t updated it in three months, she might just presume you’ve gone out of business. Why would she look any further? Rather than have a graveyard profile, just get rid of it if you’re not going to use it.

Lorrie: This is it – there’s nothing sadder than an empty tweet feed. You can sense the tumble weeds.

Philippa: Oooh! I’ll tell you what is sadder than an empty tweetfeed: a tweetfeed that would have otherwise been empty but is filled with Daily Horoscopes!

Lorrie: Ohhh God, yeah. Awful isn’t it?

Philippa: Can’t stand those! When Tweetdeck first introduced the filter, the first thing I did was put “Twitterscope” into the filter. It’s important to remember that social media is social. It’s not “send lots of tweets about your website”, it’s about engagement: talking to people, and responding. Especially if it’s Facebook or Twitter. If someone contacts you, even to say “Hi” or “Thanks for following”, it’s polite to reply.

Lorrie: I suppose on an unrelated note – although it has a bearing – I’ve been looking for a gardener recently and it taps into exactly what we’ve just said; there are loads of gardeners on Facebook and Twitter and I’ve gone round emailing them all, saying “Hi!”, giving information and taking ten minutes to write an email to all of them and I’ve had zero response. Now, as a copywriter, I would love to have the luxury of ignoring prospective clients! I really would – it’d be beautiful! I must be in the wrong job. I’m tempted, despite a fear of woodlice, to get into gardening.

Philippa: Because if they have so much work that they can ignore you in their vast numbers…!

Lorrie: And I’ve had people telling me, “Oh, well maybe they don’t check their tweet feed…” but Aha! Your twitter feed will send you an email when you get a tweet, as will your Facebook group. I know, as do most people, that if you’re not responding to my correspondence, you’re ignoring me – whether deliberately or not. You’re not engaging with the social media feed that you set up.  Now, it doesn’t look professional, it’s really frustrating and I kid you not, I’ve gone through about ten different gardeners until I found somebody – on Twitter – who actually responded.

Philippa: I think you’re on some kind of gardeners blacklist!

Lorrie: Yes, I think I must have been blackballed somewhere! Just for the record, listeners, I don’t do anything horrible to our gardeners!

Philippa: Well, she says that…! Hahaha!

Lorrie: No, but it’s true! We had one guy come round, and he was great. He asked a certain price, because we’d let our grass grow to hip height – and not “hip” in a good way, but in a “This grass is up to my thighs and may be hiding velociraptors!” way – and he came round, we paid him the fee happily and he said he’d like to take us on as regular clients. We said great, we’ll get back in touch in a few weeks. Now, I lost the paper leaflet he’d left with us and I hadn’t saved his mobile number so I searched for him online and he wasn’t on Twitter.  I had a look on Facebook, and there he was. I emailed him and got no response. I then sent the account a friend request, and got no response. After a while, he then added me as a friend and still didn’t respond to my email!

I got the distinct impression that this person didn’t care about having business from me, so I went with someone else. And it wasn’t revenge; I just wanted to be able to get in touch with the person I was getting a service from.

Philippa: Yeah, and if they won’t even reply when you’re offering them work, you don’t have any confidence that they’d be responsive when you hired them.

Lorrie: Not at all, and it’s a real shame as he did a great job the first time but given that I got no response for three weeks, it was just too much.

Philippa: Yep. One thing that it’s important to consider is keeping your personal and professional reputations separate. Now, Lorrie and I both have separate personal and professional Twitter accounts. Speaking for myself, my personal account is the one I’ve had for a long time, first of all, and I really valued it as somewhere I could offload, be quite informal and chatty with friends and not worry too much about the impression I was giving off.

And so, when I set out full-time as a freelancer, I did wonder what I should do: should I just be a lot more careful with this account? But then, the name wasn’t a professional one and I knew I wanted to keep it as somewhere where I didn’t have to be on my guard all the time. So I set up a separate Twitter account for my professional life and I use Tweet Deck to manage the two accounts, plus I manage another account for a website I write for, so I’ve got several accounts on the go. I find Tweetdeck really useful for that. I occasionally send the wrong thing from the wrong account, but it’s never been too dreadful. But yes, for me, it felt very important to have two separate ones. Other people find they can have the same account and perhaps just moderate their behaviour on it. What about you, Lorrie?

Lorrie: Yeah, I completely agree – it’s whatever suits. I am gobby when it comes to my personal tweet feed, and my logic is that I wouldn’t want to be at work in an office all day, answering phones in a professional manner and responding to queries in a professional manner that represented that company all day, so nor do I want to be representing my own business 24/7. I use different browsers, but I don’t have so many social media feeds that I need to use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, but I keep Google Chrome open and one tab of Internet Explorer open, to make sure I only say one thing to the one account. And that works perfectly for me.

Philippa: That’s it: it’s about finding what works. For me, I’m getting on well with Tweetdeck, you’re doing it with two different browsers. I tried the two browsers but I found it too confusing. I was mixing them up too much. But, you know, it doesn’t matter what the solution is as long as you find one that works.

Lorrie: Very much.  I did have an experience recently where I was looking for a graphic designer. I went on this guy’s website and it was a brilliant site – really neat and tidy, exactly what I was looking for. And this guy had an absolutely gorgeous Twitter button very prominently featured on his website, sort of saying, “Come and have a look at me on Twitter!” and I went, and he was bemoaning how hung-over he was after an all-weekend bender!

And it was a massive turn-off, not because I don’t think he’s got the right to go on a two-day bender if he wants, but because he showed an absolute ignorance of boundaries between professional and personal.

Philippa: That’s exactly the kind of thing, isn’t it? You can have your own Facebook account with photos of you drunk and dancing on a table, but your Facebook page, which is your professional page doesn’t have that. There’s a very clear delineation between what should be where. It’s usually really obvious as well. It doesn’t take much thought, does it? You know, my personal followers don’t want to read my link about content marketing – it’s obvious that goes to my professional account. My professional followers don’t want to know if I sleep-walked the night before. It’s usually really obvious what goes where.

Lorrie: You’d think.

Philippa: Hahaha!

Lorrie: I really, really want to believe you when you say it’s obvious but it just doesn’t seem to be to some people! I suppose, though, that this brings us quite neatly to another point we wanted to make, which is that if you find yourself on several social media feeds – say, like Pip and I, you’re on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, learn your social media feeds and get to know them before you start posting prolifically, because they all have different personalities. Now, twitter…sorry, go ahead!

Philippa: Now, this is something that Lorrie and I rant at each other about quite regularly because it’s annoying. It’s not just unprofessional, it’s annoying. The different social media networks have different personalities. If you’re on Pinterest, you post pretty pictures – that’s what it’s there for. If you’re on Twitter, you can chat and all that. If you’re on LinkedIn…this is the big one, really, that people do wrong, I would say. LinkedIn is a very professional social network – that’s its whole remit, really. It’s about networking, having links to work colleagues and potential clients…it’s a very professional set up. It’s not entirely unproblematic as websites go but its purpose is very clear. And yet, a lot of people automatically feed what they put on Twitter straight onto LinkedIn and that’s not how it should work.

Lorrie: No, it’s not as user-friendly as Twitter, or as fast-moving and, as Pip says, the remit is completely different. It has its good points and bad points, because you can be a lot more self-promotional and even a little tongue-in-cheek on LinkedIn. You can write a lot more about clients being happy with you because you’re showcasing –it’s like an online, interactive CV.

Philippa: Yes, it’s what people expect to see there, so it’s not as cringe-worthy as if you did it on Twitter.

Lorrie: Exactly, it’d be completely obnoxious on Twitter. That being said, on Twitter you can be very irreverent and have a bit of a laugh. I used to manage the social media feed for a company I worked for full-time and one bit of feedback I got was, “Can you talk less about business and just have a chat with us a bit more?” and I was really surprised by that and it’s always stuck with me. So that works for Twitter but it doesn’t work for LinkedIn. Nor does the frequency with which you can post on Twitter.

Philippa: When I look down my LinkedIn timeline, it’s overtaken by far by just a few people who are clearly channelling everything they post elsewhere on to LinkedIn. So, there are nine or ten links to newspaper stories in a row, just from one or two people, then there’ll be some professional updates from various people and information on who’s connected with whom, then there’ll be another 15 news stories from one person again. And it’s misusing the network.

Lorrie: Yes, there’s really no point to it. LinkedIn…if it wasn’t so highly ranked on Google, I don’t think I’d be on LinkedIn. It’s not a very user-friendly website, it’s got its bugs and I don’t enjoy using it. I use it out of necessity because it’s very high up for my name on Google.

Philippa: It’s very useful – I’ve got work through LinkedIn, which amazed me. Thankfully, recently, Twitter cut off the possibility of automatically posting to LinkedIn, so some people, whose feeds used to really take over, that doesn’t happen anymore, because I don’t think they’ve noticed!  But there are other ways to do it, so it does still happen.

LinkedIn, as a site, could be improved so much. I know that Lorrie and I both had the same experience a few weeks ago of something that we thought would work one way but that didn’t. We were both, separately but within a few days of each other, doing a status update on LinkedIn. You can check a box for it to post to Twitter, and we both thought “Great!” So we did an update which went over 140 characters and what we both thought would happen was that the beginning of the update would be posted to Twitter to the rest of the update on LinkedIn, and that this would be a good way to get followers to have a look at our LinkedIn profiles and see the rest of the extended message.

So we both – like I say, separately and entirely randomly – tried this, and what actually happens is that what gets posted is the first 137 characters of the update, then “…”. There’s no link to your LinkedIn profile, there’s no explanation as to where the rest of the message is! And thankfully we both checked on Twitter, so we were both able to delete the ridiculous tweet. Because LinkedIn has the market share in what it does, it doesn’t have the pressure that Facebook and Twitter have to keep on top of things. That’s an example of where a small change could make it a lot more useful but the way it is makes it almost ridiculous sometimes!

Lorrie: So, just to sum up on the LinkedIn front, use it sparingly. Put quality, professional-only information on there. Be friendly, but make sure it’s work-related. And don’t treat it like a website that needs fresh content to rank highly on Google. LinkedIn is already very high up on Google – you don’t need to post 15 or 16 different news stories on there. Make sure all your content is up to date, post the occasional work-related achievement – if a client’s happy or you’ve got a new exciting piece of work, but other than that, it looks after itself, pretty much.

Philippa: Because we’ve got so much to say on this topic, Lorrie and I have run out of time! But we’re going to continue this really important discussion in the next episode, which will be available in about a week’s time. Go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com to subscribe so you can be the first to hear when new episodes are released. Thanks for listening and see you next time, when we’ll be discussing whether social media time is work or play, how to stay professional and how to cope with a PR disaster, among other things!

About Philippa Willitts

British freelance writer and proofreader.

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