My startup website depends on social media pickup for pageviews, so my reporters and I tweet and Facebook the hell out of our stories. But how much can we do before followers start fleeing? Should we stop retweeting the retweets? —Alyssa Katz
Don’t use Twitter and Facebook as firehoses for your own content! Think about the Twitter accounts that you enjoy most. My guess is that they’re not just self-promotion—they link you to a variety of interesting things around the Web. They’re probably funny, or at least clever. They definitely do not retweet every single mention of their work. I asked a friend of mine who works in social media for advice. “Social media is give and take,” she replied, “but I notice that a lot of journalists just want to share their work and not participate on the platform. Fuck that. You’re in the business of news and writing. There is always something timely to talk about.”
Don’t just tweet your own headlines—use quotes from the piece or questions or jokes. Respond to and engage with people who comment on your work. Share other links and articles of interest. Be a human with a point of view, not a robotic headline feed. Keep up a regular presence, a few tweets per hour at most, and be mindful that most people are on Eastern or Central time. As for retweets, if you abuse the privilege, Twitter allows users to hide all retweets you share. So RT sparingly.
You mentioned last week that a freelancer should link to his or her personal site when pitching. Any tips on creating an effective personal site? Right now, I just have a list of links to stories I’ve written. —Peter Sterne, CJR intern
Your personal site should be the go-to place for everything about you, the nexus of your various social media accounts and professional affiliations. It’s the place where you declare what you’re all about—what you have done and want to do in the future.
Editors and potential employers want to quickly see who you are, what experience you have, and where your interests lie. Add and subtract as you see fit, but major components of a good personal site include: a short biography with a photo (don’t be shy!), an up-to-date archive of your clips, links to all of your social media accounts and side projects, contact information, and some sort of blog component. Think of the blog as a place for ideas that are longer than 140 characters or a Facebook status update. It’s a place for you to promote your friends’ work as well as your own, a place for you to collect quotes and links, things you’re interested in and news stories you’re watching.
As for platform, I recommend Tumblr. People who aren’t on Tumblr can still follow your work on the front end of your site or in an RSS reader (just as they can with Wordpress), but it has the added benefit that Tumblr users can follow you within the dashboard, so your posts will pop up in their feed and they can easily reblog. If you’re tagging your posts well, that offers another way for people to stumble across your work within the dashboard, even if they aren’t looking for you. Plus, Tumblr blogs are very easy to set up using templates, and the CMS is very simple. For a walk-through, see Matthew Keys’s Tumblr for Journalists, this live chat with Mark Coatney, and this primer from Poynter.
Don’t be afraid to have some personality. Your personal site is space that you own, so it should be just as awesome as you are. Don’t bend over backward to “professionalize it”—it’ll just end up sterile and boring. Oh, and please don’t use typewriter font or an image of a quill or pen. You’re a writer. Tell us with your words, not your clip art.
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