Artwork donated by Pati Nagle.
The Freelancer’s Survival Guide: Online Networking 2
(Networking Part Eight)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
I had a great week this past week. Because I knew I’d be finishing a novel, which is always a period of great airheadedness for me (more than usual), and because I knew I was heading into a part of the networking topic I felt completely inadequate to write, I asked for help.
I mentioned to all you readers that I needed assistance on the Guide, and several of you responded. I also asked people whom I think are good at networking for their assistance. I asked them two questions:
1. How do you network on the internet?
2. How has it helped/hurt your business?
I got wonderful answers—so many, in fact, that I know this topic will extend at least a few more weeks. I have probably 10,000 words of material from folks, and that’s two to three posts, without any comments from chatty old me.
As I made up my list of people to ask about online networking, I noticed that most of them were either writers or bloggers. That’s partly my bent: I don’t follow musicians’ blogs or artists’ blogs, although I do visit their websites. Another reason is that it’s easy to make the transition to online networking when you’re already writing, as writers do every day.
So my list of effective networkers is writer-heavy. If you find other networkers out there who are good at what they do, please mention them in the comment section below so that others can find them, and learn from them.
I also noted that politicians and journalists (writers, again) were also very good at online networking, but I decided not to ask them about their online networking habits. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a strict no-religion and no-politics rule on my blog, just like I do at most social gatherings. Much as I love a good political discussion (as my good friends will attest), I am also savvy enough to realize that not everyone shares my views. I would rather keep you reading my work even though we disagree about health care or financial reform or the party in power rather than lose you to one of my political diatribes.
So I didn’t ask journalists from my favorite publications/stations/programs (some of which might come from a particular political persuasion) to comment. Nor did I ask any politicians to comment either, even though I know a lot of very effective networkers among them. I didn’t want you to think I was endorsing them in anyway, while I don’t mind if you think I’m endorsing the writers/bloggers mentioned below. (At the very end of this post, you’ll find social networking links for the people quoted herein.)
The one thing I did notice about everyone I contacted—and I do mean everyone—is that they all responded to me. Most responded quicker than I expected: I had 90% of my answers within six hours of sending out the questions. That’s impressive. It’s even more impressive because I sent out the questions on Sunday afternoon, hoping to get in line for everyone’s Monday morning work response. Instead, I had my answers by Sunday night.
The handful of people who took longer to respond e-mailed me and asked for more time or asked when my deadline was. And a few took longer to respond because of me: I had to contact them via Facebook or Twitter rather than via their preferred e-mail account because I didn’t have that account.
Still, I’ve been writing non-fiction for more than 30 years, and I’ve never had a 100% response rate before to interview questions. And in the decade-plus that I’ve been sending questions by e-mail, I’ve never had such a rapid response. I could have written my article that Sunday night.
That instant response tells me right there why these people are effective networkers. They responded, first and foremost, and to a person, they answered my questions.
If you haven’t read last week’s post on Online Networking, double back and do so now. With the help of writer Ryan Viergutz, I explained how people use the internet to network and to gather information. In private e-mails, a few of you expressed concern that I was confusing networking with marketing in that post. But I didn’t: as you’ll see in the next few posts, online networking and marketing go hand-in-hand.
I think this is best summed up by Sarah Wendell who, along with Candy Tan, writes a marvelous blog about romance novels called Smart Bitches Trashy Books. Smart Bitch Sarah, as she signed her letter to me, also has her own blog, sbsarah.com.
She wrote, “I network on the internet by talking to people who share my interest or by answering questions from those who are curious. It helps my business, but then, my business is creating a space for conversations about romance novels.”
I found her via Twitter, but I found her blog because of a review of a book she and Candy Tan wrote called Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels. (It’s in my Recommended Reading list. Check it out here.) What I like about Sarah’s Tweets are the fact that they maintain the same attitude as her blog, but they also provide a link to the romance community online, since she forwards other people’s tweets (called retweeting, for those of you not on Twitter) and she often has links to good blog posts elsewhere.
In other words, her networking isn’t just me, me, me. It’s useful and fascinating and opens doors to other worlds.
As does the networking of everyone else I talked to for this piece. As writer Patrick Alan mentioned, “Networking online is the same as off. It’s about engaging and being engaged. First you have to be present. Then you have to engage. Eventually, someone will engage back.”
“I like to think of the social networks as one big ongoing party where there are lots of conversations ebbing and flowing,” writes Brenda Cooper, who is a writer, futurist, technology geek, and public speaker. “Some [conversations] are small talk, some are business, some are deep questions. And just like at a party, I try not to commit social errors—not walk up to strangers and say, ‘Buy my book,’ or ‘Book me for a speech.’”
“The most important things are personality and a point of view—like your mom always said, it’s what makes you unique,” writes Glenn Hauman, who publishes comicmix.com. “And since it’s been reported that 70% of the content read online by under-40-year-olds was written by someone they know—be someone that your readers know, or at least feel like they know.”
“The key to doing it well is you have to enjoy it,” writes technology journalist and internet marketing consultant Mitch Wagner. “You have to appear natural. Nobody’s going to listen to what you have to say if you only use it as a platform to promote your work, any more than anyone is going to want to listen to you if you go to a party and all you try to do is drum up business. But if you go to a party and behave pleasantly and people know that you’re in business, a couple of them might remember you when they have a need for services like the one you provide.”
“I’m not sure if any [of what I do online] is networking,” writes bestselling author Neil Gaiman. “I mean, if it is, I never did it to Network. I did it because it was fun, and because writing can be a very lonely profession. It’s fun to have people to talk to, fun to have people who talk to you, and great to have people who will answer your questions (even if they’re wrong). I also feel that it levels the playing field, which I like.”
“I don’t specifically set out to ‘network,’ which sounds like something you’d do for immediate personal gain,” writes John DeNardo who blogs at SF Signal. “My goal is simply to connect with like-minded people who also love genre fiction. Ask me what the best part of blogging is and I’ll tell you it’s the variety of good people you meet. Sure, it’s networking on one level, but the motive is—and always has been—about having fun and connecting with others.”
Note the theme? The emphasis on socializing, the repetition of the idea of a party—which is one I also floated just this weekend, during our weekly professional writers’ lunch. J. Steven York and I were trying to explain how to use Twitter, and we both mentioned how you discuss things you’d talk about at a party.
That’s how social networks feel to me: they’re one big party. Although they’re parties that you can chose to attend when you feel like going to them, as opposed to scheduled social events that are often connected to a business conference or a family gathering. Then you’re on someone else’s schedule. With social networking, you set your own schedule.
“Most conversations occur through e-mail these days—you can do that and multitask,” writes Lou Anders, writer and editorial director at Pyr Books. “Whereas if I have to talk on the phone, all other activity must stop, and what could be a five-minute exchange takes 20 to 30 minutes minimum.”
John DeNardo mentions the same multitasking benefit. “In those in-between time-slices (queuing up in a long line, waiting for a movie to start, etc.) is when I find some time to visit social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.”
“I’m pretty disciplined,” writes Brenda Cooper. “I check in on the tweet stream regularly, I un-follow people I don’t get any value out of (which might just mean they’re talking about things I’m not interested in), but I don’t immerse myself except for about a half hour in the morning and about a half hour at night. Now that’s an hour I could be writing in, and I do think that costs me some output—but writing is like any other business and being good is not enough. It’s also being connected.”
“Pick one or two services you’re most at home with and focus your attention on that,” advises Mitch Wagner. “I’m most at home on Twitter, where I’m @MitchWagner. I post there all day, mostly links to articles I find interesting and the occasional dumb joke or observation. People seem to find what I tweet interesting. I have 3,500 followers on Twitter, which isn’t a lot, but which seems like a lot to me.”
It seems like a lot to me as well, but then, my Twitter follow list hovers around 900 these days. I have more followers on Facebook. But I’m just learning this stuff—and I’m having fun.
Mitch focuses more, and he’s good at linking. In fact, when I sent my e-mail, he asked if I minded if he answered the question on his blog, and link to my freelancer’s guide. I’ll be excerpting from everything he wrote in the next few posts, but if you want to see his answer in its entirety (and in the order in which he wrote it), go to http://blogs.computerworld.com/wagner. The post should be up in the next day or two.
Mitch writes, “The key to networking on social media is just like networking at a conference or meeting of a professional association: spend a lot of time talking with people, not at that, and listen and respond to what they have to say.”
Bestselling writer Michael A. Stackpole agrees. “A chunk of networking boils down to listening and responding. For example, if I see friends on Facebook are having a birthday, I wish them Happy Birthday. I don’t get to respond to everything, but I respond to significant things. I especially respond to questions asked directly which result from a discussion or a post, furthering dialogue.”
Or as Brenda Cooper says, “What I try to do is add value to my friends and followers—to tweet out interesting links, to maybe make someone smile. To be honest. To reply or re-tweet or recommend at least as often as I post.”
Michael Stackpole does that as well. “On Twitter and in other social media, redistributing contributions by friends also helps, since friends notice and others get the benefit of their wisdom.”
Or as Mitch Wagner says, “Think more about how you can help other people than about how they can help you. You’ll get more from your networking efforts if you think about helping others than if you think about helping yourself. It’s a Zen thing.”
So, I’m discovering, is writing a post about social networking. Next week, I’ll focus on what these people do, since each person has a different technique for social networking. And then I’ll add how it’s helped or hurt them.
“Freelancer Writer’s Survival Guide: Online Networking 2 (Networking Part Eight)” copyright 2010 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Here’s how you link to these great folks on social networking sites: