Artwork donated by Pati Nagle.
The Freelancer’s Survival Guide: Online Networking 3
(Networking Part Nine)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Well, the fine group of people I interviewed about online networking last week taught me something—all by example.
I often post the Freelancer’s Guide late on Wednesday night—about midnight or so Pacific Time. It’s too late to tweet that the Guide is up (no offense to the Australian readers) and the wrong time to post on Facebook or on my various list serves. So I wait to announce the new Guide until I get online the following morning.
Last Wednesday night, I posted the Guide at about 11:30 p.m., then I shut down the internet computer and trundled off to my evening relaxation routine. (Yes, I’m a late night person. Setting your own schedule is one of the many perks of freelancing.)
I figured I would notify everyone that the post was up in the morning, and that also meant sending e-mail to last week’s participants.
By the time I logged on the following morning, I found that half of the people I had quoted in the Guide had not only figured out the Guide was up, they had also tweeted about their participation and in most cases, they had also written a small post on their own blogs about the Guide.
Whoa. That’s impressive. And impressively fast. The internet—not bound by time or tides—allowed them to respond when they saw the post, long before I had contacted them. In the case of the regular bloggers (who were the ones who responded quickly), I have a hunch they have their blogs set up to accept pingbacks, which are notifications that someone has linked to their blogs (for lack of a better definition), followed the pingback, and saw the post.
But still, impressive. I often follow pingbacks to my blog, but I usually don’t have the time to write a short post about them. (Or maybe I don’t make the time. Hmmm. More learning here.)
When it comes to internet networking, everything does move at light speed—rather like a real time conversation. But unlike a real time conversation, the back-and-forth remains on the internet for a long, long time. (I hesitate to say “forever” because I am a science fiction writer, and therefore am quite aware that nothing lasts forever.)
I started the networking topic because writer Carolyn Nicita reminded me that networking is an important part of freelancing. I saved online networking to the very last because I felt that I didn’t have enough knowledge of the topic to write convincingly of it by myself.
This is the third installment of the online portion of our discussion, and the ninth (!) installment of the networking discussion. Whoops. I would have really missed a major topic had I written this book without reader interaction. (Thanks, Carolyn. And thanks everyone else who has suggested various topics.)
If you haven’t read the previous two posts on online networking, I suggest you do so now because I am going to continue where I left off last week. (Here are the links to the first part and the second)
Writing about online networking has helped me in some respects. I realized that I automatically do a few things right. I also realized that I’m more experienced at online networking than I thought. Like everyone else, I tumbled into the online community (several of them, in fact) and accidentally used it to build a platform. While I’ve come late to some parts of the game (blogging, Twitter, Facebook), I’ve had a website for nearly fifteen years and I’ve been on listserves and e-mail networking lists since the early 1990s.
Many of the people I interviewed for this part of the Guide have similar experiences.
Bestseller Neil Gaiman (who, when asked for a description of what he does, wrote, “I write books and stories and things”) says he got his online start on CompuServe in the late 1980s when he still lived in the United Kingdom.
“I was on the comics, SF, and writing boards,” he writes. “Then when I moved to the U.S. in 92 I started using GEnie, which I used until it died a few years later. In the late 90s I used the Well as a forum/platform, then started my own blog in 2001. I started twittering about 14 months ago, after resisting it for a while, and a couple of months ago I got tired of explaining that I had nothing to do with the Neil Gaiman Facebook page, and took over the Neil Gaiman Facebook page too.”
As he mentioned last week, he didn’t do this to network, but to have fun.
“I very much enjoy conversation over Internet text,” Mitch writes. “I find it gratifying. I became active on Usenet and the Genie online service in 1989 and just stuck with it, until sometime in this century someone slapped a label “social media” on the activity and it became mainstream, with participation from politicians and TV and movies stars as well as just us nerds.”
After I tweeted about last week’s installment of the Guide, writer and editor Cat Rambo sent me a link to her excellent article called “The Networks Around Us.” In that article, she gives a history of the rise of social media. Even though she has given me permission to quote from the article (excellent networking, folks), you are better off using your mouse and clicking on this link. She does a much better job of explaining the rise of social media that both Neil and Mitch refer to above than I ever could.
For those of you too lazy to click, however, let me give you a few salient points: She found a Consumer Research Center study that says 43% of online users visited social networking sites in 2009, up 16% from 2008. I’m sure in the five months since her article was published, that number has increased even more.
Cat believes—and I think she’s right—that cell phones are what has made the difference. Now that you can access the internet on your phone, you can check e-mail, search social media sites, Tweet, or easily post a newly taken photo on Facebook. I’m sure that by the time I put this entire Guide together into one volume, there will be new apps and other technologies that make posting on online forums even easier than they are in late April of 2010.
Still, the internet is full of something I call “the noise.” So much is happening online that no one can keep track of it all. Rising above “the noise” takes a special project or a confluence of events or maybe just a cute cat playing the piano (you know who you are, YouTube). Justin Bieber and Susan Boyle both became international celebrities because of the internet—YouTube in particular—but I’ll wager there are a few of you reading this who have not heard of one or the other of them.
The internet makes it possible to specialize, and to spend your entire online life in one particular area, ignoring all others. Programs and apps facilitate this. For example, I use TweetDeck on both my iPhone and on my laptop to access Twitter. Without TweetDeck, Twitter would be impossible for me. But TweetDeck lets me separate the people I follow into various categories—friends, publishing, writers, news, etc. I still don’t see everything in my own categories, but I see more than I would if I just followed the stream.
I’m sure that over time, more and more programs and apps will become available that will streamline things even more. Just today, I noticed that there’s an iPhone app which will organize everything that I experience on a trip so that I can easily blog about it or send it to my friends via e-mail. And I mean everything, from my GPS locations (you really want to know where I walked on my journey?) to my hotels and meals to my photographs. And honestly, if I decide to blog about an upcoming trip, I might download the app to keep everything organized in one place.
But while that organizes information for me, it doesn’t help you thread your way through the various social media. Again, let me point you to Cat’s article, because she separates out the various online sources, from LinkedIn to MySpace, and discusses what they are used for. Remember Mitch’s advice from last week: pick the sites that you’re most comfortable with, and use them.
Everyone I asked seems to use the various sites differently. Some do it haphazardly, doing whatever works for them without a lot of analysis, while others figure out what’s best given their limited time resources.
Writer and futurist Brenda Cooper is quite organized about her social networking. “I have a blog (associated with my website), three Twitter accounts (I am a technology professional in government, so I have one account for that personality, I have my own personal Twitter account with my real name, and I am one of many futurists who twitter occasionally on the joint account ‘futurefeed.’), a LinkedIn account, and a regular FaceBook page (no fan page so far). I have some things I’m not really using well yet like a YouTube channel.”
But she admits that she uses some technologies more than others.
“I spend more time on Twitter than anywhere else, followed by FaceBook,” she writes. “I pretty freely mix the science fiction writer and the technology geek and the futurist and the dog lover. I figure what I’m marketing is me, and that’s me—a pretty wide-ranging person with eclectic interests.”
Writer Patrick Alan isn’t quite as technical about his approach, although he’s very aware of the networking potential.
“I have a blog solely for internet networking,” he writes. “I’m not promoting anything because I have nothing to promote. The thing is, it’s me online. I comment on forums and blogs. I twitter. It’s an opportunity for people who my comments have amused or annoyed to go find out who I claim to be. The most important page on my website is the ‘About’ page.”
John DeNardo of SF Signal is quite creative about how he uses the internet to network.
“The problem for me (as blogging is not my day job) is finding the time to network after the all-consuming task of feeding the blog is done,” he writes. “What has evolved over time is a mixture of networking while providing content. For example, our Mind Meld roundtable interviews provide our most consistently popular content, and they are also a great excuse for me to contact folks (authors, fans, actors, producers, scientists) out of the blue. Also, folks will contact me out of the blue with a tidbit suggestion or to say thanks for an unsolicited plug. The connections made in these cases are nice side-effects to the main task of providing content.”
Carolyn who runs the blog Bookchickcity says, “I network by using Twitter and Facebook mostly. I use Twitter for publicising posts on my blog as well as communicating with other book bloggers.”
And in the lovely charm that is the internet, the only way you can tell that Carolyn’s blog is based in England is that she spells things differently than I do (but still correctly, I might add).
Glenn Hauman of Comicmix.com runs an e-mail list that includes a ton of professionals in various entertainment industries from all over the world. (It has been running since the early 1990s, and in the beginning, most everyone was just starting in their industries.) But he does a lot more, even though he writes,
“I don’t do as much as I’d like to; too many things get in the way. But I always try to get in a few tweets in a day, at least one blog post a day if not five.”
Which sounds like a lot to me. Five posts in one day? I can barely manage a few a week.
He adds, “For me, it’s a blog with an RSS feed, Twitter, and some Facebook. And a widget from Widgetbox.com. And posting on other web sites, being part of the community.”
Community is also important to bestseller Michael A. Stackpole, although he doesn’t use the word. He writes,
“I network on the internet in several ways. First, I maintain a website and blog regularly about fiction, entertainment, writing, life and I use the blog to provide samples of stories. The idea is to establish myself as being entertaining, since entertainment is what I do. Second, I use Twitter, Facebook and Myspace (which are all linked) to get my blog further out there, and to interact with my various constituencies.”
But that isn’t all Mike does.
“I participate in a few listserves,” he adds, “and have organized some projects among peers. Being the motive force on a project that helps others earns a lot of good will. Folks return favors, which is always useful.”
So far so familiar to me. But Mike has ventured into an area that I’m not technologically able to follow in at the moment. (I have to upgrade a computer before I can do so—and honestly, I can hardly wait.)
“Finally,” Mike writes, “I use podcasting and Second Life as audio vectors to reach folks. Podcasts can go into MP3 players, so folks can hear me even when they’re not at their computers. Second Life allows me to do live readings and classes for an international audience. All of these opportunities allow folks to become invested in my success, which is rather critical if one is to succeed.”
Mike isn’t alone in using Second Life. As I mentioned above, Mitch Wagner uses it as well. It was on Second Life that we had our interview yesterday.
He writes, “Second Life is where I do interviews for my podcast Copper Robot. I like the community there, and the crazy 3D visual effects. We have a good bunch of people who come to the show regularly and make smart comments and ask intelligent questions. Copper Robot is also available as a podcast.”
He’s also active on Twitter, which he says he prefers (see last week’s post). But, he adds, “Facebook is a close second for me. I try to keep my friends list on Facebook to people I know and like, either in real life or by reputation. I use Yakket, a Facebook app that echoes my Twitter updates to Facebook. I have Yakket set to exclude any update that contains a URL. I found Facebook users aren’t as tolerant of the constant stream of links as people on Twitter are.”
As Cat Rambo points out in her article, each social media site is different, and Mitch seems to understand what he wants from each.
“I use my personal blog,” he writes, “mostly as a feed of articles I’ve published elsewhere, as well as the occasional professional announcement or—very rarely—a personal post. I’m finding it more rewarding to post on other people’s sites rather than try to build an audience for my own blog.”
And finally, he uses a network I’m just beginning to understand: LinkedIn. He writes, “I use LinkedIn as an extended business card or resume. I’ve never found the kind of community on LinkedIn that I get from other social media.”
If you take anything from this series of advice from good networkers, take this: Do what feels right for you. Doing it because you feel you have to or because you heard that everyone else is doing it will seem phony. Do what you enjoy.
Because—going back to last week’s post—the key to effective networking is to have fun. Last week’s word was “party”—social media is like a big cocktail party and it’s the amusing person who gets remembered. But this week’s word is “community.” If you’re there and interesting and enjoying yourself, even if you’re relatively quiet or not the most noticeable raconteur, you’ll find a group of like-minded people to spend time with.
Next week, I’ll wrap up with the question that really matters—does all of this help or hurt a freelancer’s business? The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.
“Freelancer Writer’s Survival Guide: Online Networking 3 (Networking Part Nine)” copyright 2010 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Here’s how you link to these great folks on social networking sites: