Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

The Online Network

Originally published in PWAC Contact

Thanks to Lisa Murphy, web consultant at House & Home Media, quite a few members of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) got to delve into social media at a Thursday morning MagNet session. Murphy helped us understand the current triad in social networking: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

This short article can’t cover social networking, let alone explanations of the three networks, to any great extent, so what I’ll share here are a few things Murphy didn’t mention. (For more insight, follow the links at the end of this article.)

Caveat lector: some of what you’ll read here may be useful, but bear in mind that I’m a light user of social media. I check in occasionally, shut everything down when I focus on client work and definitely do not follow all the “best practices” that experts push. In other words, my life does not revolve around social media.

Finally, I’m sharing both knowledge and opinions. With that said, here goes.

Certain things apply to social networking in general.

  • Help others when you can. It’s the number one rule of networking.
  • Lurking is OK. Don’t let anybody tell you it isn’t. It’s also called observation, and it’s a good way to learn about online networks.
  • Take the learning at your own pace. For instance, you can try one new “best practice” a week.
  • Do your networking as time permits. The networks are your servants, not your masters, and if you aren’t careful, they can become time sucks.
  • Connecting to people on social networks who you don’t know (with the exception of Twitter) is creepy – don’t do it.
  • If you use social networks to cultivate relationships with prospective clients keep your online image businesslike, even if you wear shorts and a t-shirt to work.
  • Occasionally break the business image rule, but use your judgement. My judgement, for instance, told me it was OK to post (to all three networks) that I’m looking for goaltenders to play hockey on Wednesday and Friday mornings. I also posted a link to an opinion piece on my site about why I did not renew my BusinessWeek subscription.

Murphy first took her audience through LinkedIn, arguably the most important network of the three.

Why? For one thing, LinkedIn profiles rank very high in Google searches. For another, everybody uses LinkedIn. Don’t believe me? Consider this: on LinkedIn, I’m three degrees away from Hillary Clinton and two from Barack Obama.

Since it’s a popular network, you can research both people and companies that interest you:

  • Potential clients
  • Their marketing executives
  • Magazine editors
  • The companies that publish said magazines
  • People who can keep you up to date in a given field
  • Other writers
  • Anybody who interests you

All three networks let you publish updates. I publish quick notes about articles of mine that have recently been published, along with links that take readers to the article on my own web site.

Keep your profile current. While Barack Obama’s now says he’s the President of the United States of America, Hillary Clinton’s still defines her as a candidate for Obama’s job. Make of that what you will.

I don’t connect to others much on LinkedIn, but I have hit upon this strategy: when an article of mine is published, I send interviewees a LinkedIn connection invitation that looks like this:

  • Thanks for the interview
  • Here’s the published article (link to article on my web site)
  • If there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know
  • If you like, let’s connect on LinkedIn

I don’t spend much time on LinkedIn groups, though I do manage PWAC’s LinkedIn group and subgroups. How is that working out? If non-PWACers want to join us on LinkedIn, I redirect them to our site, telling them how to join PWAC. How effective is this? I’m not sure, but LinkedIn is a great venue for PWAC to publicize its existence, at the least.

Murphy discussed Twitter next, a microblogging site that I often perceive as chat on steroids.

All the people you research in LinkedIn you can follow in Twitter, provided they tweet. People you follow may get an email telling them that you are following them, and that’s it. You’re not “friending” them, so it isn’t creepy. It’s low-key, the “followed” don’t feel stalked and they can follow your Twitter stream or ignore you as they wish.

I use Tweetdeck to access Twitter for several reasons, one of which is a neat cross-posting feature. When I tweet updates pointing to recently published articles of mine (using the same text from the LinkedIn update) I use Tweetdeck to simultaneously post the update to my Facebook profile.

News breaks quickly via Twitter. If you follow tags such as ‘#iranelection’, natural disasters and other happenings via Twitter, you may be more up-to-date than you would be if you followed traditional media outlets (many of whom also use Twitter as a news source).

Care to see a sample of this kind of activity here in Canada? You can follow two different court cases via Twitter – check out this fine article by yours truly for the scoop.

Attendees at certain conferences where fees are much higher already tweet blow-by-blow accounts of the sessions they attend. This might be a neat idea at a future MagNet, perhaps using a designated tweeter for each session. Why?

  • It would make transcribing the session child’s play – copy the stream, paste it into a word processor document, and stitch the important bits together.
  • Members who can’t attend get some insight into the sessions.
  • It’s cheaper and easier than streaming video.
  • Such streams could be used to boost search engine optimization for PWAC sites.

Murphy didn’t have time to get into Facebook. I admit that was OK with me, a self-avowed snob who prides himself on the fact that I average one Facebook site visit every two weeks. Having said that, many PWACers enjoy the time they spend there.

My perception: if LinkedIn is a formal boardroom meeting, Facebook is a barbeque on the back deck. Both have a place.

Murphy wisely included “old networking” reminders in her handout. For instance, don’t bother with time-consuming pitches when a quick email to an editor you regularly work with is as likely to result in work.

Most importantly, deliver great results on time and show a positive attitude while serving a customer. This is the foundation of all successful networking, online or face-to-face.

To read Lisa Murphy’s presentation from MagNet, follow this link.