" rel="attachment wp-att-1826Michelle Rafter headshotPortland freelancer Michelle Rafter recently got her first gig live tweeting a conference. She also hosts a monthly writer’s chat on Twitter, and writes the blog Freelancing in the Digital Age which talks about writing and running a freelance … "/>

Freelance Journalist Michelle Rafter on Finding “Tweet” Success

Michelle Rafter headshotPortland freelancer Michelle Rafter recently got her first gig live tweeting a conference. She also hosts a monthly writer’s chat on Twitter, and writes the blog WordCount: Freelancing in the Digital Age which talks about writing and running a freelance business.

Her current clients include, Entrepreneur Media’s just launched website for people over 40, and Workforce Management, the leading HR industry business magazine. She was a former staff writer for the Orange County Register and has previously written for Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other publications. Ebyline asked Rafter for advice on freelancing, tweeting, and more.

You recently got paid to live tweet AARP’s conference for SecondAct. How did you get the gig? And how did it go?

I’ve been a regular contributor at, Entrepreneur Media’s website for people over 40, since it launched in April 2010. I blog twice a week and write features and slideshows. I originally pitched attending AARP’s recent annual conference, called Life@50+, for material for future blog posts, which my editor thought was a great idea. A few days before the conference, she offered to pay me to live tweet the conference. The original plan was to write a dozen or so tweets a day. I ended up doing two to three times that amount – and they increased the compensation.

Do you have any advice for other freelancers who are looking to get similar gigs?

Know your way around Twitter; live tweeting is reporting in real time, you have to have the mechanics of hashtags, RTs, etc., down cold because you’ll be working fast. If you’re tweeting news, follow generally accepted journalism practices. Approach publications you already work with first because they’ll be more familiar with what you’re capable of doing than someone who doesn’t know your work. Discuss whose account you’ll be tweeting from: if you’re tweeting from a publication’s official account they may have additional, internal rules about what you can or can’t write. If you’re tweeting from a shared account, you may need to add your initials to your tweets so people know who’s tweeting what.

What would you do differently the next time?

Tweet more photos: I only shared a couple and could have done a lot more.

What are some other ways writers can make money from social media?

Got a couple hours? I’ve made money from social media by: pitching a publisher who I follow on Twitter; writing about social media technology for tech publications (print and online); covering social media-related topics that writers care about on my own blog to attract eyeballs so I get more clickthroughs on ads on the page, and last but not least, being an active presence on networks where media companies troll to find contract help. I landed the biggest gig of the past two years because a friend recommended me to a company looking for a freelance editor and they did a thorough check of my LinkedIn profile before they ever contacted me. Moral of the story: keep your online profiles up to date!

You host a monthly Twitter chat for writers. Why did you start the chat? What are the benefits of a Twitter chat over other methods?

The Twitter chat for writers grew out of my blog, WordCount: Freelancing in the Digital Age, and an annual blogathon I host every May. I schedule a Twitter chat on the last day of the blogathon a few years ago so everyone who participated. It was a huge hit and gave me the idea to do a regular chat. I called it the WordCount Last Wednesday chat, or #wclw for short, because it’s held on the last Wednesday of every month at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

How do you pick your chat topics?

I pick topics based on feedback from readers of my blog, from what blogathoners say they want, and from polls on my blog asking people: what do you want to know? I also let events of the day direct subjects. For example, after Hurricane Irene, I ditched my original subject for a discussion of how freelance writers work through disasters. I also try to peg things to the time of year. We’re headed into the end of the year, when freelancers have to think about 2011 taxes, so next week’s #wclw chat will be about taxes, with a guest speaker who’s a former IRS agent who helps freelancers with their taxes.

Do you have any tips for other people who are looking to host a Twitter chat?

Promote the chat on all your social channels. If you have a question-based chat, let people know what the questions are going to be a head of time. Guest speakers are great so you don’t always have to be the one in the hot seat. Use a Twitter app like TweetChat that automatically adds the appropriate hashtag to the chat and screens out everything else. Write out tweets for the beginning and end of the chat in advance so you can cut and paste them in – it saves time that you can use to greet people as they enter and leave. Be a good host: keep people on track but don’t hog the conversation. Archive tweets with TwapperKeeper or something similar so people who missed it can see them. If you have a blog, do some type of recap within a few days of the chat, again for anyone who missed it.