Freelancer Profiles: Microjournalism 101

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Whether crowdsourcing or breaking news, journalists use Twitter in a variety of ways. In fact, the microblogging site launched a newsroom earlier this year to show journalists and publishers how to use the site for reporting, sharing stories, and engaging readers.

Veteran freelancer Kathy Sena works as Consumer Reports’ social media reporter, tweeting as @CReporter. Her articles have also appeared in Newsweek, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. We asked Kathy to share her insights on microjournalism and how freelancers can capitalize on social media opportunities.

 

Ebyline: Could you tell us a little about your social media gig with Consumer Reports and how you started tweeting as @CReporter?

 

Kathy: I’ve been on Twitter for a number of years as @kathysena, and I’ve found it helpful to me as a freelance journalist to be familiar with social media, especially Twitter. I’ve used it to find article sources, to share links to articles that I’ve written and to find new writing gigs. In January 2009, I was doing a keyword search for “freelance writer AND social media” and I came across a tweet from Giselle Benatar at Consumer Reports. She was looking for a journalist who was experienced with social media to represent Consumer Reports on Twitter during the first 100 days of the Obama administration after the inauguration. I got in touch with her and it turned out that my background was a good match for the job.

Happily, things went very well, and I’ve now been Consumer Reports’ part-time social media reporter for well beyond 100 days! It has been two and a half years, and we now have 10,802 Twitter followers on that account. People know they can follow @ConsumerReports for a straight feed containing all of the latest blog posts, etc. With @CReporter, they know they can engage with a real person, ask questions, share comments, etc. They each serve a very different purpose.

How much of your day is spent tweeting vs. other activities?

I work for Consumer Reports for two hours per day Monday through Friday. That includes working with the editors and chatting via email about upcoming blog posts or magazine articles, as well as representing CR on Twitter. I share links to new CR blog posts, answer questions from followers, do surveys, etc. About once a week I put together a social media report for my editors, and that includes screen shots of trending CR-related topics on Twitter, interesting individual tweets from that week, etc. It’s fascinating work and I get to work with really sharp, dedicated people.

Social media gigs don’t work the way magazine contracts do, so what should freelancers consider when negotiating/pricing these kinds of gigs for a publication or corporate client?

I am working as a freelancer for CR, on a weekly-fee basis. I think when you are first talking with a publication or corporate client about doing social- media work for them, you need to really determine exactly what the expectations are on both sides. Are you responsible for a particular number of tweets or Facebook posts? Are you expected to work a certain number of hours? With whom will you work and how will you get the information you need to do your job? Make sure you have a very clear understanding, and then put that in writing so everyone is on the same page.

Have you found that there are optimal times of day or frequencies for tweeting? Or is the substance of the tweet more important?

The content of your tweets is #1. But spreading them out, and not doing too much at once, is important, too. People don’t want their tweetstream clogged up by too many tweets from the same person or organization. I try to do a good job of spreading out my tweets over the course of the day. I’ll do some in the morning, talk with the editors via email about what’s coming up, go do some other work for other clients, and then come back and do some more tweeting.

So far, I haven’t used tweet-scheduling because I want to be able to respond in real time to changes and new input during the day. But many people do use it successfully. I’m continually taking screen shots on Tweetdeck and saving them for my social media reports. Some days I may do my CR work in two larger chunks and on other days I might pop in and out on Tweetdeck eight or ten times during the day, for shorter periods. It depends on CR’s needs that day (Is a big story breaking?) and my schedule.

Prolific Freelancer Thursday Bram on Pricing Infoproducts, Working with Subcontractors

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Freelance writer Thursday Bram has contributed to websites including CNET, GigaOM, and Lifehack. She’s also created a variety of information products like ebooks and online classes and recently launched an online membership site at EnhancedFreelance.

Ebyline chatted with Thursday about media trends and new opportunities for writers.

Ebyline: What are some of the limitations of the traditional hourly or per project freelance model where you’re working with clients? How can freelancers bust out of that model?

Thursday:
The biggest limitation, especially to charging hourly, is that every freelance writer has only 24 hours in every day — and if we try to work all of them, it tends to end poorly. At the very least, a lack of sleep makes for less than excellent work. There are certainly other limitations, as well, but that’s the limitation that I’ve run up against the most often. It means that the amount of money that can be made by someone that purely freelances is limited.

Breaking out of that hourly model is crucial. Charging per project is an important first step, because it means that you’ve got room to start exploring if there are time intensive parts of the work you do can be outsourced. I have a virtual assistant who can handle repetitive tasks, like tracking down email addresses for potential sources, freeing me up to do more actual writing. From there, it’s a question of what additional income sources you can think of that fit well with your specialties. That might mean subcontracting out work, creating ebooks or something entirely different.

When and why did you decide to start working with subcontractors? 

I’ve actually been working with one of army subcontractors for well over a year now. What sparked the idea to bring her on was a client who wanted me on a project where the budget was too low for me to actually take on. But I knew a writer who could handle the work with some editing and charged a rate that would allow me to get the posts written and still budget a little of my time for the necessary editing. It felt like a win all around.

Nowadays a lot of writers monetize their content by selling infoproducts but prices for those products are all over the map. What are your thoughts on pricing infoproducts?

Pricing can be tough, just because one group of buyers might be willing to pay a lot more than others. The first thing that I look at when I’m creating a new product is how much time I’m going to put into it. That’s in contrast to what some people will tell you (“look at the audience size” is pretty common advice). I want to know what I need to make for a project to make financial sense for me. From there, I’ll make a table of how many copies I need to sell at which price points for a total. Then I’ll run down the numbers to see what I think is realistic  There’s a bit of gut instinct at play, but you can usually get a good feel based on your research.

One of the dangers with infoproducts and content marketing is that you share too much and give away the farm for free or you don’t share enough and readers wonder if the product is all hype. Any thoughts on finding the right balance?

I’m happy to give away plenty of information in general. I blog all over the place and have given away plenty of free ebooks and the like. But I don’t generally do a lot of free information in connection with a specific product. I think that having built up my expertise is enough.

Another reason that I’m not scared to be forthcoming with free information is because much of what I write about (and sell in product form) is not some secret great truth. I learned most of it for free, by trial and error, reading everything in sight and bothering people who know more. What I’m really offering in a product is organization and guidance through all that information. And most people really do find that worth paying for.

I’ve seen a few other freelancer writers create membership communities as you’ve done. Do you think these communities are the new ebook or blog? Or is there another emerging trend you’re noticing?

I actually see live events being one of the big trends coming up. There have always been tons of forums and membership sites for freelancers (think about all those sites that offer guidelines for publications behind pay walls). I definitely can tell that there’s a lot of differences between the membership sites that have been started in the past few months. Mine really focuses on building up a business as a whole — marketing, additional income sources and the like. I’ve seen one that’s much more of a mentorship program and another that’s more geared towards honing writing abilities.

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