Demystifying Twitter: A Beginner’s Guide For Freelancers


I’ll be honest with you.

Until quite recently, I emidn’t get Twitter.

And I know I wasn’t alone. Lots of people don’t get it.

Let’s face it. Twitter isn’t exactly the most user-friendly and intuitive social network around. In fact, I’d say it’s downright hard. There’s definitely a learning curve.

I must also confess I’ve always viewed it as more “business-oriented” – a place to network, if you will, rather than a place to hang out. Because of this, I never really bothered to figure it out.

Of course, all this changed when I started my freelance writing business.

Once I was up and running, I started focusing on building passive leads. Very quickly, I realised Twitter was one of the keys to achieving this. I needed to understand it and start using it to my advantage.

Here’s what I learned.

Twitter Don’ts

First things first.

Before I even get started on Twitter strategy, I really need to get some stuff off my chest.

Time and time again, I see people pulling these stunts on Twitter. And, time and time again, it irks the shit out of me how people don’t realise this sort of behaviour is not only off-putting, but completely counter productive.

Here goes:

1. Hard Selling

There’s a time and place for sealing a deal, and it’s definitely not on Twitter. Especially with a new follower.

Twitter is a place to build connections and engage with your audience. You do this by sharing quality content and engaging in conversation, not by going straight for the hard sell.

That’s not to say you can’t advertise your services or some special offer you’re running every once in a while.

But for god’s sake, keep them few and far between. If you’re constantly trying to sell something, you’re going to put people off. It’s like going to a party and repeating the same thing over and over to everyone within earshot. You’re being annoying and people will just tune you out.

2 DMing New Followers

While you definitely should engage with new followers immediately, this should happen in the safety of the public feed. Sending new followers direct messages is a big no no. It’s like inviting yourself over for dinner unannounced at a stranger’s house. Not cool.

Bonus points for uncoolness (I know that isn’t a word, but still) if you include a link to your sales video / portfolio / blog / [insert other marketing material here] in your DM.

Put simply: bugger off mate!

3. Over-Automating

You can (and should) automate some stuff (more on this later). But don’t fall into the trap of automating everything.

In particular, you should NEVER, under any circumstance, automate welcome greetings to new followers. It’s really fucking insincere and invariably gets you caught out (Like when you use some “Shoutout to my new TOP followers” script and there’s only one new follower in the list. And what the fuck is a “TOP follower” anyway?).

Engaging with new connections is how you start a conversation which could potentially lead to work. You’re going to give a terrible impression if you can’t even be bothered to say hi in person.

4. The Meltdown

There’s nothing wrong with sharing some personal stuff on your Twitter. After all, you’re human; and opening a window on your personal life can make you more endearing and help your audience relate to you better.

At the same time, you need to put your first foot forward in front of potential clients; and you do this by keeping a professional demeanour and giving the impression that you’re together (even if you aren’t).

Unfortunately, there are those people who take sharing personal shit to the next level by doing what I call The Meltdown – a flurry of tweets which let on someone’s obviously drunk, or having some vulnerability or identity crisis or something.

If there’s a Hell, I hope there’s a special place in it for people who do The Meltdown.

5. That’s It.

Please, please, please. I beg of you. Don’t pull this shit. It sucks.

Rant over.


Figuring Out What To Post

And now for the fun part.

There are three steps you need to go through here:

  1. Figuring out who your audience is.

  2. Finding out what’s valuable to them.

  3. Using the correct hashtags.

Finding Your Audience

If you’re a freelancer, your target audience is obviously your ideal client. This could be agencies, direct clients with a specific need or even clients in a particular niche.

But don’t discount other freelancers as a potential audience, either.

Established freelancers often find themselves in situations where they’re just too busy. When that happens, they’ll outsource to a network of trusted colleagues. In other words, other freelancers aren’t the competition. They can be your best allies, and great sources of work.

What Does Your Audience Need?

Once you’ve figured out who your audience is, the next step is to figure out what they’re interested in.

There are many ways to do this.

One of the most effective, I’ve found, is to join a few forums and monitor what sort of questions are being asked. This will give you an excellent idea of people’s pain points and put you on the right track in terms of looking for the right content to share on your Twitter account.

And what if you don’t find any content about a specific pain point?

Even better. You can create your own content to address it.

This post is a case in point. One fellow freelance writer asked about social media on a group I’m a member of, which gave me the idea of writing this post.

Hashtag That Shit

Obviously, sharing valuable content is only half the battle. You also want it to be found.

Hashtags are the way to do this.

Hashtags are Twitter’s way of indexing keywords or topics. Using the correct one is important, as it’s how your content will come up when someone carries out a search related to your topic.

In this sense, carrying out some keyword research can really pay off in terms of increasing the visibility and engagement levels of your posts. You can find a great free hashtag analysis tool here.

You should also tag the author of a given piece of content when you share other people’s stuff. Again, more on this later.

How Often Should I Post?

There are various schools of thought on this topic, but the general consensus seems to be that you should post multiple times per day at regular intervals. The reasoning behind this is that Twitter is a fast-moving barrage of information, so the more you post the less likely your tweets are to fall through the cracks.

Personally, I’d suggest starting small. Five posts a day should be enough.

Going from nothing to anything more than that is simply too overwhelming. And since you probably won’t start seeing results until after the first few weeks, you’re less likely to stick with it the more you have to post.

At the risk of repeating myself, though, what you post is just as important as how much you post.

You should share a mix of your own content and curated content, with the amount of curated content being in the majority. This will establish you as someone who shares useful and interesting stuff, as opposed to someone who’s only interested in plugging their own stuff at every opportunity (read, hard-selling).

Sharing curated content is also a great opportunity to build a relationship and network with other people in your niche (which is why you should always tag the author of a piece of curated content). Everyone loves it when their content is shared by others (at least, I most definitely do). They may also retweet you, which brings more exposure to your profile.

Taking The Work Out Of Social Media

While you shouldn’t automate stuff such as greetings, you can – and should – automate certain aspects of your social media strategy. This will remove a lot of the effort and make it easier to stick with it.

It’s a good idea to schedule a week’s worth of tweets in advance. This is tedious, but it also means you don’t have to worry about social media for the rest of the week, which I find to be very convenient. It also allows you to schedule tweets in advance for the weekend or for those times when you’re away on holiday.

Personally, I use Hootsuite, which has an excellent free tier that allows you to schedule as many tweets as you like for up to three social media accounts.

Social media automation tools can also help you figure out the best times to schedule your tweets, so you get the most engagement out of them. I find that Buffer’s optimal timing tool is awesome at this. However, don’t stick to the same times for more than a month, as the optimal time to tweet is dynamic and constantly changing.

Final Words: Stick With It

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.

Getting results from Twitter (or from any other social media campaign, for that matter) takes time. There is no a quick fix; and it most definitely won’t happen overnight.

There will be times when you’ll feel you’re wasting a lot of time and energy doing something fruitless. This is normal. In fact, there’s even a name for it.

But you know what? It’s a phase. Soon enough, you’ll start getting engagement. And once you’re over that first steep hill, it will definitely start getting easier and more worthwhile.

Do you actively use Twitter as part of your marketing strategy? Or are you still figuring it out? Sound off in the comments below.