Social Media Roundup #5: LinkedIn: Unfriendly to Freelancers, Invaluable Tool, or Both?

Editor’s note:  This is the fifth in a series on social media for writers. A book-worthy peg in a blog hole, the series aims to point writers in the direction of finding more information and helping them make informed decisions. Have a social media story to tell or experiences to share? Please email me or Thanks!

Nothing is simple about LinkedIn, not even its history as depicted on its website as a graphic mish-mash of dates, timelines, flattering pictures and factoids. Founded in 2003 by four former workers from PayPal and the now-defunct SocialNet, it got off to a somewhat slow start, went through numerous iterations and reorganizations to become a networking behemoth with more than 560 million users worldwide, including 146 million in the U.S. Among certain quarters, especially in the 9-to-5 world and for recent college graduates, it is considered the ne plus ultra in hoisting oneself up the corporate ladder. Numerous books have been written about how to best utilize it; magazine articles and blogs also offer a wide variety of sometimes contradictory information and advice, due in no small part due to the social network’s continuous tweaking and policy changes.

Over the past couple of years, LinkedIn has hardly endeared itself to freelancers, including many ASJA members. Missteps include LinkedIn’s unwillingness to work with ASJA to provide discounts on their premium memberships—a change from a few years ago, when they offered classes to ASJA members on how to best utilize their social network, along with one year’s upgraded membership. Also unhelpful are limitations on searches for those having free accounts, which is especially frustrating when looking for interviewees or other sources of information, and the exclusion of freelancers from full privileges for LinkedIn for Journalists, which consists of almost 85K members but now only welcomes “current professional journalists who work in full-time editorial staff positions for mainstream news media outlets,” according to their site. Several ASJA members, including yours truly, were grandfathered in but we no longer have access to the specialized training and free subscriptions and renewals currently allotted to select 9-to-5 staffers. A recent perusal of LinkedIn for Journalists shows that most inquiries revolve around when the next webinar will be and an occasional post about social media, press gatherings and awards, and a shockingly static newsfeed considering its vast and diverse membership.

That said however, “you pays your money and you takes your choice,” to paraphrase Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. While some are willing to pony up between $29.99 and $99.95 a month for various levels of membership—and it may well indeed be worth the investment, depending on how/how much they utilize LinkedIn—with a little inventiveness, you can make LinkedIn work for you with some effort and little or no added expense. Some suggestions:

To attract potential clients, write a targeted profile headline and compelling, concise summary. This means avoiding generic titles like “freelance writer” or “freelance journalist.” Adding a little something extra  like “Freelance Magazine Writer | When the message matters” or  “Freelance journalist who delivers compelling content on health and business” will “make clients want to learn more about you,” advises writer, coach and blogger Lori De Milto in The Freelancer’s Year. The same is true with your LinkedIn bio: “Make it conversational, concise, and compelling, because it’s a marketing tool and not a resume. Only the first 201 characters (45 in mobile)… are visible before people need to click ‘See more.’” So you’ll need to pack an especially strong client-oriented message in those opening two sentences.  

Build a large network. There is some debate among social media experts about whether less is more with LinkedIn, but it really boils down to quality, as opposed to quantity, of connections. While my Facebook “friends” consist of a mix of business colleagues, family and personal friends/acquaintances, I limit my LinkedIn to people who are in the business of book publishing and/or journalism—editors, agents, publishing companies and authors. Tennis instructors and real estate agents need not apply. It’s also a good idea to regularly check out who has been viewing your profile, also available in a limited capacity with free membership.

You can expand your pool of connections relatively quickly “by inviting relevant people to join your Linked in network,” adds De Milto. “Check out the profiles of people who comment on or like your updates, and the people whose updates you comment on. Invite anyone who could be a good connection to be part of your network.”

Connect personally. “You’ll get notices from LinkedIn when a client changes jobs, gets a promotion, posts an update, etc.,” she continues. “Congratulating the client on a professional achievement or commenting on an editor’s post is an easy way to stay in touch and help ensure that they think of you first for freelance work.”

Post and share ideas, accomplishments and engage. De Milto recommends sharing updates about one to three times a week and providing fresh and varied content “such [as] a blurb about an article, blog post or report related to your work with a link. Respond to all comments on your updates, and comment on other people’s updates.”

Chat with prospects. Several months ago, LinkedIn streamlined their messaging feature,  making it more like instant messaging (IM) enabling the more “natural back and forth of a face-to-face conversation, which helps create a more relaxed relationship with your prospect,” notes Chloe Brooks, content writer and social media marketing expert in The ability to immediately respond to inquiries can facilitate reaching that elusive editor or interview source.

Build credibility with endorsements. LinkedIn’s  “skills and endorsements section [is] an easy way to add third-party validation and tap into word-of-mouth marketing,” continues Brooks, adding that 88 percent of people trust reviews and recommendations written by strangers online as much as they do a referral from a personal connection. This means the more endorsements and recommendations you have on your profile, the more credible you look and the more likely your prospects are to want to work with you.”

Brooks also offers step-by-step tutorials for using the LinkedIn Pulse, which provides digest emails and news updates, and Slideshare,  LinkedIn’s online platform for sharing presentations and other knowledge; showcasing your work samples; and finding contract gigs, which involve becoming a part of LinkedIn Profinder. You must apply to be accepted to the latter, which costs nothing, although you’ll need to pay a minimum of $64.99 a month for the “Sales Navigator Professional” upgrade to apply for jobs after your first month’s free trial.

With Profinder, however, I have found it to be buyer beware. While I got some clients
from the service in its early days when it was still free, presently the client base—at least where I’m located—seems to consist of individuals searching for editors for their romance novel and/or companies looking for someone to finish major rush projects in a week or two. In all fairness, LinkedIn does allow you to view Profinder postings without added membership costs. The free membership also enables you to sign up for their regular job alerts, although freelance prospects are few and far between. So, if the Profinder lead is juicy enough, it may be worth springing for a month or—if you never used it before or haven’t in the past year or so—a 30-day free trial.

In the final analysis, I agree at times with the ASJA member (who requested anonymity) who finds LinkedIn highly annoying. Other times I suck it up and tough it out while struggling to update my profile, add a comment or blog to my newsfeed or make an essential connection. As my mother used to say, “Sometimes you have to do the hard things to get ahead.”

It’s renewal time! Make sure your membership is up-to-date, so you don’t miss a single second of ASJA member benefits. It’ll take just a second to renew online.