The Wild And Wonderful History of the Hashtag (and tips for using it!)

hashtag

 #ZOMG. It’s #Monday again.

Are your social media streams are clogged with the hashtag-bespeckled moans of the post-weekend world? Do you sometimes wonder how this tick-tack-toe board branched out from touch-tone phones into the world of digital media? Me too.

It turns out that hashtags weren’t invented to add irony to your Facebook posts or help you “trend” on Twitter. They were many things before being a part of the social media universe, and even when added there, they actually had a purpose: to help us find the conversations we’re looking for and stay on message once we do.

If Facebook’s recent introduction of the hashtag feels clunky and has you wondering if there’s even a point in using it for your business page or professional account, here are some tips.

1. Yes, hashtags are (slightly) different on Facebook and Twitter.

As ArabNet reports: “The first difference between Twitter and Facebook hashtags is that the latter enables you to control the audience for your posts, obviously. Accordingly, killing a post, whether hash-tagged or not, will delete all its related comments.

“Another difference is that sharing a Facebook hashtag will not cross the borders of your friend list to reach the outside world, unless you choose to share it publicly.”

2. They can magnify marketing efforts on a platform that’s usually very private.

Unlike Twitter where anyone can access anyone’s stream and all tweets are public, most Facebook users do everything they can to share their feeds and profiles with a select group of friends. Facebook hashtags transcend these walls, however. If people pick up and use your hashtag, it gives you access to a cross-section of Facebook that was previously inaccessible.

3. Monitoring is key.

Flinging your hashtag out to the masses is one thing, but it only matters if you can prove that it’s drawing them into your conversation. That means you’ve got to have a way to track it. Just like many social media platforms now offer tracking for Twitter hashtags, it’s likely that similar tools will begin to pop up for Facebook hashtags as well. In doing so, “brands will have the ability to listen to conversations about their products, positive or negative, simply by following the hashtag feed as opposed to Wall monitoring. Brands should evaluate their legal guidelines toward clickable hashtags, and if and how they’ll respond to complaints that aren’t directly posted on their wall,” advises IgniteSocialMedia.

And before you go, be sure to check out this neat #infographic about the hashtag’s history. (See what I did there?)

history of the hashtag

Image via quinnanya/Flickr

3 Reasons Why Freelancers Don’t Need A Traditional Resume


When you were in school, a well-rounded resume seemed like the Holy Grail. Extra-curricular activities, internships, grades…you pursued them all for the sake of  ‘the resume.’

But that was probably back when you thought all jobs happened in an office.

Now you’re an independent member of the mobile workforce, handling the marketing, client relations, and yes, the actual work pretty much all on your own.

If it’s been more than six months since you’ve even thought about the state of your traditional resume, you might wonder if there’s even a point in updating it.

And even if you want to build a traditional resume, you’ll probably find that paragraph-long snippets about your objectives and accomplishments hardly does the freelance experience justice.

So why bother? There are much more modern and efficient ways to demonstrate your professional prowess.

Here are 3 reasons why you can feel completely comfortable letting that resume gather dust on your hard drive:

1. Your Clients Don’t Want To Read It

Let’s be honest: no one ever found work because of a piece of paper listing their previous work experience and supposed accomplishments. Independent professionals aren’t seeking traditional jobs, so why would they marketing themselves in a traditional (read: outdated) manner? Clients will come to know you and your work in the same way: by meeting it face to face. When clients consider you for a project, they want to know how you work, what your work looks like, and whether you’ll get the job done right. These are all extensions of your personality, and unless your personality is similar to an 8.5 x 11 in. piece of paper and Times New Roman font, the traditional resume ain’t gonna do it justice.

2. Pictures Are Worth A Thousand Words

Prospective clients don’t want to read about your alleged work, they want to see, feel, hear, and touch your actual work. Instead of slaving over a correctly formatted resume, why not create an easily accessible portfolio that demonstrate the true depth and breadth of your passion? I think Megan, a commenter on FreelanceFolder said it best:

“I have had some requests for resumes, and honestly I’m at a bit of a loss as far as why someone hiring a freelancer would want a resume, especially when I, like many freelancers, have a portfolio full of work for them to look at. A portfolio can offer so much more than a resume can, since a portfolio can have not only information on a person’s skills but examples of skills in use, and not only a list of prior employers, but actual examples of work done for those prior employers.”

I would add that you never think to ask a company for its resume, you ask to see examples of its work. And as a freelance professional, you’re a business and should present yourself as such.

3. There Are Websites That Do That

Paper is out, digital is in. Instead of forcing clients to slog through your attached PDF resume, why not provide them with a one-click ticket to a gallery of your work? A blog or personal website is the resume of a 21st century freelancer. If you don’t have the time to set one up, sites like LinkedIn, BranchOut, or ReferralKey are more efficient tools for hosting your work experience in an online format.

The Catch

Not everyone produces work that can be displayed easily in a portfolio or on a blog. Writers or coders are two that immediately spring to mind. In this case, I would suggest getting creative. Like this guy:

 

Or this one:

Or Miss Smiles at the top of this post.

Your turn: How many times has a traditional resume helped you get work in the past year? What do you use instead?

Image Credits: Flickr – jwynia | Ethan Hein | socialisbetter

What Freelancers Should Know About Google Plus

Hoping that the third time’s the charm (remember Buzz and Wave?) the company behind the world’s top search engine recently launched a new social networking platform: Google+.

If you’ve been on any of the other well-established social media sites in the past week, chances are you’ve heard a peep or two about it.

Let’s be serious, the notion that the web’s best search service has launched a social network that could combine the intuition of Facebook and the speed of Twitter with possibilities for seamless integration into any existing Google tool is enough to make nerds quiver with excitement.

However, the idea of learning how to use a new social media tool correctly and efficiently hardly brings on the same jovial feelings. Let’s face it, until you know what you’re doing, using social media can be a time suck as well as a frustrating endeavor.

As freelancers with limited time, the big question is: Should we bother?

Here are some thoughts gleaned from freelancing experts and social media “gurus” around the web:

1. Ease into it: Go ahead and create a personal profile (if you can get an invite) and play around in your spare time, but don’t worry about migrating your business profile just yet. Chances are, you’ve had at least a few contacts “add you to their circles” and if you’ve got a few minutes, it’s worth poking around in the tool. Hell, if you’ve got gmail, that only takes one click. But for now, the “business experience” is still under development and Google is actually asking businesses and freelancers to avoid using “consumer profiles” for business purposes. When it’s ready, Google+ will have “rich analytics” and will be easy to integrate with Google Adwords and other goodies.

2. Get a jump on success: If your business is social media marketing, SEO, or content marketing, waiting too long to check out what Google+ has to offer could hurt you. This is the new frontier, and just like with Facebook and Twitter a few years ago, the people who figure out new and creative ways to engage online communities with this tool today will be the experts of tomorrow. Watch the platform carefully, look for avenues of opportunity nobody else is taking full advantage of, and move in with your own particular sales pitch.

3. Savvy sharing: Privacy and segmented sharing (two things that Twitter and Facebook have trouble with) are both prominent features of Google+. By creating circles of contacts, you make it possible to share links, ideas, pictures and more with only those that will appreciate it most (or judge you least). This has big implications for businesses and freelancers who are always looking for more efficient ways to communicate with their current clients as well as potential customers.

4. Impact your page rank: It’s also worth knowing that Google+ users themselves now have the opportunity to “vote” on the value of content and ultimately impact search engine rankings. This has the potential to level the page rank playing field, as simple blog post with 3,000 votes on Google+ may very well beat out a similar story with only 300 votes on a  major website. In the future, this may make SEO copywriting obsolete.

For more on Google+ and all it’s shiny possibilities, listen to Google PR Strategist David Allen talk about about an “optimized business experience” for Google+ in the video below.

And if it’s really keeping you awake at night, here are some additional resources:

Sources: WritingThoughts | PGC.org | Freelance-Zone

3 Ways To Zero In On What You Do Best

Zero In On Your Target Offerings

Recently, I read a great article from the folks at Freelance Folder (a fantastic resource to bookmark if you haven’t yet). The post was called “25 Easy Ways To Fine Tune Your Freelance Business” and it contained useful tips about how to keep your business fresh and avoid becoming bogged down with bad projects or the boring “business” side of things.

Most people who read the article seemed to hone in on tip number 4: Decide on a niche.

“I started making a lot more money and got a ton of clients after I decided to put myself into two niches: working with freelancers and agencies only and only doing HTML, CSS and WordPress work,” says the author. “Find out what part of the process you really enjoy and only do that kind of work.”

It was this last statement that really seemed to resonate with readers, so I wanted to explore some ways to segment your talents and zero in on what you truly enjoy.

1. Pay Attention To What You’re Doing: This is sound advice in almost every aspect of life, but you might not realize how easy it is to stop paying attention once you’re a seasoned freelancer. If you’re not in the habit of making an editorial calendar, to-do list, or tracking your hours, give it a try. Pay attention not only to the things that MUST get done today, but to the differences between list items. Do you avoid certain items because they’re more or less creative/structured/logical than others on the list? Do you dread writing content for one type of business, but hate it for another? Do you find joy in creating the architecture of a website or fine-tuning it for usability purposes rather than designing the logo or figuring out the best color scheme? These are clues about what make you happy and successful. Note them.

2. Revise Your Elevator Pitch: I’m not sure there are any freelancers that really think their elevator pitch is winning them clients. Reassessing the short version of how you describe yourself and your professional offerings is a great way to start manifesting the type of business you really want. If you call yourself a marketer, but what you really enjoy is creating and growing online communities via social media, it’s time to revamp your pitch. If you say that you offer market research services but what you long to do all day is write grants for non-profits, it’s time to think about changing how you talk about yourself.

3. Do Some Weeding: It’s all fine and good to notice the parts of the process that you truly enjoy, and mention them in your tag line, but if you continue working projects that miss the mark, it will only heighten your frustration. Once you’ve zeroed in on the elements that make you and your clients the happiest, it’s time to start weeding out the projects that don’t belong. Most client work has a rhythm, so the next time an undesirable project is winding down, it’s time to find a way to fire that client. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or negative. In fact, if you’ve got a good rapport with the client, try to leave it open ended. If they like you, they’ll be willing to give you some time to explore other avenues of your industry. If they start to panic, try to refer them to another freelancer that can handle the job.

It’s hard to let go of work, especially since many of us fight so hard to find it in the first place. But as you zero in on what’s best for you and your business, you’ll find that the right projects appear when you need them. Fine-tuning your business is a never-ending process. Worry about being great at what you do, and the money will follow.

Image Credit: Flickr – ogimogi

Poking Holes In Punchcard Memberships

Promotional PunchcardThe marketing strategies chosen for coworking spaces are very important, because they can both directly and sub-consciously set the tone for the community.

Creative ideas should be tempered with thoughtful foresight about the kind of people that will be drawn to them. Before you reach for that “brilliant” gimmick, think about the quality of experience that it supports.

Take punch cards, for instance.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When it comes to earning me a free latte, or discounted hair cut, a punch card is quite handy. These are a tiny little incentive that will make me choose Biz A over Biz B the next time I’m thirsty or shaggy. But does it create feelings of loyalty or ownership toward either one? Not really. Does it make me feel like I’m a more special customer, or that I have a personal investment in the Biz’s success? Nah.

I was surprised to learn that, in some coworking spaces punch cards have been formed into a membership plan. People buy a card for a flat price and then receive a punch every time they visit the space.

Sounds like a decent way to get on-the-fence looky-lous to buy in, but to what?

Punch cards in coworking encourage almost the opposite behavior as the cafe or haircut scenario above, mostly because there’s no “get one free” incentive at the end. Instead of hurrying back for more, punch card members hoard their punches, feeling pressure to make every punch count instead of just coming in as they need (or want). This intermittent attendance circumvents a real investment in the community and reduces the membership to latte status.

Remember, coworking’s best marketing tool is a vibrant community–one where people can’t stop raving about the value it  brings to their personal and professional lives. This isn’t achieved by a punch card or any other gimmicks. It’s achieved by being social, introducing prospective members to current members in their industry, and creating an environment in which creativity and collaboration flourish.

Why Being Social Is More Important Than Social Media

I’m often asked about the best way to market a coworking space, or how to attract new members to the community. Many space catalysts assume that because coworking is a natural fit for digital professionals, social media must be the best way to generate interest in their target audience.

No brainer-right? Find computer people on the computer. I decided to do the math and see if the Cohere community supported this obvious theory. To my shock and awe, it didn’t.

According to my stats (and the snazzy pie chart above), over half of all Cohere members gave it a try because a human told them about why they should. Even more surprisingly, Facebook, Twitter, and Google accounted for only 11 percent of all day pass requests. Combined.

What does this mean?! Just tweeting your blog posts and creating a Facebook event won’t automatically attract a community of awesome independents who live to stop, drop, and collaborate. If you want to help grow a strong, vibrant community of self-starters, you’re still going to have to talk about how much you want it. A lot.

Building a community is, among other things, about building trust. Establishing a reputation. Creating a place of security, respect, and intense creativity. Although there are many things you can like, thumb, & tweet, these actions will never usurp a smile, cup of coffee, or recommendation from an old friend.

My advice? Spend time talking with your community about why they cowork. Discuss the ways you interpret and implement the five values. Ask them why they’d rather share a desk instead of renting a private office. Create an atmosphere in which every member of the community can share the message of coworking–in their own words.

Then, you’ll probably notice that they begin to generate an online buzz organically (the way it’s supposed to be!) and people will start to take notice without ads, pitches, or kooky discount promotions. In my experience, social media can be a powerful tool to strengthen and solidify the community, but can’t make it materialize out of thin air.

Do you know where your members come from? Have you had a different experience? Share it in a comment!

Image Credit: Flickr – Phil Hawksworth

How To Use Your Niche Statement To Propel Your Business

What To Do With Your Niche Statement

Figuring out your niche is an essential task for freelancers, especially if you want to attract a steady stream of paying clients. Researching your niche, determining your unique offerings, and then actually writing a succinct sentence that encapsulates your findings without confusing or boring people is no small feat.

(If you need help getting started, check out Monday’s post about why nicheing-out matters).

One reason some people feel less-than-motivated to create a niche statement is that they don’t really know how to use it once they’ve got it (especially true for people who find clients online), so here are some productive ways to use your niche statement once you’ve got it nailed down.

Networks and Directories

Finding a niche means getting right to the heart of what it is you do, and why you do it the best. The best place to put the niche statement is right where clients and customers will be looking for it–on a niche networking site or directory. No matter what you do, chances are there is a social media network designed to group you together with like-minded professionals and make your collective talents easy for the public to find.

Here’s just a sampling of what’s out there:

The Web Design Network
Real Design Network
The Designer’s Network
Fastpitch Networking
Freelance Writer’s Directory
Freelance Writers/Designers Directory
Direct Freelance
Web Designers Directory
Health Professionals Directory
Non-Profit Consultant Directory

Check out LOTS more here!

Your Company Facebook Page

If you’re at the stage where you’re ready to separate your personal profile from your professional page, then your nice statement needs to appear prominently on the info tab. People don’t want to read your entire history and mission statement on Facebook. The niche statement gives them just enough so that they’ll “Like” you and click through to your actual site to learn more.

LinkedIn, BranchOut, Elance.com, Guru.com, etc…

(FYI: BranchOut is a Facebook app that’s very similar to LinkedIn). Putting your new niche statement on your profile acts like a tiny 24-hour billboard, and ensures that your messaging is consistent no matter how people find you. If you’ve already got a pretty solid profile on a couple of professional networking sites, think about delving deeper and using your niche statement as a way of introducing yourself to niche groups or even individuals that you don’t know personally, but would like to have as a professional contact.

Bios Galore

No matter what kind of site you’re subscribing to or listing yourself on, everyone wants a bio these days. Use your niche statement on your own website, your Twitter page, Cohere bio, and anywhere else you’re given two lines to talk about yourself and what you do.

In what other places/situations can you see your nice statement coming in handy? (Printed materials don’t count ;)

Image Credit: MoneyTalksOnline.com

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