Why Some Freelancers Fail at Social Media in 4 Lessons

by Susanna Gebauer (@dreckbaerfrau)

I was asked this question yesterday – and decided it deserved a longer answer. Because no short answer does do this very important questions justice.

There are several points to social media activities, where you can be lead astray, and most of the mistakes are made not only by freelancers but also by others – for instance, companies or brands. An advantage a brand may have, though: They already have made a name for themselves (created a brand) while a freelancer usually starts at zero at building a brand – or a reputation as an expert, thought leader or simply as a nice and reliable person to work with. If you (as a brand) already have that reputation your start will be much easier – and often faster than for you the freelancer.

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Lesson 1:

Selling/finding new customers is a long process – that is no different in social media than anywhere else.

That is the first mistake some people (not only freelancers) do: They expect results to come quickly after their first action. Usually that is wrong. Social Media is about creating – building visibility, building relationships, building a reputation, building a brand. And that takes time online as well as offline.

Lesson 2:

Social Media is about interaction and connecting. Not about sales pitches. Find your target audience and provide what they want first.

That directly leads to the second possible mistake: Who are you talking to? Many people rush into social networks and start shouting sales pitches, without even considering, who they want to reach and where they can find them. Imagine going to a baby shower and trying to get someone to listen to your monologue about copywriting (or whatever you offer). Your sales pitch, however, perfected you have it, is out of place on that occasion. The same goes for social media.When you do it right, your success as a freelancer on social media can outshine most brands. There is huge potential in social media for freelancers.

Usually, we all start out with a new network with connecting to the people we already know. But the truth is, to sell your service to your best friend, you don’t need to be on Facebook or Twitter. Before you start shouting out your sales message into empty space, figure out, where you can reach your target group.

Lesson 3:

Everybody needs a message. What is the value you provide? What do you want to be known for? Why should people want to work with you?

Next, think about your message. How many friends do you have on Facebook, and how many people do you follow on Twitter? If it is below 100, then you might have the chance of checking every update they post. If it is much more, you have to be select. (I guess the sales pitches are the first updates you will ignore… see lesson 2.)

The messages, the content you share and the wording of your posts are crucial to your success. To get the attention of your target audience, you have to share stuff they want and need – not what you want them to read or sell to them.

You have to earn the attention in social media. If you give something valuable to your audience, your audience will not mind if you include your contact address and a description of your service. Do not do it the other way around. If you do not believe me, go to your next networking event and instead of saying “Hello, nice to meet you…” say “I offer xy service at cheap rates” and see what happens…

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Lesson 4: 

Being a freelancer is always harder.

As a freelancer you are working on your own. If you have many clients, you probably have very little time to spend on social media. Especially in the beginning when everything is new, social media for business takes time to get it right. As a brand, you can usually either share the tasks or employ someone, especially for social media.

As said before, as a Freelancer you have to start from scratch. As a brand, you often would build on your loyal customers. Just imagine how many people will like a brand like Ferrari, without even looking at Ferrari’s social media activities – and how hard your painter next door will have to work to gain the first 100 fans.

(Also many freelancers I have met do not plan such a long time in advance as brands do. Thus, the investment freelancers have to make into social media might pay off too late for them to consider it a win).

Final words:

If this sounds like it’s not worth doing it, don’t get me wrong. Because when you do it right, your success as a freelancer can outshine most (if not all brands). Ferrari doesn’t get as much added visibility from 30 million Fans as you get from 30,000. Everyone already knows them. You get a chance to compete with social media, and you should do your best to make the most of it.

Sure, it takes time. Sure, it takes effort.

But when you do it right it is worth your weight in gold.

This article was proofread and edited by myself with the help of Grammarly. If you are blogging in English and cannot afford a professional editor, Try Grammarly Now! It rocks.

  • Andrea Hewett


    This was an excellent read…I always promote the importance of knowing what your customer wants, not what you want them to receive! I actually wrote a blog specifically on knowing your buyer persona because it really can make all the difference in what content you should promote.

    You are also spot on about the fact that people don’t like to be sold to. I also completely agree with your sentence on what social media is about…building relationships is key!

    Also, don’t worry about rude commenters in regard to your grammatical errors. Not only did you get your message across nicely, but the three errors in question were three of the most commonly made errors with English as a first language!

    People will remember that commenter as being negative and rude, and they won’t get much business with that attitude! If I ever notice glaring errors, I will let the author know in a nice way so that they can fix it without trying to degrade them. I think you handled it beautifully!
    Keep up the great work!



    • TheSocialMarketers

      Thank you!
      You are right: Buyer personas and knowing who your client really is, is very essential to social media success.

      I wish it would be easier to ignore such comments. The head knows I should, the heart wants to respond …

      – Susanna –

  • http://www.visibilityshift.com/ Giselle Bisson

    A small biz or startup gets a chance to compete with the Fortune 500
    with social media, and you should do your best to make the most of it! So true Susanna!

    It’s tough for social consultants like me, because few clients have budgets
    large enough to support what it takes to do social media right — it is a
    24/7 job, not a “few hours a week” job. It is customer service + PR + marketing + branding + sales rolled into one! This takes every bit of my 30 years of business, corporate communications and journalism experience to do well — and yet clients insultingly think they should hire ENTRY LEVEL people do do this. It is a huge mistake and I see brands fall flat on their butts over and over again through this ignorance.

    In my PR days I usually commanded $6K – 12K/month budgets. Now with journalism just about disappearing, PR is much less effective, and social media is much MORE effective. Now with social media you need to create a story and announce news 20x a day — not 1x a month. But the budgets are ridiculously low.

    The other day a recruiter for a Fortune 1000 cellphone provider called me and they said I was “overqualified.” Their social media just sucks — and it was sad to see this company doing such an embarrassing job with their social media because they have a CMO looking at it as a bottom line item for a trained monkey. This is because most CMOS and CEOs and business owners are still marketing like it’s 1999. It’s 2015 — and social media IS the media. Social marketing IS marketing. Ignore this at your peril.

    I have worked for brands that will blow $1 million on a branding agency/ad agency that is generating expensive and dated print collateral and ads — and then try to get an intern at minimum wage to post their social media! MISTAKE!!! I have been heartbroken watching a client waste money on print ads, PR agencies that generate one or two articles or email marketing campaigns that go unopened — while my (much smaller) portion of the marketing budget — a (free) Facebook event page and a few boost and $20 ads generated the bulk of ticket sales!

    Social marketing is the front line of your
    brand — not an afterthought to delegate to the cheapest possible
    outsourced person fresh out of college (or worse yet, a “virtual assistant” who can’t even read and write in English and is totally unfamiliar with your community and culture.) Soon small businesses, solopreneurs and big brands
    alike will get this. Like you, I believe in social media and keep doing it because
    I KNOW IT’S POWERFUL and I know it works. The world is finally catching up!

    • TheSocialMarketers

      In your comment I read a lot of the frustration we sometimes feel when talking with a client who expects social media success within 2 weeks or expects that posting promotions is enough to achieve success in social media. Also the mistake to believe social media would be for free and a job for an intern, seems to be a quite common mistake.
      There needs to be a lot of learning and rethinking in many companies before this will change.
      Thank you for your insightful comment!
      – Susanna –

      • Guest

        Yes, frustrated. Even huge companies that should know better are doing lame social media. We “social campaigns” loaded with typos, terrible fonts, boring photography or worse yet…just pumping out special offers (probably approved in advance and then loaded on to the page on autopilot) and not actually responding to the community. Here is what’s happening on the Dunkin Donuts Fan page in response to a special offer…embarrassing. No response.

      • http://www.visibilityshift.com/ Giselle Bisson

        Yes, Susanna, frustration. We see “social campaigns” out in public loaded with typos, terrible
        fonts, boring photography or worse yet…just pumping out special offers
        (probably approved in advance and then loaded on to the page on
        autopilot). Often on these corporate pages there seems to be nobody there actually responding to the community. Here is what’s
        happening on the Dunkin Donuts Fan page in response to a special
        offer…embarrassing. No response.

  • http://www.visibilityshift.com/ Giselle Bisson

    Not optional in 2015 — a necessity. Social media is the front line of your brand — whether you’re a solopreneur, a start up or a huge established brand. And like a website, it’s difficult to do alone because it requires so many skills — photography, graphic design, writing, headline writing, conversation, community, conflict resolution, customer support… I think after 5 years of stumbling around and making some business-killing mistakes (look at what Uber did last week!) marketers are figuring this out. We’re all learning this from each other as we go along.

  • Scattyjan

    I had to initially agree with the VL Hudson about the grammar/spelling errors. However, the insight is great, and then to find that English is your second language – errors forgiven! And I occasionally come across a typo in one of my own blogs so no stone throwing from me!

  • http://about.me/VLHudson VL Hudson

    Hey…thanks for responding. I speak, read and write German. I have native German speakers edit my work.
    And your advice to go by a newspaper comes across as childish (btw: most Germans I know appreciate perfection and don’t try to hide behind garbage by blaming their language-skills; as someone who edits German work for English translation, your errors have little to do with language issues and more to do with just plain ignorance). But… thanks for your lame excuses, especially because I’ve read many blogs much better written and edited than this.

    • TheSocialMarketers

      Hey, I was nice to you the first time around… This is quoted from your about.me page:

      “Writer, Editor & Journalist With a Passion for the Environment

      A mass communications career that spans decades, genre and media. My passion today: marine environment protection, climate change mitigation and global warming awareness. Let’s go hiking, scuba diving, kayaking, camping, bicyling… get the idea?”

      I’ll let you find the errors yourself as you are obviously the expert on this.

      • http://about.me/VLHudson VL Hudson


  • errolvs

    What are some first step tips on building a customer base (besides asking my friend-list to like and share my page)

  • Sukhi

    Awesome. Very well described. Thank you very much. Learned some new tips and found Grammarly