(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of posts from our writers covering all aspects of web working for beginners)
Doing what we do here at WebWorkerDaily, it is sometimes easy to forget from whence we came. That is to say, everything has a beginning, including a career, or part of a career, devoted to working online. For many of us already in the field, the starting point may have been a natural inclination towards technology that gradually blossomed into a full-fledged professional pursuit.
But for those just getting their feet wet, the process might not be so organic. You might be showing up late to the game, and with only a basic grasp of the rules to begin with. Let’s take some of the pressure off by taking an introductory look at two of the basic tools of the trade.
Blogs (or weblogs, to give them their original name), are a web worker’s best friend. They help with research, networking, sales, and brand establishment (personal or corporate). Once upon a time, you could just put up a web site and forget it, or maybe go back and update content once a quarter, or once every two quarters. That was fine when the Internet was just a supplement to real-world business, but it’s become much more than that. In web working, your web site is the social face you present to the client, and having a blog helps keep you relevant.
Imagine a salesperson who checks in with a prospect once a quarter. Now imagine that salesperson provides exactly the same information in exactly the same way to exactly the same stakeholder every time. That’s what you’re doing if you’re not providing frequently-updated content on your web site. With a blog, which you might update on a daily or weekly basis with articles about new developments and trends in your field, you can show prospects that you’re engaged, excited about your field, and always aware of shifts in the business landscape.
That’s the “why”, but what about the “how”? The best way to get started is to become familiar with some basic blog publishing software. Try out a free WordPress.com (disclosure: WebWorkerDaily is hosted on WordPress; see additional disclosure related to WordPress below) or Blogger account, both of which offer visual editing and preset templates; leaving you to concentrate on the content, not the geeky back-end stuff. Read around so you get familiar with the blog writing style. Note the average length of posts, where paragraph breaks occur, the use of hyperlinking, etc. You don’t have to share your blogging with the public until you’re comfortable doing so. Take your time and build competence first.
You’ve probably heard about it, but you may not yet have gone so far as to sign up for an account. Twitter is a relatively new kind of social network, that, unlike its popular predecessors MySpace and Facebook, is focused primarily on users’ content and less on users’ profiles or identities.
When I first discovered Twitter, which was not all that long ago, I had no idea what to do with it. I couldn’t figure out how to find people to add, no one I knew was using it, and the 140-character limit seemed arbitrary and somewhat cruel. I came to realize that it is a valuable way to expand your network of potential clients, collaborators and service providers, and to conduct spot research and enhance your reputation as an online professional.
Nowadays, you will find that most professionals working online who have active blogs will also have a “Follow me” button or at least link to their Twitter profile in some way. Twitter takes the concepts I talked about with blogging to the next level. To successfully use your account to further your professional goals, you have to provide updated content with a frequency previously unheard of, and with significant brevity, as well. Those in advertising will probably relish the challenge of drilling down meaningful content to 140 characters, as I soon came to.
How to use Twitter succesfully is a topic that is still subject to fervent debate. If you’re looking for a good starting point, Darren Rowse of Problogger.net is frequently considered an expert in the field, and you can find his Twitter-oriented blog at Twitip.com. With Twitter, as with blogs, the key is to follow others and take in as much as possible, in order to get comfortable with the unique form of communication it presents.
I know the “watch and learn” method of gaining familiarity with these basic web working tools might not appeal to those newcomers who’ve been forced by the loss of employment to seek work online, rather than chosen it themselves. But like starting any new career, there will be ramp up time, and training and orientation are required if you want to become truly successful. Hopefully our Web Work 101 series of articles will help cut down the time on that learning curve.
(Disclosure: WordPress is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.)