How to Present Yourself Online: How the Digital Landscape Has Shaped Freelance Portfolios

Remember MySpace?

I was a latent pilgrim to the world of the internet—which, at around that time, was teeming with (somehow immediately) archaic browser algorithms, developing instant messaging systems, and whatever games or music you could get your dial-up internet to load—and Myspace blew my mind. 

Finally, I thought, a place to share my deepest passions! And so, as one does, I immediately uploaded like 10 pictures of Axl Rose.

Mercifully for me and my remaining dignity, MySpace took a backseat to several, more promising social platforms, the algorithms of which have helped drive the digital age into greater, more dynamic algorithms and near-human AI. Despite their humble beginnings, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and a handful of other major platforms now dominate the social space. 

And, they’re no longer just for people hoping to socialize with their friends at a distance: as the internet has evolved into a place for business, marketing, and the spread and sharing of culture, brands have taken to the social realm—using these platforms to get to know their audiences, share stories, generate engagement and attention, and recruit freelance talent. 

If you’re a freelancer, that last point is key. There’s a good chance a potential dream client is online looking for someone to create their content and tell their brand story. And if you know how to use social platforms to your advantage, you could be the next person to catch their eye. 

As a former freelance recruiter, an editor, and a writer, I’ve been on several sides of the client-creative connection prism, and I love what happens when an amazing writer or creative takes a good topic and uses it to create a story that’s pure power. There’s a lot that freelancers should take into consideration when shaping their online portfolios and personas; today, I’d like to share three of the most important ones.

1. Social Networks Aren’t Just for Leisure Anymore

A few mornings ago, I found myself following a Twitter feud about the recent presidential debates between two vague acquaintances from conferences past. Much of the conversation felt tense and cutthroat, and eventually was reduced to ad hominem attacks. Discussions like these are natural, and it’s unavoidable that at some point on social, most people are going to share an opinion or reveal a personal element of themselves. 

But as I was reading, the client side of my brain kicked in, and I couldn’t help but wonder: What if I was recruiting one of these people for a freelance opportunity?

The point is, clients do use the web to find freelancers. Of course, they do—it’s easy, many independent consultants have personal websites and multiple points of contact, and they advertise themselves as businesses in ways that make it easy for you to see what they’re up to regularly. Social media is a great way for a brand to get to know you before getting in touch. 

But the other edge of that sword is that sometimes, clients come to Twitter or other social sites and see something they find disconcerting. If they catch something they recognize as a red flag, they might continue searching for freelance voices elsewhere.

So, what’s the best approach to social networking for freelancers? I’m absolutely not saying not to be yourself on your social sites. But, if you’re using them for professional and personal purposes alike, try toning things back and considering your client as part of your audience. 

Some people handle this by maintaining separate personal and professional social accounts. Others simply try to present and share work that aligns with the voices of clients they want to work for and generally use social as a means of obtaining new business. No matter which road you decide to take, try to operate like a potential client might stumble upon your post tomorrow. There’s a good chance you could be right. 

2. Think Engagement, Not Just Following

Believe it or not, having a huge social following is not the key to being hired as a freelancer, either. While many clients do respect the power that large, organic followings hold, it’s much more important that freelancers are listening to and engaging with their followers on a continual basis. 

Did one of your followers share a blog post you found hilarious, touching, or extremely relevant to your industry of expertise? If so, Retweet it—and let them know what you thought. Start a conversation about a Facebook follower’s story, or share a LinkedIn update. This not only shows that you’re a source of authority in your industry but proves that you understand your audience—which means your audience likely cares about what you have to say, too. For brands, that level of understanding is often far more valuable than numbers alone. Otherwise, your posts might land like drops of rain in the ocean—adding to the conversation but helping it evolve. 

3. Find—and Build—Your Expertise

It’s tempting for freelancers to call themselves generalists—and I understand why. After all, when you’re just starting out, you want to cast a broad net and capture as many clients as you need to sustain your career.

For a little while, that approach isn’t a bad one. But if you want to generate sustainable income, you need to think like a business and find your niche. Are you creating a lot of content about caring for senior citizens with disabilities? You might consider a geriatric healthcare focus as an area of expertise. Create many stories about your experiences raising a dog? Pet care might be more your thing.

Once you’ve found a few, specific areas of expertise where you’ve got a lot of great content, advertise them specifically in the “about me” sections of your social sites and personal site and share your content in those areas. Proving that you’re an expert in specific topics shows clients that you’re serious about their industries—which will catch their eyes the next time they’ve got a story they need to be told. 

When you set yourself apart with a niche, you avoid the problem of writing too many low-paying stories for too many freelance clients in various industries—which really means you avoid burning out and returning to the 9-5 job world. It’s a sustainable solution for long-term success, and one you can employ as soon as you’ve built up enough content to start sculpting your personal brand. 

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the future of freelancing is brighter than ever. Keep these tips in mind as you shape your social accounts and your personal site, and you’ll have a firm foundation for a personal brand that’ll catch the eye of clients—no matter what the next app or tool they love might be.

How do you present your personal brand online? Share your tips in the comments below. 

Linsey J. Morse is the Content Standard Editor and Cofounding Editor-in-Chief of Spry Literary Journal. Past lives include: Poetry Editor for Mason's Road, Student Editor for the Bryant Literary Review. Previously written work has appeared in such publications as Now What: The Creative Writer's Guide to Success After the MFA; future work includes Idle Jive, a poetry collection in progress.