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Fatima Syed has verified (okay, almost) Twitter fingers.
The Mississauga freelance journalist and self-proclaimed “gif-queen” has reported for The Logic, National Observer, and the Toronto Star. She has wielded social media to make that work stand out, to establish connections with editors, and to network with peers.
It’s that type of strategic yet tasteful self-promotion that has helped land her guest spots on The Social, as well as spots guest-hosting CANADALAND and The Big Story podcasts.
But there’s a big gap between posting with a purpose and cluttering someone’s feed. To learn the difference, sign-up for Getting The Most Out of Social Media, her 90-minute workshop on Mar. 29 at 3pm ET. (Tickets are $20 CAD. Register here.)
Ahead of her class, we asked Fatima about the biggest mistake journalists make when promoting their work, the value in taking a second thought before clicking tweet, and using social media as a hunting ground for good ideas.
When did you realize the power that social media could have in promoting your work, and what’s the biggest mistake journalists make when posting a story or new project?
The value of social media for any writer isn’t just in amplifying their work but entering their work in conversations to help shift them. I’ve learned that at multiple points in my career but never more strongly than during the Christchurch mosque shooting in March 2019. I noticed that then Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was the first to comment on the tragic event with a very vague statement that ignored the implications for Canadians. After encouragement from a colleague, I posted some accountability questions online, which went viral unbelievably quickly. I followed that tweet with a story that I updated throughout the day. I was able to drive the conversation that day, and the social media forum made that possible.
The biggest mistake a journalist can make when posting a story/project/thought is to not hint at why someone should engage with it. What’s cool about this post? What’s new about it? What’s different about your thing versus another person engaging on the same topic? There’s A LOT of content out there. You have to give a reason for people to engage with you and your thing.
I’m very careful with anything I post online. I always think about what my purpose is before posting something.
Are you a snappy commentary when something is trendy, or a sit back and take it in kind of person on social media?
I’m very careful with anything I post online. I always think about what my purpose is before posting something. Am I promoting my work? Am I engaging in a conversation that I have interesting thoughts on? Am I amplifying something cool that people might not have seen or heard of before? I don’t post for the sake of posting — the online world is very crowded. I post when I have something to say and share.
What’s your favourite social media platform right now, and why?
Instagram is my happy place in this very large digital world. I get to escape the news and tough conversations on Twitter and other platforms and just enjoy lots of cartoons and how-to or outfit videos and TikToks. (Yes, I get my TikToks through Instagram.)
The number of editors that have DM-ed me with a thought or a tweet, asking if I’d be interested in covering it would astound you. The trick is to show yourself as available and open.
How has social media helped you transition into working as a freelancer, whether that’s networking or getting eyes on your work independently?
For me, social media has always been a good hunting ground for ideas. That comes just from following interesting people and the conversations they’re having, reading a lot, or, my favourite, DM-ing people I want to be talking to and learning things from them. As a freelancer, all of that has been invaluable because it means I can get the attention of editors, privately or publicly. The number of editors that have DM-ed me with a thought or a tweet asking if I’d be interested in covering it would astound you; the trick is to show yourself as available and open.
What’s one good habit you took up during the pandemic?
I finally learned (or trained myself) how to log off and stay logged off and take time for myself. I truly sucked at doing this in the before-times. I also baked my first three-layer chocolate cake with homemade frosting — and it was soooo good.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.