One of the great things about freelance writing is the fact that so much of our marketing and networking can be done through just that--writing! While I'm all for professional sites, forums, and blogs in just about any niche you could work in, one of the "new" tools helping writers reach out to their network is the microblog (like Twitter).
If you're a writer who likes to use Twitter for networking, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of it (because remember... you shouldn't be wasting time on marketing and networking tools that aren't giving you a good return on the time you're investing).
1. Don't be a link spammer
If all (or most) of what you do on Twitter is link to your own blog posts, you're not really networking. You're just spamming links out on the Web. If you don't have anything of value to add to your followers' streams (that they aren't already getting from you elsewhere), then don't waste their time or yours. Look for other networking tools.
2. Don't be a follow whore.
Remember that popularity isn't everything. Quality matters far more than quantity when it comes to using social media tools to promote your writing business. There's little worse on Twitter than finding someone with 10,000 people following them, but only because they're following 12,000. These are the folks who quite obviously don't give a damn about the people they're following. They just follow, follow, follow--more people than they could ever possibly actually pay attention to. Why? Because they know a lot of folks automatically follow anyone who follows them. You don't want to be one of them. It reeks of desperation, not professionalism.
3. Engage in the community.
If you constantly post, but never bother engaging in actual conversations with the people you follow (and those who follow you), then why are you there? It obviously isn't for networking if you're not, um, networking!
4. Lighten up.
The fact that you're building a professional network doesn't mean you have to solely talk shop. It's okay to share quick anecdotes and tell people about your day. Just keep it interesting. It's unlikely anyone cares that you whipped up some mac and cheese for lunch, but they may appreciate your thoughts on a film you saw, great new restaurant you tried, or a lead to a new band that brightens up your work day.
5. Keep it personable, not personal.
It's okay to be friendly and casual, and share more than thoughts on business. But on the flip side of that, try not to take it too far. If you mostly network with colleagues and prospective clients, they probably don't want to read a play-by-play of your latest fight with your significant other. Be sensible about it. Ask yourself, "would I really want to know this about them?" If not, keep it to yourself. I find a good way to balance this is to keep one personal, private blog that's accessible to a choice few people. This way when you're wriled up about something personally, you do have somewhere to quickly vent about it without mixing it in with more professional communication.
I'm not a huge fan of Twitter and related tools to be honest with you. They've far from proven their worth when compared to other marketing and networking tools specifically for attracting clients. But they can be a reasonable way to stay in touch with your readers and / or colleagues when you don't have anything too significant lengthwise to say, as long as you don't become one of those people who's on there all day long. Remember that networking is a necessity, but it should never become a distraction from other vital things that need to be done.