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17 LinkedIn tips, or what I learned from doing #26Acts of LinkedIn kindness

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An out-of-work microbiologist.

A mental-health clinician in private practice.

A marketing director who resorted to driving a truck for Wal-Mart to support his family after being downsized.

These are just three of the friends and family members whose LinkedIn profiles I enhanced – and, in some cases, created –  as part of the 26 Acts of LinkedIn Kindness project I embarked on in January. At the time, I took on this effort because I wanted to honor the victims of the Sandy Hook school shootings and do something nice for the people I care about. I had no goal beyond that.

Little did I know this experience would teach me so much about harnessing social media as a career-advancement tool – regardless of your profession – and how quickly having a completed LinkedIn profile could affect the course of these people’s paths.

It changed lives.

Without a doubt, the most profound lesson I learned from this experience was how many people are out of work because employers can’t find them, and these workers, unfortunately, don’t know how to be found. People who last applied for work before the turn of the millenium and social media have little experience with online resumes much less the nuances of job-search platforms and tactics.

But with a little LinkedIn love, my loved ones who had been part of the long-term unemployed found work in their chosen fields. One friend who wanted to grow her emerging private practice found multiple opportunities waiting in her inbox, while another who had nearly given up on her career learned her LinkedIn profile was enough to produce an unsolicited offer for her dream job.

I didn’t anticipate such dramatic outcomes, and I certainly didn’t expect it would lead to a side-business opportunity for me that fits so nicely with the reasons I became a journalist in the first place: to share information, to tell people’s stories and to have a positive impact on their lives.

All around me, people were saying I should make this into a business. As my son put it, “You’re helping people, Mom, and that’s what you want to do more than anything!” I’d been looking for a niche that would take advantage of my social media skills but also allow me to connect with people, unlike my ironically lonely circumstances working as a social media producer, glued to my TweetDeck. Through word of mouth, I now have clients paying me to tell their stories on LinkedIn, coach them with social media and teach them social selling.

It changed my career.

Beginning with the first profile I worked on, I was struck by how little I knew about the professional lives of people I’d known for decades. The resumes didn’t surprise me; the stories they told me, however, blew my mind.

How did I not know that my sister-in-law had traveled to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan as part of a post-Soviet dairy-industry outreach effort? Or that she’d gone to Switzerland to acquire the smear for the first domestic production of Gruyère cheese?

I said, “This makes you sound like a really interesting person!”

She replied, “I am a really interesting person.”

We laughed about it, but the sobering reason she wasn’t finding a job was crystal clear: The resume she’d been using for a year as she looked for work didn’t tell her story.

And then there was my brother-in-law who had written a paper in grad school that led to his being asked to help rewrite the early-education certification curricula in Wisconsin. That’s impressive! With each profile I worked on, I discovered the professional accomplishments of people I’d only spent time with socially.

It changed my relationships.

Meanwhile, my sister-in-law got a job within three weeks of my redoing her profile. My brother-in-law found a marketing-manager job back in his niche field within two months.  All of which led my brother and sister to move their families back home near my mom in Green Bay, something she had longed for since all of her six children had moved away decades ago.

It even changed my mom’s life. 

I never could have imagined how sharing what I know could have such a dramatic ripple effect on 26 people and the people in their lives. And those are just a few of the stories. I’ve helped students seeking internships, recent grads getting their start and mid-career professionals too busy or unfamiliar with social media to tend to their profiles (and, their professional relationships.)

Along the way, I’ve discovered many new LinkedIn features, tools and tricks, so in the spirit of random acts of kindness and paying it forward, here are 17 tips for quickly improving your LinkedIn profile:

  1. Don’t assume LinkedIn isn’t valuable in your profession or life stage. LinkedIn search features include filters for entry-level to niche professional positions, and targeted features and tools have been developed to address the needs of studentsveterans and salespeople. (They don’t yet have a section for military service, but I’ve reached out to their product manager to suggest they get one.)
  2. Selfies – or worse, no photo – are LinkedIn dealbreakers. If you can’t afford a professional photo, look for a clear, in-focus solo pic (not one that shows you’ve cropped out others of it) or have someone take a picture of you in professional attire.
  3. Your headline defaults to your most recent position, but you don’t have to leave it that wayYou can edit that section to reflect the work you do and even include that you’re seeking employment. (That’s what got my sister-in-law an interview.)
  4. If you have a common name, use your maiden name, middle name or middle initial. Few people would have the patience to click through 84 Dan Clancys, so add an initial and be the only Daniel B. Clancy.
  5. Customize your LinkedIn URLs and use it elsewhere. These neat little www.linkedin.com/in/yournamehere URLs are intended for use on business cards and email signatures. They also allow people to access your profile in Google search results without logging in or being LinkedIn members.
  6. Use your summary statement to tell your career story – in first person. Let me repeat, in FIRST PERSON. Not in phrases like a resume, and absolutely not in third person like Jimmy from Seinfeld. Use the Summary section to share why you do what you do, what your goals are and what makes you different from others who do the same work you do, like you would in a conversation or an interview. There’s plenty of room for your detailed work history and job descriptions in the Experience section.
  7. Limit the first paragraph of your summary statement to be 1 or 2 sentences long and clearly tell what you do. Only five lines of your summary show up on the LinkedIn mobile app, so you want to lead with the most relevant part of your story. View it on your phone to make sure it fits nicely.
  8. If you’re only listing your current job title and length of employment, you’re missing the point of LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s algorithm seeks to match your keywords with search terms. If you’re leaving your job description sections blank, you’re likely not showing up in recruiter’s (or anyone else’s) search results.
  9. List every job in your career. LinkedIn aggregates the length of your employment, so if you’re only listing your most recent positions, you won’t show up in search results that seek extensive experience. Also, people from throughout your career will be looking for you. Help them find you by including those early-career jobs and associating your profile with past employers.
  10. Using the prompts to set up your page isn’t enough. The prompts don’t fill in all the fields. For example, they don’t include the location of the positions you post, and many LinkedIn users select location filters when searching its database. Go to the Profile Edit tab and fill in as many sections as you can.
  11. Instead of using bullet points for your job descriptions, tell stories. LinkedIn is a social network, not a resume forum. You don’t speak in bullet points, so don’t write in them. Think of the hiring managers and recruiters who read dozens and dozens of profiles with the same boring buzzwords. Offer them an anecdote that shows your unique experience or accomplishments.
  12. Include your interests, volunteer experience and causes you care about. LinkedIn is about connections, and you never know when a shared interest will spark contact.
  13. You don’t have to be fluent to list language skills. The section allows you to select a proficiency level ranging from elementary to fluent/native speaker.
  14. Maximize the Skills section by listing up to 50 skills. Think of each skill as a keyword that might be featured in a job description. As you type in each skill, check out the terms that autogenerate to see if you’ve overlooked any. And make sure you list the software you’ve used.
  15. Take advantage of the option to upload links or documents to highlight your work. Link to websites that mention or feature your work or presentations you’ve given that highlight your expertise.
  16. Don’t forget to look over the sidebar that lists additional sections. You can include projects, publications, test scores, certications, honors and awards– and even patents!
  17. Remember that the purpose of LinkedIn is professional networking. Once you have an All-Star profile, start connecting with people from your personal and professional life, and take advantage of your entire network.

Whatever your area of expertise is, don’t take it for granted. Find a way to share that knowledge with people outside your field, and you’ll be amazed by how much more you learn.

Committing (to) 26 acts of LinkedIn kindness

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As news organizations marked the first anniversary of the Newtown mass shooting last December, I noticed the revival of the #26acts and #26actsofkindness hashtags on social media. You may recall the hashtags originated when NBC’s Ann Curry appealed to her Twitter followers to commit 20 acts of kindness in honor of the shooting victims:

She eventually included the six adults who died, and the #26acts campaign went viral. Curry’s appeal inspired gestures from around the world. I loved seeing such an outpouring of kindness, and my family decided do our part by focusing on Hurricane Sandy relief. (I tweeted about it to support the effort and, to my surprise, ended up getting picked up in local news coverage of the acts.)

When the hashtags reappeared last month, I knew I wanted to join in again. I had recently given a talk about strengthening your LinkedIn profile and at the time was in the middle of helping my sister-in-law update hers. It felt really good to share what I knew to help with her job search –I’m an ESFJ, remember? – and in both of these instances, I realized how much I take for granted what I’ve learned as a social media specialist. What for me is a daily task can, for some, be an overwhelming obstacle. So I decided to help 26 friends and families members update their LinkedIn profiles and was really pleased to see how quickly people accepted the offer.  (Full disclosure: This tweet may suggest I’ve completed all 26 profiles, but I still have a few to go.)

A friend saw my tweet and encouraged me to blog about this experience, but at the time I didn’t see how it might be relevant to this blog. I really just wanted to do something nice for people I care about. That said, as I’ve worked with the first wave of profiles, I’ve already realized how this experience does, in fact, apply to an essential element of personal branding I’ve written about so many times: if you want to find success in your career in the age of social media, share what you know. That generosity of spirit builds trust and strengthens relationships, two essential factors in a successful journalism career. You may not immediately recognize the value of that sharing, but it will pay off.

I already have learned so much from this experience – yes, about LinkedIn and personal branding, but even more so about the rich stories within the professional lives of my friends and family. I’ll blog more about this surprisingly rewarding endeavor when I’ve completed my commitment.

Update: My sister-in-law got a call from a connection the day after I posted this. A former student of hers had seen her updated LinkedIn profile, which included the words “seeking position” in the headline and “willing to relocate” in the summary. The colleague said her company had an opening my sister-in-law was perfect for and that it needed to fill the position immediately. I generated a resume from her profile, and she got an interview. Two days later, they hired her on the spot.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

January 7, 2014 at 3:06 pm

5 tips for finding a journalism association that fits your niche and fuels your passion

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When I headed to LaGuardia for my flight to this year’s Online News Association conference, I unexpectedly found myself at my gate two hours early. Many ONA members work in New York, so I scanned the crowd, and, as expected, saw a friend nearby and joined him for a drink. (Why not, it’s journalism, right?)

I refer to this colleague as a friend, although I know him only from the previous three ONA conferences. (He and I both work in social media and have since kept in touch on Twitter.) When we were talking about how much we genuinely were looking forward to catching up with other ONA members, he said something that really struck a cord with me: “Going to ONA is like going to a family reunion.”

For me, reconnecting with someone I’ve met at the conference the year before or finally meeting a Twitter friend in real life nurtures my need for a sense of community in my career. And more often than not, those conversations lead to friendships and motivate me professionally. On the final night of this year’s conference, I talked with the Arizona Republic’s Megan Finnerty about her deep commitment to the Arizona Storytellers Project. Hearing the extraordinary effort she has put into making this project a success made me ask myself what more I could be doing to create excellent work.

Other journalists left ONA13 similarly compelled to up their games. In the weeks since the conference, Gannett’s Sarah Day Owen urgently declared a renewed commitment and accountability toward her career goals.

 

In a similar post, Michelle Minkoff, a data journalist for AP, celebrated that exhilarating feeling that happens when people with similar passion get exposed to each other’s expertise.

I know some people question the value – and the expense – of joining professional organizations, but I’ve found ONA to be an essential part of developing my career and building my brand. I first attended ONA10 while in grad school and gained invaluable insights into the state of the greater journalism industry. The following year I went to ONA11 as an employee at Gannett Phoenix and got to meet colleagues from other Gannett properties. And at ONA12, a cocktail-party conversation with another ONA/Twitter friend (like I was saying … ) led to a freelance opportunity with Spundge, a career move I would not have considered if it weren’t for a conference session I attended just days before on making the leap from the newsroom to a startup.

According to ONA director of operations Irving Washington, over 1,600 journalists attended ONA13, with nearly 640 first-time attendees. Joining ONA or any one of the 41 journalism associations in The Council of National Journalism Organizations can provide you a network of colleagues and guide your career. Most organizations have an annual conference – you’ve probably seen the hashtags in your Twitter feed – with sessions relevant to students, academics, freelancers and journalists working for news organizations.

So how can you find the group that’s right for your career?

Finding a journalism association that fits your niche and fuels your passion

  1. Ask your managers, colleagues and former professors which groups they’ve joined. I first learned about ONA from my online news professor. Other faculty members were active with Investigative Reporters & Editors, American Society of News Editors and National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. If you work for a news organization, find out if it encourages membership in specific groups and whether membership fees can be included in your compensation package.
  2. Watch your Twitter feed. If you’re following other journalists, you’ve seen a steady stream of conference hashtags. Click through to the session schedule to determine whether the topics might interest you.
  3. Look at the LinkedIn profiles of your connections who do the jobs you’d like to do. LinkedIn profiles include a space to list organization memberships. Look at the Organizations subheading of the Background section for the associations other journalists have joined. (You may also want to look at the Groups section, which lists the LinkedIn groups individual users follow. That list could include journalism organizations in which they are interested but may not yet have official membership.)
  4. Spend some time on The Council of National Journalism Organizations siteThis comprehensive list of organizations includes medium-specific,  beat-specific, job-specific and interest-specific groups of journalists. Their Twitter list of 41 member organizations offers a quick way to start following several groups and see which conversations appeal to your interests.
  5. Visit specific organizations’ websites and review recent conference schedules. Before you invest in a membership, learn about the groups’ missions and priorities. Looking through past schedules should give you a good sense of what issues, trends, and tools the organizations find relevant.

 


 

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#ONA13 session recap: Building your professional brand with LinkedIn

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For the past four years, I’ve attended the Online News Association’s annual conference and sought out sessions that discussed branding for journalists. This year’s conference included a session dedicated to helping journalists create LinkedIn profiles that highlight their careers. (A companion LinkedIn for Journalists tutorial session focused on its value as a reporting tool.)

LinkedIn corporate communications manager Yumi Wilson opened the session with this Conan O’Brien bit that illustrated how some people still are unfamiliar with what the professional social network has to offer:

Of course, most of the journalists in the room already had LinkedIn profiles, and Yumi’s presentation focused on how they could maximize them with these steps:

  • Complete your profile 100% to earn “LinkedIn all-star” status: Adding content to your profile increases your profile strength. When you achieve expert or all-star status, you enable access to sharing your profile on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Write a zinger of a headline: Your headline shouldn’t be limited to your current job title. Instead, think about SEO for your headline and include all the keywords that express what you’d want a potential employer to know about you. It’s OK to write a 2-3 line headline that spans your career moves to reflect your brand as “the sum of your parts”.
  • Use your summary to be your best brand ambassador in the world: Write a few paragraphs about the work you do, your professional mission and your career goals.
  • Add websites to your profile: Use this space to link to your portfolio site or directly to specific stories you want to highlight.
  • Add content to the volunteer experiences & causes section: The organizations and efforts you support may seem irrelevant to your professional life, but they could lead to your being contacted about a project for which you are uniquely qualified.
  • Include a professional photo: In general, Yumi recommended a standard chest-and-above portrait for LinkedIn photos but also noted you can tailor your photo to the work you’re pursuing, i.e., a suit for an executive position, casual clothes for a tech job or an in-the-field/in-the-newsroom shot for a reporter or camera person.
  • Customize your public profile url (found below your photo on your profile): Changing your url to reference your name helps your LinkedIn profile come up first in search results.
  • Connect with colleagues, friends, alumni and clients:  Quality matters over quantity when it comes to LinkedIn connections. As few as 50 quality connections are sufficient for a strong network of second- and third-degree connections. According to this LinkedIn blog post about founder Reid Hoffman’s book The Start-Up of You, second- and third-degree connections are, in fact, the most effective sources of job opportunities:

Whether it is a former colleague, a business partner, a friend or a classmate, the connections in your network are all insiders at an organization with whom you may collaborate in the future.

  • Seek endorsements from first-degree connections: Endorsements reinforce and prioritize the skill package you self-report.
  • Invite connections to write recommendations for you: Recommendations go beyond endorsements by providing firsthand accounts of job performance and relationship skills. Make sure these recommendations come from a wide range of your connections rather than from one segment of your career.

After you’ve created a robust profile, you’re ready to join groupsfollow companies, channels and influencers and engage with the LinkedIn Today community.

You can follow @yumiwilson on Twitter and connect with her at www.linkedin.com/in/yumiwilson.

Social Media One-Night Stand offers latest resources, supportive community for social media pros

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As a recent transplant into New York’s journalism community, I’m constantly keeping an eye out for opportunities to connect with other news and social media professionals. This is a huge media community, and breaking into it can be overwhelming. How does a new arrival find her people? Fortunately, New York has professional organizationsonline groupsmeet ups and conferences for journalists working in all areas and at all levels of the craft. As a journalist working in social media, I was excited to find Columbia University journalism professor Sree Sreenivasan’s Social Media One-Night Stand: An Advanced Workshop for Journalists, Bloggers & Media Professionals. This intensive, inexpensive way to learn about new online tools and connect with others doing similar work not only exposed me to valuable resources for updating my skills but also unexpectedly gave me a network of colleagues to get to know.

We're not rude; we're social media specialists.

Don’t worry, we’re not rude; we’re social media specialists. #cjsm (Photo by Jennifer Gaie Hellum)

For less than $150, attendees of the evening workshop saw a quick-paced lineup of presentations that ranged from tips from high-profile social media specialists to demonstrations of new tools and success stories from entrepreneurs:

We also got what felt like a social media pep rally from Sree, the event’s host. His boundless enthusiasm for social media showed as he appealed to us to share content – a lot of content.

Throughout the evening, Sree encouraged us to embrace the intimacy of social media, saying “This isn’t a flight; get up and walk around! Take pictures up close and share them on Instagram. Tweet what you’re learning. And make sure you include the hashtag #cjsm!” We were an obedient bunch, to put it mildly. Not only did we send hundreds of tweets with the presenters’ advice, we also shared Sree’s ad-libbed tips – and tagged them with #cjsm, of course: 25 Sree tips, as shared during the #cjsm Social Media One-Night Stand

  1. LinkedIn is highly underappreciated. Work on it. You are more than your job title. (via @redheadlefthand)
  2. Trying to learn LinkedIn once you’ve been laid off is too late. (via @dimitrakny)
  3. Keep and open mind but don’t let your brain fall out. (via @Manhattan_Mama)
  4. Practice social media skills when you don’t need them so they’re there when you do. (via @IlanaKowarski)
  5. If you can build a great quality product, the money will come later. Don’t think about your exit strategy. (via @soorajgera)
  6. Find the social media that works for you! (via @KapsSocial)
  7. Do something because you love it, not because you will make money doing it. (via  ‏@AudreyPadgett)
  8. Think of your social media sites as your embassies. Your website is your home. (via @AmyVernon; tip later attributed to @JimReynolds)
  9. Flipboard is the first social media I check early in the morning. (via @riotta)
  10. Social Media is a great way to amplify your message but takes effort and works best when you are passionate. (via @Manhattan_Mama)
  11. Be an early tester and late adopter of tech. (via @AndreaSmith)
  12. Add to your bucket list: work for a startup. (via @redheadlefthand)
  13. Laser-focus think about your brand. (via @CornichonP)
  14. Be careful about building your brand around your employer.  (via @redheadlefthand)
  15. For Twitter usernames, pick shortest possible, recognizable handle. Or at least memorable. (via @7SkiesTech
  16. Putting your employer’s name in your Twitter bio is like tattooing your boyfriend’s name on your arm. (via @IlanaKowarski)
  17. Use social media with a spirit of generosity. Give ppl useful info, and you will gain a following. (via @IlanaKowarski)
  18. Numbers aren’t everything. You can have a small # of followers and be doing great work on #socmedia. (via @IlanaKowarski)
  19. Embed codes are changing the world and we need to understand them. (via @esills)
  20. Every piece of content should be clickable, linkable, likable, shareable, embeddable. (via @JenniferPreston)
  21. If you’re good in real life, you can be great on Twitter. (via @ckanal, attributed to @ericaamerica)
  22. Your Twitter bio should reflect the best, current you. (via @AlexisGelber)
  23. The header photo on your Twitter profile is a great way to share something about yourself. Use it to highlight your brand. (via @jghellum)
  24. If you can’t add to the signal, don’t add to the noise. Add value when you post on Twitter. (via @JenniferPreston)
  25. Humility is important on social media. It comes across better than boasting.(via @IlanaKowarski)

In between presenters, Sree shifted from master of ceremonies to head cheerleader, as he spent the breaks giving shout-outs to industry leaders as well as attendees with success stories. Whether promoting the work they do or the paths they took to get there, he shared the stories of those on hand who had used social media to develop a niche, promote their brands and establish their careers. (These introductions continued to the very end of the evening, when he and a few dozen die-hard attendees gathered for late-night pizza nearby.)

And for those who ended the night perhaps overwhelmed by the tasks and responsibilities that go with being a social media specialist, Sree offered words of reassurance with this final, insightful slide:

 

Twitter bios and LinkedIn summaries as journalists’ personal brand statements

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Could you state your value as a journalist in 30 seconds? What about in three paragraphs, or in 160 characters?

How readily could you give an elevator pitch about yourself?

Most journalists have heard the term “elevator pitch” used to describe a quick, concise statement that presents a story idea. They understand the importance of spending time crafting a compelling yet brief speech about a story’s unique angle and how it differs from other treatments of the same topic. In fact, pitching is part of journalism; every day in newsrooms across the country, reporters present persuasive, strategic arguments to build credibility with sources, gain access to information and get buy-in from their editors. Yet I imagine many of these same journalists would be very uncomfortable with the task of creating a personal pitch, or brand statement, to define what makes them unique, credible and valuable as journalists – and even more reluctant to publish it as such.

The truth is anyone who has filled in the bio section on a Twitter account or a summary statement on LinkedIn has written a pitch to the public. These brief blocks of information play a significant role in the decision to “Follow” or “Accept”, and a poorly written one for many is a dealbreaker. I’m always surprised to see when journalists forgo these opportunities to establish credibility and trust and instead leave them blank.

Despite all the anti-marketing, anti-PR angst from journalists concerned about personal branding efforts compromising their integrity, the reality is that just like anyone who has ever applied for a job, journalists need to be able to readily and clearly state why others should care about what we have to say. “I like telling stories” and “I find people interesting” aren’t unique statements; they describe 99% of journalists. The purpose of having a well-defined brand statement is to express the unique qualities that distinguish you from other journalists. So you get the sources. And the information. And the story.

In my case, saying I have a master’s degree in multimedia journalism and specialize in social media doesn’t make me particularly unusual among journalists. But including that I got that degree while in my 40s, after studying PR as an undergrad, having a career in advertising and living in several of the top 10 U.S. cities, and while blogging about personal branding for journalists, hopefully reveals a depth to my life experience as well as credibility to my focusing on social media. It’s true that I, like most journalists, am curious and enjoy storytelling, but my online profile statements go further by describing how my curiosity aids my journalism (by seeking ways to help reporters find stories) and why I’m qualified and credible enough to use social media to tell a particular story (through my blog, PR background and job experience.)

I spoke to a group of business journalism students who were given the task of creating personal brand statements. Many described themselves with words such as “hardworking”, “ambitious”, “curious” and “creative.” Although these are admirable qualities, the frequency of their use among the classmates made it clear they weren’t unique or exclusive. The key to a compelling journalist’s brand statement is to present relevant qualities and specific experience that as a package would persuade others to trust you to tell their stories.

The blog Brazen Careerist recently featured LinkedIn’s annual list of top 10 overused buzzwords used in the U.S. in LinkedIn profiles and resumes:

1.    Creative
2.    Organizational
3.    Effective
4.    Extensive experience
5.    Track record
6.    Motivated
7.    Innovative
8.    Problem solving
9.    Communication skills
10.   Dynamic

These positive yet impotent adjectives and nouns don’t do anything to express what you have to offer.

LinkedIn senior manager for corporate communications and consumer PR Krista Canfield suggests using such general qualities to inspire detailed descriptions in summary statements and throughout LinkedIn profiles.

“Don’t just say you’re creative. Make sure you reference specific projects you worked on that demonstrate your creativity,” says Canfield. “Rather than saying’extensive experience’, make sure you list all your actual work experience on your profile. ‘Extensive experience’ is all in the eye of the beholder; it’s better to be specific.”

Read through your online profile bios and summary statements and ask yourself if the words you’ve used adequately and authentically tell your story. Then ask yourself if reading the same introduction on someone else’s bio would be enough to make you consider letting that person tell your story for you. If not, take a few minutes to revise your journalist personal pitch:

  1. Tell who you are, what you do and what makes you uniquely qualified to do it credibly.
  2. Work it into your Twitter bio, your LinkedIn summary and your blog’s “About” page.
  3. Get familiar enough with it that you could fire it off in a tweet if someone asked, “What do you do?”

If you feel you or someone you know has a strong Twitter bio, LinkedIn summary or personal brand statement, share it in the comments below.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

December 22, 2011 at 3:00 am

How my social media producer job helped refine my brand as a journalist

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As I mentioned in a recent post, my blogging about social media and personal branding played a major role in my getting hired as a social media producer at azcentral. My multimedia journalism graduate degree and familiarity with social media tools allowed for a smooth transition into Republic Media’s converged TV, print and online newsroom.

But after less than a year in the position, I had to quit my job a few weeks ago because the company my husband works for has decided to relocate us to the NY metro area. I’m now focusing on preparing for our move but will continue to write this blog, do freelance social media work and give guest lectures until we’re settled. I’m sad to leave Phoenix and my colleagues at azcentral. I have to admit, however, that I’m really excited about the career opportunities this move will offer in New York.

Although I worked at azcentral only briefly, it was enough time to recognize which parts of the job energized me and what I have to offer as part of a news organization. My main responsibilities involved posting stories on Facebook and Twitter, monitoring social media for trends and breaking news and engaging our audience. I definitely enjoyed that role, but after a while, I found my most satisfiying times in the newsroom were when I was using social media to help other journalists with their reporting. So I actively started approaching reporters and finding ways social media could assist them with their stories. Whether I was finding sources on Facebook who had been specifically affected by the massive Wallow Fire or using Storify to crowdsource reaction to a unusual local weather phenomenon, I loved how social media enhanced stories and did my part to show reporters how to take advantage of it. Those experiences eventually defined my contribution to our social media team and refined my brand.

Finding breaking news sources using social media

My day usually began by scanning my TweetDeck streams for local and national news that had broken overnight. (I loved being paid to know what was going on.) Our converged newsroom meant I was a few feet from the breaking news desk, print reporters, online team and television producers. If I saw a tweet from a Twitter user or another news organization that mentioned a developing story, I’d be on my feet to check if they knew about it. This responsibility suited my personality well; it’s my nature to be helpful and to share information with people. I monitored news tweets, hashtags and social media comments for relevant content and passed it on whenever it might be useful.

One highlight for me was when a Breaking News tweet I saw helped turn an international story into a local one for azcentral. I heard an early morning story on NPR about a Russian plane crash and later saw a @BreakingNews tweet announcing the plane was carrying an entire Russian hockey team.

I clicked the link to the NHL press release and found the coach was former Phoenix Coyotes player Brad McCrimmon, so I alerted the breaking news desk and told the home page editor about it. He searched our archives, found dozens of references to the coach and called the reporter who covers the Coyotes. Within 20 minutes, we had the enhanced wire story on our site. We posted our local story on Facebook and Twitter within the next hour.

This example elegantly highlights how social media’s role as part of a converged newsroom dynamic led to comprehensive news coverage of a local, and yet international, tragedy.

Crowdsourcing special projects 

Azcentral’s social media team encouraged reporters to tap into our social media followers (as well as their own) to crowdsource, and I let them know I was there to help. We used live chats to generate questions for interviews with experts, turned to Quora to find answers to niche questions, and when Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, I gathered local reaction using Storify. Most often, we helped reporters use Twitter and Facebook to find story ideas and sources.

Our crowdsourced 9/11 anniversary Arizona Republic front page was an unprecedented and unexpected social media achievement. Before the anniversary, azcentral and 12 News posted requests for six-word responses to the question “What does 9/11 mean to you?” on Facebook and Twitter and got over 600 responses. Their collective impact was so profound that the editors decided to wallpaper the front page of the Arizona Republic with the six-word statements against a silhouette of the Twin Towers and New York skyline. For the first time in the paper’s history, the front page was crowdsourced. The response was overwhelmingly positive within the local community and the newspaper industry.

I became a journalist because I wanted to tell people’s stories. Using social media tools to bring out otherwise unheard voices – even if they’re only making six-word statements – truly inspired me, and this part of my role as social media producer confirmed that I want crowdsourcing to be an even bigger part of my next job.

Training reporters and editors

I really enjoyed training colleagues to use social media for reporting. Despite the ubiquity of social media references in the news and within the newsroom, many very talented journalists had no interest in creating or actively using social media accounts. They’d been able to write compelling stories without them for years and saw no need to change their habits. Some had Twitter accounts but didn’t know how to maximize them, while others had been effectively using them to solicit ideas and sources and were eager to learn new tricks.

Each week I wrote a social media newsletter to share tips and give examples of five good tweets from the week. I also did one-on-one training of how to set up Twitter, Facebook’s subscribe feature, LinkedIn and TweetDeck. The feedback I got from reporters, whether it was a quick email saying the Five Good Tweets helped them become more comfortable with tweeting or a request for crowdsourcing advice, showed me the range of confidence and social media expertise throughout the staff. I genuinely enjoyed working with all skill levels and tailoring the training to their needs.

Providing help is a central part of who I am and my brand as a journalist, whether it’s to get information out, tell stories or teach. For now, I’ll be have to put that energy into helping my family move, but soon enough I’ll be using it to help myself get a job.

My advice to j-school students: How building an online brand helped me get my online job

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When I talk to journalism students about using social media to build their brands, their questions often are practical ones: What if someone already has my name as a Twitter handle? Do I really have to edit my Facebook page? How often should I blog? But the best question a student asked me challenged the very idea that journalists should bother with personal branding in the first place:

“It takes so much time to do everything you’re talking about, like blogging and tweeting and keeping all those profiles updated, on top of writing stories. How do you know it’s actually paying off for you?”

Before I could reply, his professor provided the best answer: “Because she’s standing up here in front of you.” (If you know Cronkite School professor Tim McGuire, you can appreciate his delivery of that line.)

The fact is the student was right. It takes extra effort to maintain an online presence as a journalist. And I admitted I couldn’t tell him which tweet would be the one that got him retweeted 25 times, which blog post would be shared around the world or which skill listed on his LinkedIn profile would make him rise to the top of a search.

Nonetheless, I assured him all that extra effort was worth it because each tweet, each blog post and each online profile defined his brand and provided a virtual trail for potential employers to find him. I told him I knew this personally because I’d sent tweets that got dozens of retweets, I’d written a blog post that was shared from Peru to Spain after someone translated it into Spanish and I’d been contacted for jobs via LinkedIn – all while I was still a grad student.

Then I reassured him there was no reason he and his classmates couldn’t do the same.

Today’s j-school students have everything they need to start mapping out their careers. They can write niche blogs, create simple portfolios, connect with others doing the work they aspire to do and develop professional networks across the country before they’ve even begun their job searches. It hasn’t always been that way; when I went to journalism school in the 1980s, students sent out resumes, applied for jobs and waited for a phone call. But as a grad student over two decades later, I recognized that from my first assignment, I was building the online brand that would eventually get me my job as a social media producer.

Here’s how I did it:

Creating a name for myself – literally: I had no online identity when I began grad school after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom. Google searches of my name brought up a scholar who researched Egypt and one passing reference to me as my husband’s wife. I clearly had some work to do. When I got my first online assignment to create a blog, I deliberately used my full name, Jennifer Gaie Hellum, and did the same on social media accounts and as a reporter at Cronkite News Service. By the end of grad school, a search for Jennifer Hellum – even without my middle name – brought me to the top of the page on Google.

Helping people find my work: I always took the time to add tags to blog posts for SEO, add links to other blogs and thank others who linked to mine. Publishing a post meant sending a tweet with the link and any relevant hashtags, keywords or the Twitter handle of anyone I’d interviewed. I also took my professors’ advice and created a LinkedIn account, joined journalism associations and bought my vanity URL to use for my online portfolio.

Choosing blog topics and reporting assignments that fit my brand:  This blog started as an assignment for a digital media entrepreneurship class. As someone with little online media experience at the time, I found a digital topic, personal branding via social media, that genuinely fit with my earlier advertising and public relations career. At the suggestion of my professors, I kept the blog going during the summer and beyond my final semester because it had become clear I was the only person regularly writing about the topic. During my capstone semester as a producer and reporter at Cronkite News Service, I found ways to use social media as a reporting tool and even wrote about city governments using social media. In the end, my blog and social media knowledge became the strongest part of my resume.

Doing the job I aspired to have: As soon as I learned about social media as an area of journalism, I began using it to learn about social media jobs. I set up Google alerts and TweetDeck columns for “social media editor” and read everything I could about the position. I followed social media editors on Twitter, looked at their job histories and skill sets on LinkedIn and read their blogs and decided my interests and personality fit well with the work. I also participated in Twitter chats with online journalists, and if they mentioned a digital tool I was unfamiliar with, I looked it up so I could join in the conversation. (The chat organizer later invited me to be a guest panelist about personal branding and social media along with experienced journalists.) And during my last sememster, I went to the Online News Association conference in D.C and used what I learned to improve CNS’s Facebook profile and help other reporters find sources on Twitter.  All that extra effort paid off when I was recommended for a social media producer position at azcentral.com and was able to share what I knew and how I’d used it.

Of course, I’m not the only one to figure out that I didn’t have to wait to start building a brand. Many multimedia journalism students post their reels on YouTube, share photos on Flickr and create online portfolios that showcase their programming skills, and it’s paying off. They’re getting hits, they’re getting noticed and best of all, they’re getting hired.

A j-school graduate’s defense of (figuratively) branding journalists

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When I decided to call my student blog Brand Me a Journalist, I chose the name because I thought it was somewhat clever and easy to remember. I hadn’t fully contemplated its inherent call to action – that is, until I read Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten’s response to a student who asked how he developed his brand:

The best way to build a brand is to take a three-foot length of malleable iron and get one end red-hot. Then, apply it vigorously to the buttocks of the instructor who gave you this question. You want a nice, meaty sizzle.

I had two reactions to his advice:

  1. I hope he never takes my blog name literally. (The guy clearly has the technique down, and I’m not into body modification.)
  2. I hope he’s not a mentor.

As a graduate student at the Cronkite School, I learned about personal branding in Tim McGuire’s 21st century media organizations class and later began this blog for Dan Gillmor’s digital media entrepreneurship class. These classes addressed the economic realities and creative possibilities in the new media landscape. Both professors, whom I consider mentors, encouraged me to write this blog and impressed upon us the need to strategically begin creating our digital footprints as students – a powerful career-launching tool that was not available to j-students when I got my undergraduate degree in 1989.

These respected newspapermen understood the increasingly important role of personal branding for journalists, so I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Medill professor Owen Youngman had assigned a graduate student, identified simply as “Leslie”, to reach out to Weingarten about the topic.

I was completely caught off guard to read the way Weingarten treated Leslie, not being familiar with his distinctive brand. I’d made similar cold-call requests of veteran journalists such as Worldcrunch’s Jeff Israely, and they gladly discussed their brands. But instead of enlightening her with how a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s” came to be a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning columnist (he even has a tagline, a considerable branding asset) at one of the country’s most prestigious news organizations, Weingarten used the occasion to decry the hijacking of journalism’s noble mission by marketing departments and user-generated content.

As Steve Buttry pointed out in his reply to Weingarten’s non-answer to Leslie’s question, Weingarten was not interested in admitting his considerable success is due in part to the strength of his well-cultivated personal brand. His disdain for the word “branding” prevents him from recognizing that it simply is about defining yourself as a journalist and establishing your reputation among your audience, which is no different than what journalists have historically done; it just used to be called “making a name for yourself.”

Indeed, Weingarten has established a formidable reputation name brand, which is supported by his publishers’ marketing efforts and his deliberate social media presence. At various points during his four-decade career, he strategically positioned himself:

  • by committing himself to covering a specific beat to the best of his ability
  • by developing valuable relationships with readers and sources
  • by associating with other journalists doing similar work
  • by pursuing related opportunities that complemented his position

All of these are elements of branding. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he’s very deliberately built his brand.

But rather than seeing Leslie’s overture to a veteran journalist as an opportunity to pass on his professional insights to the next generation of reporters, Weingarten dismisses us as unworthy, talentless self-promoters who aren’t willing to work hard “to get great stories.” Leslie tried to get a great story, one about an accomplished journalist who started out as a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s”; instead, she got a lecture.

So while Weingarten finds comfort in longing for the way things used to be, we aspiring journalists will continue to take advantage of digital media tools available to launch our careers:

  • by building innovative portfolio sites that show our command of writing and programming
  • by posting video resumes on YouTube to show our storytelling, camera work and editing skills (we multimedia journalists do it all)
  • by uploading photos to Flickr and Instagram
  • by finding sources via Facebook
  • by connecting with colleagues via Twitter, journalism chats such as wjchat, LinkedIn groups and conferences to learn about the jobs we aspire to have
  • by staying up until 3 a.m. to write blog posts that very likely won’t be seen but that reveal our passion for writing and commitment to our beats
  • by reaching out to those veteran journalism pros who get that branding is just a word, not a threat

All this before we’ve been hired. Through our initiative, focus and hard work, we’re assembling bodies of work, “making names for ourselves” and pursuing our goals as journalists.

So you can keep your red-hot iron, sir; we’re building our own brands.

Social media spring cleaning: 50 tasks (or 7 short lists) for maintaining your personal brand

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When I talk to journalism students about managing their personal brands, they often are overwhelmed by the maintenance of their online profiles and portfolios. Students as well as working journalists are constantly producing new content and/or acquiring new skills that should be reflected in their online identities.  Whether you do it weekly, monthly or seasonly, it’s important to have a routine for updating profiles, building networks, adding content and clarifying your brand.

So now that it’s officially spring, set aside time this week to do some personal branding spring cleaning. Start with one account and see how much has changed since you last updated your content. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to tackle one list each day, your digital footprint will be up to date in a week.

Twitter:

  1. Make sure your profile blurb is up to date. Include your photo, current position and location, as well as a link to your blog, LinkedIn or portfolio page. Without these details, those you follow will have to do too much work to decide whether they should reciprocate and follow you. So they probably won’t.
  2. Use the remaining lines of your blurb to relate what you feel is most central to your brand, whether it be your beat, interests, associations or personality.
  3. Consider whether your profile picture continues to reflect the professional image you want to present. Is the photo current? Is the image recognizable? Could people you know ITL (in Twitter life) pick you out of a group IRL (in real life)?
  4. Take a moment to look at your Twitter page (not TweetDeck or Hootsuite) stream of tweets collectively as a snapshot of who you are as a journalist. Make sure the tweets in general are professionally relevant.
  5. Consider the knowledge, skills and talents you have and evaluate whether they’re reflected directly or indirectly in your tweets.
  6. Ask yourself if a viewer of your Twitter page could identify your journalistic niche. If not, send a few tweets, retweets and replies to clarify what you’re interested in.
  7. Decide whether you’re effectively promoting a relevant niche or unnecessarily pigeonholing yourself and undermining your greater professional goals.
  8. Look for unintentional bias or questionable ethics in your tweets and in those you retweet. Delete anything questionable.
  9. If you’re following keywords or hashtags, look for Twitter users who appear frequently in those feeds and consider following them to start conversations and expand your network.
  10. Note which other hashtags they follow.

Facebook:

  1. Check your privacy settings: are they public, allowing you to connect with your audience, create discussions and find sources and story ideas, or private?
  2. If public, make the page suitable for current and prospective employers, sources and colleagues to see in its entirety.
  3. Update your profile page information, keeping it consistent with your Twitter profile information while adding other details about yourself that invite connections with your audience.
  4. Include a link to your portfolio or blog in your “Contact Information.”
  5. Use the “About Me” section of the “Basic Information” tab to add other social media accounts, such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
  6. Read your wall and consider the ongoing story it tells about you. Does it reflect your personal brand well? Would a source find you trustworthy? Discreet? Credible?
  7. Check the photos you’ve been tagged in for appropriate content. Remove tags if offensive or otherwise damaging.
  8. Review fan pages you’ve “liked” and decide whether they reflect positively or negatively on the brand you’re trying to present. Consider adding a disclaimer the “About Me” section of the “Basic Information” tab to explain that your “liking” a fan page does not indicate your endorsement of it, but rather it simply gives you access to the feed.
  9. Look for relevant news organizations to “like.” These can change as your beat and niche change.
  10. Check out your colleagues’ profiles to find journalism groups to join.

LinkedIn:

  1. Home: Update your status to reflect what you’re currently working on. Are you looking for story ideas? Sources? A new job?
  2. Profile: Check to see who has viewed your profile recently and look for possible connections to pursue.
  3. Decide if your photo is appropriate as a professional representation suitable for your niche. Correct any outdated information and add new employment experience, skills, associations and links to relevant work.
  4. Update your “Info” page, incorporating your Twitter profile information and adding details about yourself that invite connections with your audience. Include links to your other social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and portfolios.
  5. Contacts: Write a recommendation for someone you found valuable as a connection.
  6. Groups: Look for employer, alumni, journalism  and association groups to join and participate in a discussion.
  7. Jobs: Check to see who’s hiring and what skills/knowledge they’re asking for in job descriptions that interest you.
  8. Inbox: Reply to any messages you’ve received.
  9. Companies: See who has profiles associated with specific news organizations and other employers for possible connections.
  10. More: Consider purchasing an upgrade to gain access to extended profiles and job opportunities.

Google/search:

  1. Do a Google search to see what others are finding when they search your name. Is it you or someone with a similar name who appears in the search results? If so, consider using a more search-friendly name professionally.
  2. Do additional, narrower “News” and “Blogs” searches (under the “more” search tab) to see if your work is being linked to. Add relevant links to your portfolio.
  3. Set up Google alerts for your name and blog name to receive notifications. This is particularly useful if your work has been used by a news aggregator or cited on a blog.
  4. Consider adding blogs to your RSS that are relevant to your niche in journalism. Commenting on posts and engaging colleagues will increase your online authority and presence in search.
  5. Check out your Klout score. Regardless of whether you find it to be a reliable measure of online authority, your colleagues and potential employers may, so you should be familiar with it.

Blog:

  1. Read through your “About” page and decide whether it authentically represents your voice, your niche and your brand.
  2. Look over the headlines of your posts to make sure they are on topic. Read through the comments and find opportunities for conversations with your readers.
  3. Revisit your blogroll and determine whether to delete or add sites. In the end, you want a focused yet comprehensive blogroll that encompasses the range of topics within your journalistic niche and blog topic.
  4. Add sharing widgets such as TweetMeme that help readers easily share your posts on Twitter and Facebook.
  5. If you are using a blogging platform, consider purchasing the URL of your blog name and migrating your content there.

Portfolio/Google profile:

  1. Look at your homepage. Does it clearly state your area of specialization within journalism?
  2. Click through all of your tabs to make sure the navigation is logical.
  3. Click through all the links and fix any broken ones.
  4. Update your employment, awards and associations sections.
  5. Post recent work or add links to content you’ve created.

Chats:

  1. Find a weekly chat such in which you can participate that addresses topics within your niche. Journalism chats such as #spjchat take place on Twitter, within news organizations and on Poynter.com.(Here’s a post I wrote about chat etiquette.)
  2. Make time in your schedule to participate live or read through transcripts after they’ve been posted or curated.
  3. Look through transcripts to find who hosts and actively participates in the chats and follow them on Twitter.
  4. Suggest topics you’d like to see discussed.
  5. If you can’t find a chat that specifically addresses your specialty, consider creating/hosting one as a way to establish authority within your niche.

 

If you have a routine for maintaining your online presence, feel free to share tips and suggestions in the comments.