Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

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Know Thyself: Figuring out what your brand is and how to express it

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I recently was invited to speak at ASU’s Cronkite School as part of “After Cronkite”, a series of brown-bag lunch discussions to help students prepare for their job searches. In the inaugural session titled “Know Thyself! Now Tell Others,” I joined Jody Brannon, the national director of the Carnegie-Knight News21 journalism initiative, to talk with students about understanding their personal brands and ways to incorporate them into their online identities through blogs, social media and portfolio sites.

Many questions focused on Facebook and Twitter and what constitutes appropriate personal and professional posts. One student asked us whether we’d be inclined to hire a candidate whose tweets revealed a strong personality over someone whose tweets revealed little personality. For me, the answer to that question would depend on whether the applicants’ personal brands – reflected through their overall digital presences – were good fits for the position.

A more fundamental question needs to be answered before you can know what online content is appropriate:

Who are you?

You can’t know your brand as a journalist if you don’t know yourself as a person.

Are you a global citizen with a healthy dose of cynicism and a passion for politics? Are you an empathetic storyteller who values images as well as words to connect with communities? Or are you an activist who believes revealing your biases makes you more credible when exposing injustice? Each of these profiles would dictate a distinct personal branding strategy.

You need self-awareness to know whether your digital presence is promoting or betraying your brand and, as a result, sabotaging your professional goals. As a journalist, your ability to communicate what makes you unique, i.e., your brand, will help you establish a professional niche that you can pursue with confidence and integrity.

Fortunately, many resources are available to help you understand the qualities and characteristics that collectively make you who you are.

Personality type

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you make decisions with your heart or your head? The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) identifies 16 distinct personality types based on eight key traits. These personality traits are reflected in your personal brand, and being aware of them will help you know whether you’re effectively and appropriately conveying them through your online profiles.

In the decades since the MBTI’s initial publication in the 1960s, test administrators have used the tool to help people understand the role personality plays in career choice. (Employers commonly use its results during the hiring process and for management training.) You can have the test administered by a trained professional who can provide an in-depth assessment, but many online sites and books feature MBTI profiles from which you can gain a general understanding of the personality types.

When I took the Myers-Briggs test as part of career counseling services, the administrator stressed the results would only be valuable if I agreed they accurately reflected my personality. The assessment said I was an ESFJ, and when I read the description, it was so spot-on I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. So although I enjoy reading clever tweets from skeptics, philosophers and provocateurs, it would be inconsistent with who I am to emulate them and present myself as anything but a harmony-seeking, rule-following “Extra Special Friendly Joiner.”

Aptitudes

Although most people won’t find it necessary to seek IQ testing as part of determining their personal brands, it is of value to at least understand the distinction between your innate cognitive abilities and the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired throughout your life.

For adults, it’s not as important to know raw IQ test scores as it is to know which cognitive abilities are your best. (Often, trained test administrators have policies of not providing raw scores to adults and instead use general result terms, such as “average” and “very superior.”) I was given the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – Revised IQ test, and although I wasn’t provided raw scores, I was given a ranking of how I performed on the test sections. I found it tremendously valuable to learn the abilities I had taken for granted, verbal reasoning and spatial relations, were among my strongest. That knowledge has allowed me to apply those abilities as a multimedia journalist and confidently present them online.

Talents

Like personality and aptitudes, talents are innate. Understanding the distinction between your talents and your acquired skills will give you the vocabulary to express what makes you unique and what you have to offer professionally, even when you lack the skills required for a specific position.

In 2001, Donald O. Clifton, founder of SRI Gallup, and Marcus Buckingham, a senior vice president of The Gallup Organization, used research they gathered in interviews with over two million subjects to identify 34 universal talent themes and developed a survey through which individuals could find their “Top 5″ talents.

Each copy of their book Strengthfinder 2.0 includes a unique access code that allows you to take the assessment online and identify your Top 5. (Mine are Learner, AchieverCommunication, Input and Individualization.) It offers examples of how others have used their talents successfully in their careers and guides you through applying your Top 5 in your professional and personal life.

By taking the assessment, I learned how my talents influence the kind of journalist I want to be: a person driven to gather information and learn about people’s lives to communicate their diverse, individual stories. The blog posts I write, tweets I send, articles I share on Facebook, and the people I connect with on chats and LinkedIn tend to reflect these qualities about me.

Skills/Knowledge

Social media offer constant opportunities to share the abilities and knowledge you’ve acquired throughout your life. Rather than relying on job interviews to relate them to potential employers, you now can present them online through digital resumes and portfolios that can be found in search as well as through casual references in tweets, chats, online groups and other social media.

It’s OK to show what you know. Whether I’m commenting during #wjchat about digital storytelling tools for journalists (social media), sharing photos via Twitpics (photography) or respondiendo a un tuit (Spanish), each of these digital footprints I leave reveal a skill of mine and add dimension to my brand.

Life experiences and interests

Your family life, friendships and the communities you’ve lived in are just a few of the many influences that affect your belief system and inform your perspective as a journalist. Your collection of life experiences and interests naturally emerge through social media and reveal commonalities you share with others. The challenge lies in understanding how these personal elements affect your personal brand and deciding whether incorporating them into your online presence strategically enhances or detracts from it. What you say, join and “like” can potentially make you interesting or turn people off.

Anyone following me on my tweets and hashtags knows I’m from Green Bay, Wisconsin (#Packers), have two bright sons (#Ilovemyboys), stay up too late (#nightowl) and like watching Mad Men with my husband (#callmebettydraper). These personal glimpses don’t directly involve my professional life, but when shared appropriately, they can spark connections with others and add a personal element to my brand.

Once you understand how your personality, aptitudes, talents, skills, life experiences and interests fit together, you’ll quickly be able to assess whether they’re reflected in your online presence as well as your face-to-face interactions. Take a few minutes to view a snapshot of yourself online and see if it reveals who you genuinely are.

12 Tips for Journalists: My Semester on the Personal Branding Beat

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When Dan Gillmor assigned our digital media entrepreneurship class the task of blogging for the semester, he challenged each of us to “become an expert on a digital media topic”. He assured us that by blogging “2-3 times a week, at 300-500 words per post”, we would know more than enough about our topics to confidently own our chosen beats.

I have to say that at the time that outcome seemed pretty unrealistic to me. I began this blog about personal branding and social media with a basic understanding of the issue’s relevance to journalists:

How we manage our online identities as journalists is increasingly more important as the news industry goes through revolutionary change. Journalism school grads no longer have to accept the traditional employment path of starting in a small market with hopes of making it to a legacy organization someday. Instead, entrepreneurial journalists are strategically defining themselves through social media and niche specializations to set themselves apart from their peers, develop relationships and create their own opportunities.

After following other bloggers, interviewing journalists and watching Twitter feeds daily, I’m amazed by how much I’ve learned about this subject. I’m now convinced that journalists must learn to effectively use social media to develop a niche and a personal brand, and I feel comfortable discussing the tools to do so.

Therefore, in the style of many of the most re-tweeted posts about social media and branding, here are my Top 12 Tips for Journalists on Using Social Media to Develop a Personal Brand:

1. Find your niche. Consider your unique talents, interests and personal network and identify a topic you can own. Look for news coverage that make you think “why isn’t someone covering this more?” and investigate what has been written about it in the past. Whether you recognize a neglected topic, feel passionate about a beat or possess specialized knowledge, you can develop a niche and establish yourself as an expert by using digital and social media to your advantage:

2. Do your research. Use bookmarking sites like Digg and Delicious and advanced searches such as Google News, Google Blogs and Google Scholar to find relevant news and people who are concerned about, knowledgeable about and affected by the issue you’re exploring. When you find interesting sources, reach out to them on blogs, Twitter, Facebook groups and email. People like to talk about themselves and share their expertise.

3. Start a blog and participate on others. Regret the Error’s editor Craig Silverman looked for a topic no one was covering, found it in accuracy and corrections in the news and went live with a blog two weeks later. Personal Branding expert Dan Schawbel found inspiration from a magazine article about personal branding and started blogging about it that night. Investigative reporter Kristen Lombardi established her journalistic cred reporting on institutional indifference to cover-ups of sexual assault, and connected with advocates, victims and their loved ones via contact on blogs.

Whether you are a new journalist looking to create an online footprint or an established reporter who has been laid off, blogging offers a way to show initiative as well as your talent. And don’t be afraid of having more than one blog; you may have more than one area of interest.

4. Establish an searchable identity. Use the “One Voice” principle of public relations to create a consistent identity across your social media and professional profiles.

  • Decide what name you want to be known by professionally. Make sure it’s unique enough (such as Jennifer Gaie Hellum) to allow you to be found on the first page of a Google search.
  • Use that name for your Twitter account and any online comments. This will increase your online presence and increase your profile in search. (Tweeting under a clever moniker rather than your professional name might appear to add personality to your identity, but it doesn’t get you direct credit for your contributions.)
  • Create one avatar and use it whenever you need to post an image for an online profile.
  • Create a LinkedIn profile. Include your avatar, blog, portfolio site, Twitter feed and links to any online profiles on your page.

5. Own your domain name. For a small investment, you can secure your professional name as a domain name for a personal portfolio site. Whether you are employed or looking for work, a portfolio site is your online resume. Even if you have a bio page on your employer’s site, a portfolio is a vital way to present yourself comprehensively and define your brand for your audience, colleagues and potential employers. You should include a resume, your cumulative work, any professional goals or mission statement and links to social media. Include multimedia elements whenever possible.

6. Create a Google Profile. Like a portfolio page, a Google Profile is your opportunity to present your digital brand and allows you to define the first listing people find when they do a Google search of your name. It’s generally a more flexible profile than a professional portfolio site and would be where you could feel comfortable adding a personal element to your personal brand (sometimes referred to as your authentic brand or your inner and outer brands). This profile belongs to, former head of washingtonpost.com, now president of digital strategy for Allbritton Communications.

 

7. Tweet. Tweet often. A lot of veteran journalists have resisted signing up for Twitter, believing that the micro-blogging site is a fad and a distraction. In fact, Twitter’s power as a means of creating a network and finding story ideas, trends and sources is becoming increasingly more clear. If you are new to Twitter or have yet to become a regularly user, this Twitter checklist offers a practical plan for getting into the habit of posting relevant tweets to build your community and brand.

  • Follow colleagues, news organizations and individual journalists. Go to their pages and see who they follow.
  • Pay attention to weekly #FollowFriday and #ff hashtags to see who others are recommending. Participate in #followfriday to recommend Twitter users who you find authoritative on your subject area.
  • Send well-crafted tweets that use keywords and hashtags to increase their visibility and drive traffic to your blog.
  • Use hashtags to tag your tweets for maximum visibility.
  • Use a Twitter application like TweetDeck to manage your tweets and monitor relevant topics.
  • Re-tweet and comment on tweets related to your niche.
  • Consider the following strategy of following who follows you, which allows you to send direct messages (DMs) for private conversations.
  • Tweet responsibly. If you look at your Twitter stream and it doesn’t make a compelling case for why someone should trust or hire you, ask yourself what it’s contributing to your digital profile. If you can’t think of a good answer, delete it.

8. Join a professional social network. Ning groups like Wired Journalists give the opportunity to find and connect with other journalists who are interested in your beat.

9. Seek the input and advice of veteran journalists. Social media has broken down the hierarchy of professional org charts and created direct access to people. By using social media, blogs, LinkedIn and Twitter, I have communicated in the past four months with many prominent journalists, including NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, NPR reporter Don Gonyea, Jim Brady, Craig Silverman, Terry Greene Sterling, Kristen Lombardi, Dan Schawbel and Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl). Be fearless in reaching out to experienced journalists and experts in your subject area; the worst think they can do is say they can’t help you. Most likely, you will be blown away by how willing people are to help you.

10. Participate in live online chats. Poynter Online has weekly live chats with Joe Grimm aka Ask the Recruiter. Journalism students, professors and working journalists log on each week to discuss relevant topics. Transcripts are posted following the chats and logged on the site.

11. Be a true multimedia journalist. Take the steps to learn basic skills in video/audio editing and photograph. Become familiar with social media sites that feature them and create your own content.

  • Post videos on your website or video-sharing sites like YouTube.
  • Learn to create a podcast. (Click here to hear how Grammar Girl went from being a freelance writer/editor to creating her podcast.)
  • Learn to embed audio and video.

    • Learn to use Photoshop and create an account on Flickr.
    • Learn HTML and get comfortable with inserting code into blogposts, such as this post on interviewing for media jobs:

12. Stretch yourself intellectually. Keep on top of what’s new in social media by reading Mashable and pay attention to personal branding experts. Look for seminars and workshops to get firsthand advice and skills from journalists who are successfully and strategically using social media.

Using Social Media as a Journalistic Tool

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I had the privilege last week to spend over an hour speaking to The Center for Public Integrity’s Kristen Lombardi about how she conducts her research for investigative stories. I wasn’t surprised to hear that social media had a place in her toolkit.

She told me that one of the ways she and her co-reporter Kristin Jones found sources for their recent series on campus sexual assault was by putting up queries on blogs looking for students who would talk about being assaulted and who filed reports of sexual assaults.

“We received responses from a lot of people—“the silent majority”—who didn’t report their attacks. We wanted to find out why they never reported firsthand and also wanted the accounts of those who went through the process of reporting to campus police or judicial affairs departments,” said Lombardi.

Campus judicial proceedings records aren’t subject to FOIA, so social media proved to be a crucial part of finding victims who would allow them access to their records.

This recent post on Mashable points out how many other journalists are using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and other social media to develop a beat and cultivate sources:

  • Finding leads, noticing trends
  • Finding sources
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Giving a voice to the voiceless
  • YouTube (as a resource)
  • Sharing/vetting stories
  • Creating community
  • Building a brand

Even if you’re not ready to jump in and embrace social media, take a minute to at least familiarize yourself with their potential and learn how to use them. You’ll quickly realize how a simple search using Google’s “blog” filter,  a TweetDeck column for a hashtag or keyword, or a Facebook fan page can tell you a lot about what people are saying about a particular subject.

(How do you think I found the Mashable article in the first place?)


Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 13, 2010 at 2:46 am

A Nod to Tom Peters' definitive article: "The Brand Called You"

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Whenever I do Google searches to generate blog post topics on building your personal brand, I invariably come across blogs that mention Tom Peters‘ 1997 article in Fast Company entitled “The Brand Called You.” I remember reading his book “In Search of Excellence” for an undergrad public relations class in 1988, which is ironic to me because sometimes I feel like this blog is more about PR than it is about journalism. But I guess that’s the point: journalists in growing numbers are becoming solely responsible for promoting their work as jobs are eliminated.

And it seems as though Tom Peters saw this coming way before the news industry was ready (or willing) to hear it. Although he references the Net, your Rolodex and beepers, much of what he had to say about taking control of your professional identity in 1997 sounds as fresh and as urgent today as it did then:

“The good news — and it is largely good news — is that everyone has a chance to stand out. Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark.”

To think he felt such certainty of professional manifest destiny before the web’s power was fully realized, before web 2.0 and the era of “Have Blog, Will Prosper.” (From the recent dates of the comments, it’s clear others find his ideas to be timely, too.)

Check out his challenges and calls to action and consider what you’re doing to define your journalistic brand, but read them while keeping in mind all the powerful ways social media can help you the achieve them.

“What makes you different?” Can you define it in 15 words or less, as he suggests, or within the limits of a Twitter profile? Have you crafted a personal tagline for your personal web site and portfolio? Are you using social media to define your professional niche, through the tweets you send and the comments you leave? Have you found others with similar interests and connected with them through LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter?

“What’s the pitch for you?” Are you using social media to increase your web presence in a way that’s consistent with your brand? Do your tweets, Facebook posts, Flickr streams or blog posts betray the image your wish to portray? Do they target the kind of work you want to do?

“What’s the real power of you?” How are you increasing your credibility? Are you leaving comments on blogs? Do you participate in live chats? Do you make references in your blog to relevant work you admire?

“What’s loyalty to you?” Are you using social media to create a following of readers and colleagues to engage in conversations? Not only do social media offer opportunities to express your brand identity, they also have become essential for researching stories and finding sources.

“What’s the future of you?” Have you created a strategy for where you want your career to go? Are you making contacts with people at those organizations and staying informed about them and their careers?

As the “CEO of You” in the digital age, the corporate ladder of you is in fact a series of links and clicks, all at YOUR fingertips.

http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/10/brandyou.html

Using Social Media Skills to Find Journalism Jobs

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It’s spring break at the Cronkite School this week, and although some students are spending their time relaxing, others are busy searching for summer jobs and internships. Poynter Online had an excellent post on their Ask the Recruiter blog yesterday about the social media skills journalists need to find work in today’s job climate. (Interestingly, I watched the post make the re-tweet rounds on Twitter, proof that many journalists already are up to the task.) The article featured several industry leaders and discussed the skills their organizations are looking for in new hires. It’s definitely worth your time to read it and bookmark it for future reference.

I was just about to write a quick post about the blog when I got a tweet announcing a live chat was about to begin with the post’s author Joe Grimm, a visiting journalist at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. The tweet said the chat would focus on unexpected ways to find jobs, so I took the opportunity to participate and asked Joe some questions about how social media and personal branding can play into job searches:

Joe Grimm, Poynter: When I think about finding jobs in unexpected ways, I think of two things. One is looking for new jobs or new wrinkled (sic) on old jobs; the other is new ways of finding jobs or differentiating yourself.

Jennifer Gaie Hellum, ASU: As journalism grad students, we’re hearing a lot about how we have an advantage knowing how to use social media. Yet some of us are concerned that we will be limited to social media tasks at the expense of getting news-gathering and storytelling experience. What advice do you have on how to strategically use our skills without limiting our exposure to the craft?

Joe Grimm, Poynter: Jennifer, this has always been a concern. People with scarce skills are forever getting pigeon-holed. They are happy to get in the door, but not very happy about being pushed away from the things they love to do. This is a great subject to work hard on in the negotiations for a job. Get some commitments in writing.

Jennifer Gaie Hellum, ASU: Your post yesterday about social media skills affirmed much of what we’re being taught at the Cronkite School at ASU. We talk a lot about personal branding and being entrepreneurial journalists. Do you see news organizations adapting to these dynamics in their approaches to hiring, or is this just new jargon for freelancing?

Joe Grimm, Poynter: Oh, no. People are serious about social media. I think some managers do not have a well-defined concept of what they are asking for, so it is a good thing to probe in an interview. But these skills, as well as audience analysis, will only get more important, not less so. This does not seem to me to be a fad.

It is easy to be cynical about entrepreneurship when we see some places paying so little for freelance work. Places are looking for people to be INTRpreneurs, if you will allow me, to help them innovate. This is new.

Jennifer Gaie Hellum, ASU: I’m not so much asking if social media is a fad but rather the “journalist as a brand” phenomenon. We are being encouraged to establish ourselves on social media as a way to define our voices and areas of interest through the tweets we send and the comments we make.

Joe Grimm, Poynter: We have a paradox happening, Newspapers are eliminating specialty beats and critics, but it makes no sense for any of us to be generic. We need to stand out — for good reasons — and that means to have good, marketable journalistic brand identities. The generic people — forgive me — are not getting called.

On networking, remember the power of loose ties — the people who are not closest to you hear different information than you do and can bring you leads. Value the people who you don’t know best or who are friends of friends.

Jennifer Gaie Hellum, ASU: Often I see status posts on LinkedIn of people who are looking for jobs or looking to hire. The key to all these examples (mentioned in throughout this chat session) seems to be ACTIVELY employing whatever networking tool you are using.

Joe Grimm, Poynter: Amen, Jennifer. Networking is an ongoing activity. Not just what we do when we’re needy.

—–

You can read the entire chat transcript here:

(Chat embed courtesy of Poynter Online)

One Degree of Separation Through Digital Media

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One of the fascinating elements of social media for me is the elimination of barriers between the Big Bosses and the Newbies. Twenty years ago when I started my career in advertising, my only access to senior management was in meetings or in the elevator. I never had the opportunity to develop a rapport much less a relationship with the poweful, connected people at the top.

These days, young new hires have the advantage of direct access to industry leaders via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. No longer are our opportunities limited to a good cover letter or the long shot of a cold call being returned.  We have the opportunity to “friend” management on Facebook, start conversations with them via Twitter and reach out via email and LinkedIn.

I found out first hand this week just how connected, and therefore small, the media community is. In late February I got a tweet from Mathew Ingram, a Toronto-based media blogger whom I follow on Twitter:

Jim Brady says that he follows people who apply for jobs on Twitter, to see how they use it, and if they don’t use it “that’s a problem”

I found that to be a powerful statement and saved it so I could blog about it later. But first I had to verify that Brady, the former washingtonpost.com editor, actually made the statement. I set out to contact him directly but couldn’t find an email account on his new company’s web site. My next thought was to send him a message on Twitter, knowing that with the number of people following him, my chance of a reply was slim. A direct message wasn’t possible because he doesn’t follow me, so I went for it and sent out a public tweet:

@jimbradysp Please DM me. Want to blog about how you follow job seekers on Twttr to see how they use it, “If they don’t, that’s a problem.”

Within a minute, a professor of mine sent me a direct message saying other professors at Cronkite know Jim Brady personally and that I should ask them for an introduction. Sure enough, one check on LinkedIn showed that three people I knew (including, surprisingly, my husband’s college roommate who works for AP) were two degrees of separation from him.

Brady’s LinkedIn page featured a personal website he set up to chronicle a cross-country roadtrip with his wife and two dogs. It included a gmail account. I assumed this wasn’t his primary email account but decided to send an message. I had seen in his Twitter feed that he had directed a tweet at my professor Dan Gillmor, so I mentioned that my blog was for Dan Gillmor’s class at ASU.

Within 24 hours, this unknown journalism grad student was exchanging messages with one of the most influential online editors in the country. It took all of an hour of exploring his social media accounts to make it happen.

More on what I found out in the next post…

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

February 25, 2010 at 3:27 pm