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Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

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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.

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:

 

In breaking news, verification and humility remain essential for a credible personal brand

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the impact of breaking news coverage on journalists’ brands. I first talked about it with my sons during the highs and lows of the Boston Marathon bombings coverage. The sheer volume of available information and demand for instant reporting made what historically was a difficult job fundamentally more complex, with amplified consequences. CNN’s John King’s doubly erroneous report that a “dark-skinned male” had been arrested by authorities received widespread criticism and led him to publicly address his “embarrassment“. Meanwhile, people lit up social media to praise NBC’s Pete Williams for his responsible and accurate coverage.

I also heard this issue discussed at the New York Times and the BBC College of Journalism Social Media Summit the following weekend, just hours after the manhunt ended. Although branding wasn’t specifically addressed, the discussion did include how hasty reporting and careless social media activity can affect journalists’ relationships with their audiences (which, I’d argue, is branding.)

As The New York Times’ David Carr shared, he’s learned sometimes it’s best to sit back and take a breath:

“The lack of friction is what makes it particularly dangerous. My response –  I care about my followers on Twitter, I want to look after them and keep them close – my response when big things happen is to lift my hands up, is to wait. Because I’ve gotten lit up by …  ‘Ooh, that’s juicy, that’s spicy… ‘ Just hit the retweet button and on it goes, and it all goes to shit.”

I imagine most of us have made that mistake; I know I’ve certainly retweeted a provocative development in a breaking story only to later wish I hadn’t. But as Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” The social contract between journalists and the public demands we do better. Because whether you’re a reporter on the scene or on your TweetDeck, your brand is only as strong as the level of credibility you have with your audience, and they have to be able to trust that you’re providing them with facts. Especially during breaking news. If you’re not dealing with facts, you’d better make that clear.

Last Friday, CBS news anchor Scott Pelley addressed his concerns about recent breaking news coverage in his powerful acceptance speech for the 2013 Fred Friendly First Amendment Award:

“Our house is on fire. These have been a bad few months for journalism. We’re getting the big stories wrong. Over and over again.”

Pelley wasn’t speaking from a holier-than-thou position; he was speaking as someone who’d recently failed to do his job as a journalist. He humbly acknowledged that he himself had made the inaccurate report that Adam Lanza’s mother was a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and that it was her classroom Adam had attacked. He took full responsibility for his having gotten caught up in the race for the scoop and then warned his colleagues against relying on social media alone in this era of “instant reporting”:

“In a world where everyone is a publisher, no one is an editor. And that is the danger that we face today. We have entered a time when a writer’s first idea is his best idea. When the first thing a reporter hears is the first thing he reports … Twitter, Facebook and Reddit: that’s not journalism; that’s gossip. Journalism was invented as an antidote to gossip.”

This should make us pause.

He’s talking about our profession, our tradition and our integrity.

At a time when our direct access to information, whether images, eyewitness accounts or citizens’ reactions, gives us immediate opportunities to get our work (and our names) seen, we increasingly are left to police ourselves. When we don’t, we do so at our own risk. Pelley is warning us that our impulses to gain visibility during a high-profile event better be tempered by the discipline to follow the bedrock principles of journalism, regardless of distribution method: Verification. The responsibility to do no harm. The fundamental distinction between the news gathering and news reporting processes. Reporting the facts.

Pelley didn’t stop there. He continued with an indictment of the need “to be first” as an irrelevant incentive, created by news organizations rather than the public:

“If you’re first, no one will ever remember. If you’re wrong, no one will ever forget. How does it serve the public to be first in this frantic efffort that we so often see – that we all succumb to – how does it serve the public if we’re first?

You know what first is all about? It’s vanity. It’s self-conceit. We do it to make ourselves feel better. No one’s sitting at home, watching five television monitors, going “Oh, they’re first!” That’s a game that we play in in our control rooms. Nobody does that. Maybe a touch of humility would serve us better, and serve the public better as well.”

Pelley’s reflections in the wake of his reporting error, as well as his actions, suggest he’s taken these words to heart. He received considerable praise for his measured reporting in the moments immediately after the Boston bombing and appears to have only strengthened his reputation.

We, too, can learn from his mistake by considering the consequences of being undisciplined in those “frantic efforts” and what that does to our brands. We must decide for ourselves, as Pelley stated, whether we have “the courage to be right when others would rather be first.”

Scott Pelley’s speech in its entirety (by Quinnipiac University via YouTube):

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.

ONA11 put the spotlight on social media as a reporting tool

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In 2010, I attended ONA’s annual conference in Washington, DC, as a journalism graduate student. I knew I was interested in finding an online journalism job after graduation, possibly doing social media, and thought ONA would be the place to gain insights on how journalists were using social media. So I took advantage of the student registration rate, had some business cards made and envisioned my meeting all the social media people I followed on Twitter.

But aside from a few sessions that touched on community engagement and an impromptu project for Intersect, I didn’t find many discussions about the kind of work I thought I might do in a social media job. Don’t get me wrong; I learned a lot at ONA10 about online news operations, emerging technology and digital reporting tools. As a first-time attendee, however, I left the conference without handing my card to anyone in social media and thought maybe ONA wasn’t a forum where social media played a very prominent role.

What a difference a year makes.

Any doubt I had about social media’s place in online journalism was completely dismissed at ONA11 in Boston. From the opening paragraph of the co-chairs’ welcome in the conference program (“Social media tools continue to transform the way news breaks …”) to the standing room-only Twitter and Facebook sessions, it was clear social media’s increasing role in journalism was being fully embraced at this year’s gathering.

It’s understandable. In the year since the 2010 conference, social media continued to transform the newsgathering and reporting process:

This year’s conference organizers apparently noticed the increased interest in social media’s journalistic value and responded by adding a social media track of sessions, and I hit them all. I heard NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin share his live-tweeting and tweet curation insights as part of the keynote lunch panel discussion. I fought the crowds to see Twitter content team member and digital strategist Erica Anderson and Facebook journalist program manager Vadim Lavrusik each lead a pair of sessions to share best practices and strategies for using their sites. And I took notes as Storify creator Bert Herman, along with Washington Post’s social media producer Katie Rogers and ProPublica director of engagement Amanda Michel, discussed Twitter’s strengths as a reporting tool. As an unexpected bonus, I ended up interviewing Reuter’s social media editor Anthony DeRosa for my blog after meeting him at his session on personal branding. (More on that in my next post…) Journalists working as community managers, social media editors and online engagement directors led a range of discussions about using social media to do serious journalism.

This time, I didn’t hold back from introducing myself to them. I asked for advice and shared what we’re doing at azcentral to incorporate social media tools into our reporting. Incredibly talented people doing creative, innovative things to connect with their communities were more than willingness to share what they know with me. I left ONA11 energized by what I’d learned and who I’d met, knowing I definitely was in the right place.

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.

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.

The evolving personal brand of a traditional journalist-turned-entrepreneurial journalist

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Every so often, I receive pingback notifications alerting me that someone has linked to one of my posts. As a regular TIME magazine reader, I immediately recognized former foreign correspondent Jeff Israely’s name when a message showed he had referenced my blog in a post he wrote for Nieman Journalism Lab. Jeff recently launched Worldcrunch, a global news site, and has been chronicling his experience from the point of view of a traditional journalist-turned-entrepreneurial journalist. He mentioned in his post the “uncomfortable truth” that journalists must attend to their personal brands, so I contacted him to discuss how his transition to becoming an entrepreneur has affected the brand he’d established while at TIME.

Jeff began his career in the early 1990s at daily newspapers in California and later moved to Rome with his wife, who is Italian. He freelanced and did stringer reporting, including work for the Boston Globe, before starting with TIME in late 2001. There he covered major international stories such as Pope John Paul II’s death and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. After his position was eliminated in 2009, he continued to write for TIME as a regular freelance contributor while he considered his next options, which included developing his plans for Worldcrunch.

In a phone interview from his home in Paris, Jeff said although he only became aware of the term “personal branding” in the past year, he was very familiar with the realities of marketing his work.

“TIME was not shy about promoting us. They would get us on TV and had little bios of us on their website. They have a PR operation that’s working solely on that,”  Jeff said. “The difference is, in the past, I could rely both on the magazine brand itself and also on the manpower of their marketing operation to promote my work.”

That changed when he decided to pursue his world news venture on his own. Jeff now had to think about how to create buzz for his site without the benefit of a corporate marketing department. He joined Facebook and Twitter and started News Launch Diary, a blog chronicling his efforts. He also purchased his vanity URL, www.jeffisraely.com, an essential step recommended by personal branding experts (although he hasn’t yet developed the site.)

In addition, he took his cues from TIME’s promotional tactics and sought a “guest appearance” with a prominent news outlet that would be interested in publishing his insights about his journey. Within the first few months of starting his own blog, Jeff contacted Josh Benton at Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab and pitched the idea of writing regularly for them. According to Jeff, part of Josh’s interest in the guest blog posts was the appeal of his evolving brand as “the TIME correspondent starting up his new project.”

“I’ve been very conscious about that transition,” Jeff said, “because I knew — it’s something that I’ll always carry with me — that the experience and attention that I’ve gotten from working for TIME and other organizations is a huge help in creating this personal brand.”

Given the value of his prestigious association with a legacy news organization, Jeff said he was quite deliberate about waiting until Worldcrunch’s site was live to change his Twitter profile from that of a former TIME correspondent to that of the global news site’s founder and editor. He said he believes his transition from being a reporter to his new role as an entrepreneur will be viewed as authentic because of the transparent way he has shared what he’s learned while creating his business.

“I think as this process progresses and grows, I’m gaining experience as the founder of this new media project and can speak about that on its own terms,” Jeff said. “I’ve gotten contacted by colleagues from the old media, who are in a similar position, who wanted to hear about my experience. But the idea is to eventually just be the Worldcrunch founder and that will stand on its own.”

Despite his having to learn how to navigate personal branding, Jeff challenged the suggestion made by some that managing a professional identity is a new consideration for journalists.

“It’s inside all of us, because part of the reason we got into (journalism) is we want people to see our work and, to be blunt about it, we want people to see us,” Jeff said.

His visibility on the Nieman Journalism Lab site effectively led people to read Jeff’s blog and follow him on Twitter. But it wasn’t until he recognized the synergistic interplay between those two social media tools that his project started to get attention.

“I started blogging and I started getting on Twitter, but very quickly I saw that you don’t get a lot of traction just by blogging and letting it sit there and even just by tweeting,” Jeff said. “You’ve got to think about ways to get your blogs and your tweets into other people’s blogs and other people’s tweets. So you’ve gotta think about how you tweet, and you’ve gotta think about how you blog, and you’ve gotta think about how the two things go together.”

That said, he warned journalists not to get disproportionately focused on the need to push their names and push their personal brands.

“Ultimately, your personal brand is only as good as the work that you do. The first priority is doing good work,” Jeff said.

“But then, we have to devote a certain amount of our energy, attention and creativity to how to get it out there. It doesn’t happen by itself.”

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

January 18, 2011 at 7:42 am