Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

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How a personal-branding leap of faith landed a rookie reporter her dream job

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For the past few years, Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor Tim McGuire has had me speak to his 21st Century Journalism class about developing their personal brands. I love meeting each new graduate cohort and the Barrett Honors College students, and, in general, the students really seem to take my advice to heart.

From time to time, however, a student or two have questioned the value of putting in extra time and energy to manage portfolios, personal blogs and the countless social media profiles recommended for journalists. Each time, Tim has mentioned my blogging experience and other students’ social media use as examples of extracurricular online efforts that have helped launch careers. But when I spoke to his class last month, I had a fresh example of how that strategy had paid off for yet another Cronkite alum. I got to tell Tim’s class a fantastic story about Chierstin Susel, one of his former students who just got hired to do her dream job – without applying for it.

Without even knowing such a job existed. 

In a phone conversation from her parents’ home in Ohio, Chierstin told me how her deliberate decision to create an online presence paid off. Her story is a great lesson in being authentic and strategic.

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ASU Cronkite School graduate Chierstin Susel (Photo by Jez Noble)

Chierstin graduated in May and returned home to search for a sports reporting position in Ohio. A few months into her job search, she received an out-of-the-blue email from a hiring manager who found her sports reel on YouTube and suggested she apply for a job opening with his news organization. When he followed up the next day to discuss the opportunity, Chierstin said, she asked a pointed question.

“I said, ‘Hey, I just gotta ask you, how did you find me online?” His reply was as surprising as his initial call, according to Chierstin.

“He said, ‘Well, I was looking at someone’s reel that had applied, and I’ve never really done this before, but I randomly decided that I was going to search the videos that popped up on the side on YouTube,'” Chierstin said. He looked at several and was one click away from clicking on a Jimmy Kimmel video when he decided to look at one more reel.

“So he clicked on my reel,” Chierstin said, adding he knew the Cronkite School and had always been impressed with it. “From there he decided to Google me.” When he searched for her name, her blog Faith, Fashion, Fitness popped up, and she said it was then he knew she fit the description of who he was looking for.

Wait – Faith, Fashion, Fitness?

Conventional knowledge would suggest having a religion-centered blog is a rather bold move for a rookie journalist. In fact, Chierstin said she gave a lot of thought to the risk involved in revealing her faith through her blog. She and Tim had discussed that her Twitter profile and tweets clearly showed faith was very important to her and that it had the potential to set her apart from other journalists. The question was whether embracing that distinction was a good thing or a bad thing.

“I always thought that faith was something you should just leave out, that no one should know your faith or whatever. But at the same time, that’s a huge part of my life,” Chierstin said. “For (Tim) to come up and tell me that was like, alright, I’m totally going to include that in my blog.”

It turns out the decision to reveal her faith was a very good thing for Chierstin. The hiring manager who saw her reel had called from Liberty University’s Liberty Flames Sports Network, which had an opening for a program launching in January. In case you aren’t familiar with it, Liberty University is the world’s largest Christian university.

“Who would have thought sports and my faith would tie together?” Chierstin said. Despite her deliberate decision to blog about religion and sports, Chierstin admitted her getting a position that combined her interests exceeded anything she could have ever imagined. “I never really thought that I could tie the two together.”

Chierstin had initally created a fashion blog as an assignment during her sophomore year, but after the class ended, she took it down because it wasn’t something she was passionate about. (Now here’s the part of the story that completely surprised me … ) Apparently, Chierstin decided to start blogging again after she heard me speak in Tim’s class two years ago.

“It wasn’t until you came in and spoke about really branding yourself through a blog. That’s the only reason that I started it; it had nothing to do with an assignment,” Chierstin told me. “You had talked about starting a blog about something that you’re interested in. I had an interest in sports, but I didn’t know what I was going to pursue. And so at the time, (I thought) faith … always a big part of my life … I love fitness and fashion … so why not, you know? So I put it out there and started the blog.”

Chierstin started her dream job last week. You could say it was serendipity that led the hiring manager to her YouTube post and blog, but that would discount the critical thinking that went into her decisions – ones she made with her eyes wide open. Chierstin understood the importance of personal branding, the power of being authentic and the strategies for using the online tools that are available to all journalism students launching their careers, even when it’s not an assignment.

“It’s all a matter of just having yourself available and putting yourself out there – your reel and your resume and everything online digitally – so it’s really easy for people to find you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Twitter boot camp: #TheRules (or #TheTips) for journalists

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I recently got a Twitter notification announcing my third anniversary as @jghellum. I joined Twitter in the summer of 2009 as the first assignment of my journalism grad school “boot camp.” Our cohort hashtag was #bc9, and it’s been fun watching the subsequent classes’ hashtags emerge each fall – the latest being #bcxii – as Cronkite school associate professor Leslie-Jean Thornton (@ljthornton) guides the aspiring journalists through the art of the well-crafted tweet.

When I saw a recent tweet from Fast Company soliciting Twitter best practices under the hashtag #TheRules, I thought of those aspiring journalists navigating a medium that doesn’t actually have written rules and trying to figure out how to use it professionally.

 

Many Twitter users offered helpful advice. However, some took exception to the use of #TheRules, defending the organic nature of how Twitter etiquette has emerged. I contributed several strategies of my own, and in a nod to the objections, adopted a less rigid (and perhaps less intimidating for newbies) hashtag, #TheTips:

 

Because Fast Company’s crowdsourced rules weren’t specifically geared toward journalists, I thought I’d share the effective tweet-crafting practices I learned during my Twitter boot camp, conventions I’ve picked up along the way and #TheTips I’ve shared with colleagues in the newsroom as they joined Twitter.

Best practices for getting started:
  1. Use your byline or a form of it as your Twitter handle. Each tweet is an opportunity for connecting with your audience. If they can’t connect your handle with your byline when you share worthwhile information, you’ve missed the opportunity to build relationships and become part of a community.
  2. Select a headshot, whether a candid or a studio photo, as your avatar. When your tweet shows up in other’s Twitter feeds, you want them to feel like you’re having a conversation, like you’re looking them in the eye and they can trust you.
  3. List your location and link to your blog, portfolio or LinkedIn account. Twitter is about connecting; provide opportunities for others to connect with you locally and online.
  4. Maximize your bio profile content to communicate your brand. Avoid generalizations and obscure references and instead list the qualities of your brand (your current position, unique experience and/or professional aspirations) that set you apart from other journalists and compel others to follow you.
Strategies for the well-crafted tweet:
  1. Write concisely. Use your 140-character limit to tighten up your writing. Use fewer than 140 to allow for easy retweeting.
  2. Avoid serial tweets. If you need more than three tweets to make a point, write a blog post instead. Series of tweets are difficult to RT; blog posts aren’t.
  3. Know the keywords related to your beat. Use Google Trends to compare terms and find those most frequently used to increase your tweet’s exposure beyond your followers.
  4. Use hashtags. They flag your tweet when the subject of your tweet isn’t part of your message.
  5. Learn the shorthand. Use RT when you retweet a message in its entirety; use MT if you’ve modified its content to the point of altering its message. If you create your own message based on information you learned in someone else’s tweet, credit them at the end with a HT (hat tip.)
  6. Monitor your Twitter page as a snapshot of your brand. When you follow others, they in turn will make a split-second decision of whether to follow you, based largely on your bio and most-recent tweets.
#TheTips for effective engagement:
  1. Engage your audience. Ask questions and respond to @mentions. Share links relevant to your beat and join conversations that are already happening.
  2. Always attribute tweets to the original source. It’s bad form to hijack shortened links posted by others and present them as you own.
  3. Avoid the #humblebrag. Presenting self-congratulatory news in a self-deprecating way looks desperate. Most people will see through it and some may question your sincerity.
  4. Don’t protect your tweets. If you’re there to engage your audience (why else be here?), don’t protect your tweets and prohibit interaction with the public.
  5. Take private conversations offline. Twitter is about sharing information at least some of your followers will find valuable. If no one else gets it, send DMs instead.
  6. Play nice. When engaging in a discussion on Twitter, be a good listener and be professional. No one likes a bully, and any tweet can be captured in a screen grab.
Best of luck to #bcxii and all the veteran journalists who are just now jumping into the Twitterverse. If you have Twitter tips to offer journalists, add them in the comments.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

September 17, 2012 at 7:14 am

Twitter bios and LinkedIn summaries as journalists’ personal brand statements

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

How readily could you give an elevator pitch about yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

December 22, 2011 at 3:00 am

Storify: Highlights from #wjchat on personal branding

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Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

December 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm

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.