Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

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

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

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

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

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

Personality type

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

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

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

Aptitudes

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

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

Talents

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

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

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

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

Skills/Knowledge

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

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

Life experiences and interests

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

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

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

Participating in journalism chats to establish your personal brand

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One of the primary benefits of Twitter for me has been the opportunity to connect with other journalists. As a grad student, I took my professors’ advice and began following journalists and academics recommended through #FollowFriday references and lists of journalism “must-follow” Twitter users.

It was through their tweets that I first noticed the #wjchat hashtag and began participating in online chats. Not only has it served as a way to meet and learn from journalists across the country, it has provided an opportunity to introduce myself and build my personal brand within the industry.

Before Twitter, online users could find like-minded people within niche communities and connect with them in chat rooms, but the content remained within the “walls” of the room, and the participants’ identities often were anonymous or faceless names. Twitter chats now allow users to view chats as they happen and invite them to jump into conversations, create professional connections and share knowledge they gain with their own followers through retweets. All the while, profile pictures and Twitter IDs serve as digital business cards every time they join in, creating friendships in Twitter life (ITL) and lending faces and names to potential future meetings in real life (IRL).

Hundreds of chats now take place on Twitter. The organic emergence of journalism chats during the past few years, including #journchat#wjchat, #pubmedia and now #spjchat, has allowed j-school students, academics and working journalists across the U.S. and Canada to gather weekly and spend an hour or two discussing topics ranging from traditional newsroom concerns to cutting-edge digital tools. By participating in chats specific to your niche (e.g., #wjchat for me) as well as the more general #spjchat, you can connect with those doing similar work and also stay up to date with broader topics.

I began participating in online chats last summer as a way to stay connected to the journalism community between semesters. I’d seen the hashtag #wjchat in tweets throughout the year and out of curiosity added a column to my TweetDeck to see what it was. (Others use chat sites such as TweetChat to follow chats.) Each Wednesday, I’d see a stream of tweets from #wjchat regulars, announcing/promoting/anticipating their weekly gathering:

After a couple of weeks of lurking, I jumped in myself and quickly recognized how the conversations taking place on #wjchat provided me access as a student to the real-world conversations taking place in newsrooms. Through chat references to digital tools, I learned about new storytelling tools such as TumblrPosterous, Storify, and Intersect.

Along the way, I’ve become a regular on #wjchat, actively contributing when I felt I had knowledge or insights to offer and sitting back as an observer and learner when I didn’t. When SPJ started their weekly #spjchat in late 2010, I participated in their chats as well. At one point during those early chats, I mentioned this blog and a few weeks later was invited to be a featured panelist for a chat on personal branding. By using an authentic voice and presenting myself professionally, I apparently managed to establish myself as a credible source on the subject.

Jumping in for your first chat

I recently suggested my sister join in on #wjchat and was suprised to hear she found it quite intimidating to insert herself into the non-linear conversation with strangers in a professional context:

“It felt like I was butting into a circle at a conference cocktail hour without an introduction and announcing, “Here’s what I think: …”

I reassured her the people in these chats are by and large welcoming and participate to make connections and share knowledge, rather than to exclude or intimidate. She agreed to dive into the next chat, and I acted as a Cyrano de Bergerac of sorts, explaining how it worked via direct messages.

Here are some of the tips I shared to help her understand the conventions used during the chats. The examples are from a December 2010 #wjchat featuring Jim Brady, formerly of TBD.com and washingtonpost.com.

  • Remember to tag your tweets with the chat hashtag. Without the hashtag, your tweets stay in your Twitter stream but won’t reach participants who don’t follow you.

  • Start by introducing yourself. Don’t worry if the chat session already has started; people will be popping in and out throughout it. When you’re ready to join in, give your real name (rather than your Twitter ID) and mention what you do in journalism. You have 140 characters to share who you are, your place within the field and how it might relate to the day’s topic.

  • Let your followers know you’re about to participate in a chat. Outside of the context of a chat stream, your frequent tweets at best may not appear to be relevant to your followers and at worst may be highly annoying.

  • If you’re responding to a question, reference it in your tweet. Start the tweet with the question number, e.g., Q1, and end it with the hashtag.

  • Retweet what you find interesting. This is not just a way to say, “Yeah, what she said!” By retweeting, you’re forwarding noteworthy tweets to your followers who aren’t necessarily participating in the chat.

  • Enjoy the collegiality but stay on topic. Chat regulars often develop an online rapport and engage in friendly exchanges that add a personal note to the conversation. Brief exchanges that entertain the entire group add a sense of camaraderie, but inside jokes and prolonged direct conversations should take place free of the chat hashtag. (Take those conversations offline or send direct messages.)

  • Play nice. Presenting opposing views and differing opinions can enhance the chat conversation, provide insights to participants and contribute positively to your online identity. But snarky comments, hostile replies and confrontational behavior undermine the process and distract from the flow of the conversation. The chat culture is distinct from the online comment culture; consider your tone (avoid CAPS and excessive exclamation points) and keep it respectful.

  • Remember your manners. Don’t forget to thank your host and panelists when you leave the chat. (It’s also appropriate to give a nod to those with whom you had a running exchange.) Many chat participants —  as well as others who missed it — review transcripts when they’re posted and often find new people to follow.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

February 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm

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

How journalists’ personal brands enhance community engagement

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I just returned from the Online News Association’s annual conference in Washington, DC, where I had the opportunity to hear industry leaders discuss technology and trends that are shaping the future of online news. The subject of personal branding unexpectedly came up during a session about news organizations’ engagement policies when NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard posed the following question:

In lean newsrooms, how do you get reporters to get involved in comment moderation?

Jeff Hidek, community engagement editor for the Wilmington StarNews’ StarNewsonline.com, responded that the paper’s reporters became invested in moderating their comments after focus group findings revealed how significantly readers paid attention to reporters’ bylines and social media accounts.

I talked to Jeff after the session to find out more about how the reporters’ personal brands influenced their readers’ loyalty. He said although the focus groups’ purpose had been to address general topics about the paper and its website rather than its reporters, the most insightful finding came when they asked the readers what would make them read a story that they wouldn’t normally read.

“The most consistent comment was ‘because I follow Shelby (Sebens) on Twitter‘ or ‘I’m going to read any story by Si (Cantwell) because he comes out to our community and cares about what we say,’” Jeff said.

Consequently, the focus group results gave the reporters a heightened awareness of and greater appreciation for their readers’ loyalty, which made them more interested in participating in the comments. It also gave them more leverage in pitching stories to their editors.

“What a great way to connect to say thanks for reading,” Jeff said. “And at the same time, by reading things like ‘I always read anything Shelby writes’ (reporters) found they now could go to their editors and say, ‘Let me write this; I know they’ll read it.'”

He added that by harnessing social media to develop their brands, the reporters not only strengthened their readerships but also grew their pool of sources. For example, Shelby started a blog for her beat and became even more closely identified with her Brunswick County reporter brand. When she later handed off the beat to another reporter, he inherited a loyal base while she retained her readers as she became the city government reporter. Jeff also helped the paper’s film reporter Amy Hotz create a Ning social network page called Wilm on Film to access people who worked in Wilmingtons’s film industry.

“Now any time Amy has a question, instead of paging through the regional film commission’s directory for sources, she posts it on Facebook, Twitter and wilmonfilm.com and has four sources in no time.”

Since taking on the position of community engagement editor (in addition to being the paper’s TV critic), Jeff has been in charge of streamlining the paper’s social media policies and accounts and developing curation guidelines for the reporters’ individual accounts. These guidelines include that reporters commit to regularly moderating comments and posting on their social media accounts.

He also acts as a newsroom liaison to the paper’s marketing department as reporters’ personal brands take a greater role in the paper’s overall marketing strategy. He said there’s been no pushback from management against emphasis on reporters’ brands because they know that what’s good for the reporter is good for them. In fact, management has committed to doing a branding campaign focused on its reporters similar to those done by television news programs.

“They recognize that everyone at the paper is a representation of the paper,” Jeff said. “It’s great that we have a brand as a paper and as site, but it’s more than that; we want people to see us as part of the community – because we are part of the community.”

To Follow or to be Followed: Building Your Twitter Network

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(This is the fourth of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)

Before I started graduate school, the idea of using Twitter seemed narcissistic to me. I quickly recognized, however, what a powerful tool Twitter could be when used stategically. Whether for breaking news or industry-related topics, Twitter provides immediate access to conversations taking place among journalists about newsgathering and the future of journalism. In the Twittersphere, we’re all invited to participate in the discussion.

The next social media challenge on the 10,000 Words to-do list involves using Twitter to increase your exposure in the journalism community:

Task #4: Friend at least 50 journalists on Twitter who in turn follow you back.

Although I’ve been using Twitter primarily for career-related purposes, I hadn’t stopped to assess exactly how many of my followers are journalists. This task made me wonder how I was going to get TV reporters and newspaper columnists to follow an unknown grad student. My only strategy was to start following them and hope they’d find my Twitter profile interesting enough to start following me back.

But luckily for me, Albany, NY-based journalist Alexis Grant saw my promo of this task at the foot of my last post and left me a twitterific gift before I’d even begun the challenge:

… I’ve got a good list of journos on Twitter who I think represent the future of the industry… http://twitter.com/alexisgrant/journfuture/members

That was the paradigm shift I needed. Her list of journalists in traditional and online media not only opened my eyes to the value of Twitter lists as a resource, but it also reminded me that today’s journalism community is a dynamic group of professionals with a diverse range of job descriptions. Of course I could get journalists to follow me; they already had. I’ve been communicating with web journalists, online news editors, social media editors, multimedia journalism professors, students–and yes, even some good ol’ reporters– for the past year. I’ve never met Alexis Grant, but she is one of the 100+ journalists I have followed who reciprocally have followed me (or visa versa).

So this task is that easy, right? Just go to a journalist’s Twitter page and look at their lists for groups of people in the business. In fact, it’s not that easy. That’s sure to provide you many people to follow, but that’s only part of this challenge. You need to get followed in return. Here’s what I’ve learned about the politics of following and being followed over the past year.

Why would a journalist on Twitter want to follow me?

Before you begin to follow others on Twitter, you first need to establish a Twitter profile of your own that will compel others to follow you. When I get an email notice saying someone is following me only to find that my new follower has no profile bio statement, web link or even a location, I usually don’t follow back. Same goes for those with less than a full page of tweets or single-digit “following” stats. Having few followers isn’t an immediate turnoff for me; everybody has to start somewhere. The red flag more often is when someone only has a few sporadic tweets, which tells me this person is not an active Twitter user.

Before you start going crazy clicking people’s follow buttons and hoping they’ll follow you back, take some time to increase your chance of getting followed by creating a tweet history.

What do I say if don’t have any followers?

It may feel strange sending tweets to no one. But by spending at least a few days filling your Twitter profile page with 15-20 tweets before you start following people, you’ll give those people something to look at when they receive the follow notification.

  1. Fill out your profile. People want to know who you are. Use your professional name as your Twitter ID and include your photo and location. If possible, use the web section to link to your blog, portfolio page, Google profile or any other site that will provide more information about you. Use the bio section to identify your employer or share your career goals, interests or personality.
  2. Consider your personal brand and how you want to present yourself to the world. Think about the digital profile you want to establish and send tweets that speak to your career niche with an authentic voice. The Personal Branding Blog has a practical checklist that offers a strategy for getting started on tweeting. Keep it on hand for when you don’t know what to say and want to say something of value.
  3. Use keywords relevant to your niche. Writing a well-crafted tweet increases the chance it will be seen. For example, a tweet and a link from a blogger who writes about immigration issues in Arizona that reads “Here’s my new post” will not show up in searches. On the other hand, “Here’s my new post about immigration issues in Arizona” will go to anyone following the keywords “immigration” or “Arizona”.
  4. Include hashtags. Hashtags are keywords, phrases or abbreviations preceded by #. They’re used as a kind of shorthand to indicate topics or events. For example, #ona is used for the Online News Association. If you’re writing a tweet related to ONA that doesn’t mention it specifically, adding the hashtag #ona to the end of the tweet flags it for anyone specifically following that hashtag (but not necessarily following you). Note the hashtags being used by journalists and look them up in a hashtag directory such as tagdef.com.
  5. Retweet links, comments and observations that you find valuable. A retweet, or RT, is how you share something someone else found interesting enough to send in a tweet.  Retweeting gives them credit for the content of their tweet while allowing you to add your input.
  6. Send a response to a comment or question. If you think you have something to add to the conversation, jump in. But remember, Facebook is like having a conversation with friends in your living room, while Twitter is more like a conversation with acquaintances at a business function or cocktail reception.

Ask yourself, “Are these tweets something of value? Are they, on the whole, rich with relevant career-related content and commentary?”  If you have a full page of tweets that give a sense of who you are as a journalist, then you’re ready to start building your “following” list.

How do I find journalists to follow on Twitter who will in turn follow me?

This process may sound like a popularity contest to the cynical person (there are a few in journalism), but  in a very real sense it’s a credibility contest, a professional-value contest and an authority contest.

  1. Use Google search instead of Twitter to find people. Don’t rely on the Twitter “Search” or “Find People” functions to locate people or organizations using Twitter. I’ve had much greater success using Google by searching the name followed by “on Twitter”. For example, “Scott Simon on Twitter” will bring up several Twitter accounts with the name Scott Simon, but you can easily see that NPR’s host of Weekend Edition sends tweets using @nprscottsimon.
  2. Begin by following news organizations, journalism schools, and professional organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists. This will start your base “following” activity. Look at who else is following these organizations, as well as whom they find valuable enough to follow.
  3. Add the people you know in the business. Look up colleagues, classmates, professors or acquaintances. They are likely to follow you back, giving you a base of “followers” before you add people you don’t know.
  4. Find the individual journalists associated with publications or organizations you respect. This is the beauty of Twitter. As I wrote in an earlier post,  we now are just one degree of separation from the veterans of the craft.
  5. Look at whom they follow and check out their “lists”. If they follow a large number of people, it may be easier to look at their lists rather than each individual. Do they have a specific group of journalists they follow? Have they themselves been “listed”?  This means someone has grouped them within a category of similar Twitter users, which could include lists of journalists.
  6. Do a google search for lists of journalists to follow on Twitter. Many journalism blogs, such as muckrack.com, 10,000 Words and SPJ, have put together lists of prominent journalists on Twitter. Chances are these people have many followers, which could lessen your chance of being followed by them, but consider following them anyway.
  7. Participate in Twitter chats. Each week, groups of journalists gather online for Twitter chats with specific topics. Check out chats such as PoynterOnline#wjchat, #cjchat#journchat and #pubmedia to find journalists in your niche.
  8. Watch to see who gets recommended on “Follow Fridays”. The hashtag #ff is used in a tweet when someone is recommending another Twitter user. Set aside time on Fridays to see who is being recommended by other journalists.

Lastly, when you do get followed by a fellow journalist, consider it being handed a digital business card and send a tweet saying thanks for the follow.

—–

Next up: Task #5: Become a part of a crowdsourcing project. (I submitted my Facebook photo for the crowdsourced TIME magazine cover, but I don’t think that counts as journalism…)

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

July 26, 2010 at 11:04 am

Adventures in Retweets: My 48 Hours as an International Blogging Sensation

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(This is the second of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)

After a two-month hiatus from blogging, I was pleased to see the enthusiastic response to my return post as I announced my effort to tackle the ambitious 10,000 Words to-do list. I got an encouraging amount of blog traffic and a pair of comments, including votes of confidence from a journalism professor and from the list’s author himself.

I didn’t, however, accomplish the next task on the list:

Task #2: If you already have a blog, write a post that gets retweeted 20 times.

No, although the retweets I got were highly appreciated ones from a few high-profile journalists, they totaled a humbling three retweets. I’m hopeful the number will increase as I share my successes, failures, obstacles and reflections, but for now I’ll have to focus this post on my only experience of getting retweeted more than 20 times.

Over two exhilarating days last May, a tweet announcing a blog post of mine went out to my 100+ followers, got retweeted by a few of my professors and found its way to a Peruvian journalist with a gift for translation and a large international following. Here’s how I related the incident to my professor Dan Gillmor the following day:

I have to thank you for the RT yesterday. You set off a cascade of RTs, which included a Peruvian journalist who translated my post and credited me by name. It’s been re-tweeted from her site 100 times and posted on FB 30 times, and I’m suddenly being followed by dozens of South American journos. (Fortunately, I speak Spanish well enough to understand what’s being said by them.) … I ended the day with 956 hits on my blog and another 250+ today. Crazy. So much for a blog wrap-up; I think I’ll keep writing it for a while.

Ironically, the post was supposed to be the conclusion to this blog, an end-of-semester reflection on what I had learned while blogging 2-3 times a week for Dan and CJ Cornell’s Digital Media Entrepreneurship class.

To what do I credit this unexpected level of response to my blog, which during the semester had only twice received more than 100 hits in a day? In fact, in covering the social media/personal branding beat, I noticed a few things about retweeted tweets:

  1. Enumerated lists catch people’s eyes. Like those on magazine cover blurbs, lists of tips, suggestions and other actionable tasks appeal to people’s desire for advice and measurable results.
  2. Tweets posted during the workday get noticed more than those posted at 2 a.m. (when I often finished writing my posts). Even though Twitter users have applications like TweetDeck and Seesmic for managing tweets, I’ve found the tweets that trickle in during the day get more individual attention than the dozens waiting for me when I check it in the morning.
  3. Well-crafted tweets, laden with relevant keywords and IDs of other Twitter users, will get retweeted by people other than your followers.

I decided to test my first theory on my final post, hoping for maximum traffic to my student blog. I set out to write a top-ten list and eventually ended up with a collection of tips: 12 Tips for Journalists: My Semester on the Personal Branding Beat. I then, as always, posted a tweet, making sure to use essential keywords such as “social media”,” journalists” and “personal branding” (note the time stamp):

I went to bed pleased with my list strategy and woke only to be disappointed by the lack of response. I had worked hard on this post, highlighting the skills I’d gained and the interviews I’d conducted. I’d even managed to reference one of my digital media heroes, Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl)– although I’d failed at embedding her podcast. But later in the day, she provided the necessary code, and I retweeted the revised posts to signal to her that I’d successfully added it. This gave me the opportunity to test out my second theory, and I re-sent my tweet 12 hours after I originally posted it:

Within minutes, a few of my professors at Cronkite retweeted the link and sent direct messages saying they liked the post. They had missed the early-morning tweet completely. (It was finals week for all of us.) Fortunately for me, my professors are highly regarded in journalism nationally and, apparently, internationally. Peruvian digital journalist Esther Vargas, founder of Clasesdeperiodismo.com, an online digital journalism school for Latin American, saw the tweet and translated the entire blog post into Spanish:

From there, things truly became viral. In addition to the 50 retweets of my original tweet, readers of her blog from all corners of Central and South America, as well as Europe, responded by sending retweets and posting links on Facebook. My sons and I giggled as my hits climbed past 100, passed 500 and topped out near 1,000 in a day.

OK, my viral adventure may not have made me an international blogging sensation, but it did show me how powerful Twitter can be when used effectively. (An added benefit: I now get to read Spanish-language “tuits” from my new periodismo friends from around the world.)

—–

Next up: Task #3: Shoot 100 amazing photos and post them on Flickr. (This one will be fun. I got a new digital SLR for Mother’s Day– apparently just in time!)

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

July 11, 2010 at 11:56 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Your Twitter Name Matters (or How I Met @JeffJarvis)

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In my previous post, Regret the Error’s Craig Silverman advised journalists “to own your own domain name and Twitter ID and be conscious of what you’re doing with them.” I own my domain name and have good intentions of having a fabulously impressive portfolio site someday (thanks to the services of a talented techie friend), but in the meantime I’ve been relying on my blog and my eponymous Twitter account to help define my professional brand.

Tim McGuire, one of our professors here at Cronkite, was the first to mention personal brands to us when he stressed the opportunity costs of having a Twitter user name that isn’t your given name.

He shared the story of an undergrad who had been sending insightful tweets about Arizona and Wisconsin sports under a cryptic user name. Local sports radio hosts began commenting on the tweets but never mentioned him by name because they didn’t know the identity of who had posted them. Tim advised the student to change his user name so he could be credited for his knowledgeable comments, and within a short time he was invited to contribute to the radio program broadcasts.

Tim’s example compelled several grad students to change their Twitter user names from clever “handles” to their names. Heather Billings, my above-mentioned friend and our resident “pro-jo” (her name for programmer journalists), had been tweeting under a nickname but changed it to @hbillings following Tim’s advice. Weeks later, while attending a journalism conference in New York at the Paley Center, Heather spotted “What Would Google Do?” author Jeff Jarvis and sent a tweet about his being in the row behind her. We had read Jeff’s book in Tim’s class, and after he agreed to discuss it with us via Skype, he’d acquired rock-star status amongst our cohort.

Another one of our professors, Dan Gillmor, heard us talking about Jeff during a break and offered to introduce us to him. But before Dan had the chance, Jeff recognized Heather’s name on her name tag from her tweet and introduced himself. Heather and I ended up spending the better part of an hour talking with Jeff about his book and the role of pro-jos in digital journalism.

Heather’s tweet had been her virtual business card.

In fact, Jeff told us that when he saw her tweet, he pulled up her Twitter profile, looked at her photo and name, and scanned the room to find her.

Tim and Craig’s advice about Twitter user names is simple yet powerful. Tweets with people’s names and faces attached to them make an impact each time they’re viewed. I’ve been using Twitter for about eight months and feel I know the people I follow because I see their names and faces every day:

Yep, people like @danschawbel, @jeffjarvis, and @scottleadingham are some of my tweeps. I bet I could pick them out in a crowded conference hall (and hope someday they’ll recognize me, too).

Note (12/14/10): The tweet images originally in this post no longer are available. Similar representations were added in their place. JGH

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 27, 2010 at 10:36 am

Using Social Media as a Journalistic Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 13, 2010 at 2:46 am

My Personal Brand Tagline: Reflection or Aspiration?

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As part of our online media course, I had to create a personal portfolio page. I needed to find a line to present the kind of journalist I want to be and eventually came up with a sub-heading tagline to describe my vision:

Telling Stories Through Multimedia Journalism.

In the end, my site was pretty elementary, but at least I’d defined my goals for myself: I’d write compelling stories about interesting people and issues and use photography, audio, video and graphics to present them online. So when I completed my recent post on Tom Peters’ “The Brand Called You” column, I felt pretty good that I could check off one of his challenges–a tagline in 15 words or less–to use consistently throughout my digital profile.

But when I think about it now, that tagline doesn’t yet reflect the collective work I’ve done.

This leads me to ask a chicken or egg kind of question: Is my tagline not supporting my work or is my work not supporting my tagline? What is the true representation of what I have to offer as a journalist? How can I use social media to express and promote that?

Coming up with a personal brand tagline can be an effective way of checking whether you’re work and goals are in sync. The work I’m doing now would suggest I’m interested in being a social media editor. I’m advocating through this blog that journalists and news organizations harness the power of social media to create communities and share the human experience. I use social media actively, participate in live chats and try to read what I can to stay informed so I can be familiar with how journalists are benefiting from it.

Yet I’m still interested in what led me to grad school in the first place: a desire to share people’s stories. The small yet powerful stories, like the kind you hear on NPR’s StoryCorps segments, of people who never make the news but have struggles and triumphs that move you. I’ve used Twitter and Facebook to follow and connect with reporters who’ve mastered that kind of storytelling, and I try to follow their blogs.

Yet neither of these efforts fully reflect my authentic brand, which includes my undergrad degree in public relations and advertising, my career in media planning, thirteen years as a parent, my work ethic, my professionalism, mi abilidad de hablar en espanol, and the rest of what makes up my “inner and outer brands.”

That’s where social media can help me. Through my Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, my Facebook page, email signature, and eventually, a personal website (at least I already own www.jenniferhellum.com) with a well-crafted tagline, I’ll have the chance to tell the rest of my story.

Now to just work that into 15 words or less.