Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

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Networking with Women in the World (and other women in New York)

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As a transplanted journalist from Phoenix, Arizona, I’ve been amazed by the opportunities in New York to meet other journalists and participate in discussions about our profession. I’ve stayed out late at Sree Sreenivasan’s Social Media One-Night Stand, had a lovely conversation with the late David Carr at The BBC College of Journalism and New York Times Social Media Summit and heard TIME’s Callie Schweitzer wow the audience at Google for Media: New York. One fantastic event after another, always with all-star talent. At each one, I’ve gained knowledge, caught up with acquaintances and met people I’d followed online for years. And every time, I went to the event alone.

Actively networking is a core element of having a strong personal brand, and it means taking social risks. Some people genuinely enjoy meeting new people at professional events, but many find it awkward and stressful. In my case, networking is vital for finding clients for my social media coaching business, but it also keeps me connected to my journalism colleagues. (I freelance from home as a means to balancing career and family, so I work alone most of the time.) I live just outside the City, and attending evening events gets tricky with family commitments. And although I’m definitely an extrovert, going to events alone still intimidates me. Too often, the difference between my hearing about networking opportunities and actually seizing them comes down to three obstacles: calendar, commute — and courage.

Over the past month, however, I’ve made the decision to feed my extroverted soul and connect with the New York journalism community. I got out of my comfort zone — and my kitchen, where I usually work — and headed into the City.

  • Clear the calendar: Volunteer your time and talent. Even though my son’s college-acceptance campus visit and my husband’s 50th birthday celebration conflicted with the Women in the World Summit’s three-day event, I changed my schedule around so I could work with WITW’s audience development manager Niketa Patel. I’d met Niketa at the 2012 Online News Association conference and jumped at the chance to be on what I dubbed #TeamNiketa. She recruited a group of social media professionals with journalism, PR and marketing jobs to help her implement the event’s multi-platform social media plan, and we in turn got exposure to new social media tools (including Snappy TV and the Twitter Mirror.) We also received a behind-the-scenes view of the hard work and tremendous heart that goes into producing this high-quality live event. And as an unexpected bonus, I got to catch up with a former classmate covering the event whom I hadn’t seen since she got married.
  • Make the commute: Get together with j-school friends. When I was in graduate school at Arizona State University with the above-mentioned bride, I was 10-20 years older than the other students in my cohort. A few of them moved to the City after graduation. I love that they invite me for drinks or to parties when they get together on the weekends, but often my family’s schedule makes it inconvenient to join them on a weeknight. Inconvenient? Yes. But did I get in my car and drive in to celebrate my friend Justin’s selection for a prestigous fellowship? Absolutely. Seeing these dear friends gives me a chance to talk shop with other journalists, and we always end up discussing our careers options, issues and goals with each other.
  • Find the courage: Meet Twitter-life colleagues in real life. With so many quality journalism schools in New York, you can regularly find panel discussions relevant to just about any niche. On one particular day, I saw a tweet inviting the public to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism for a panel on journalists and their social media brands, hosted by its new social journalism master’s degree program director Carrie Brown. I’d met Carrie years ago on Twitter and planned for the past six months to connect with her IRL following her move to the City from the University of Memphis. I had no idea if we’d hit it off, but she recognized me right away and we talked like old friends. By dropping everything and heading down to the event, I met @brizzyc, my fellow Wisconsin sports fan and social media specialist, and got introduced to another high-profile j-school in the process.

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For many journalists, attending events and meeting new colleagues is part of their work routine or social life. But for some freelancersintroverts and other people who are simply too busy or intimidated, networking takes tremendous effort. It’s true sometimes you’ll leave wondering whether it was worth your time, but you never know when it will pay off.

Did I mention we volunteers got invited to the Women in the World wrap party? Yep, and as usual, I went to it alone.

Why Brian Williams’ problem isn’t his having a personal brand

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In the wake of Brian Williams’ self-imposed hiatus from the NBC Nightly News anchor desk (which his bosses later extended to a six-month suspension without pay), L.A. Times television critic Mary McNamara wrote a column blaming personal branding for Williams’ departure:

On Saturday, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams announced that he would be temporarily vacating his chair because his personal brand recently came in direct and injurious contact with his professional obligations.

You can imagine my exasperated reaction to her implying that personal branding rather than a lack of journalistic integrity was the source of his demise. LSU journalism professor Steve Buttry’s blog post today tells me I’m not the only one who disagrees with her assessment. Her unwillingness to separate having a personal branding from pursuing celebrity not only distracts the conversation from the larger, more fundamental issue of Williams’ failure to adhere to the first principle of ethical journalism  – to seek truth and report it – but also unfairly indicts in toto the act of a journalist communicating his or her professional value. The real issue is not branding but rather those who seek celebrity at the expense of their journalistic ethics and the news organizations that enable it.

I’ve been blogging about personal branding for journalists for five years and have always stressed here, as well as in guest lectures at ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism, that having a brand and having integrity are not mutually exclusive. McNamara claims that Williams couldn’t reconcile the incompatibility of “personal branding” and his “professional obligations.” That’s actually not the case. His personal brand as she defined it, one “anchored in trustworthiness” as an “intrepid journalist, great storyteller and excellent late-night guest,” wasn’t in conflict with his professional obligation to tell the truth. One can be an ethical, truthful, intrepid, trustworthy journalist who also tells great stories on late-night talk shows. Ask Tom Brokaw.

Williams’ problem wasn’t his having a personal brand; it was his having an inauthentic one. The injury McNamara describes as having resulted from Williams’ choice “to bolster the Brian Williams brand” in fact came from his continued decision to betray what was the Brian Williams brand – as well as his professional obligation to be truthful.

So why did he betray his established brand? The emerging narrative suggests it was inevitable because the crafted brand was out of sync with his authentic brand. That’s the part McNamara missed.

As New York Times Media Equation columnist David Carr and network news blogger Andrew Tyndall alluded to on NPR’s Brian Lehrer Show, Williams’ credibility crisis seems to have begun years ago when he and NBC cultivated a brand for Williams as a “war correspondent” and “sober network-news anchor” rather than recognizing his true talent as a charismatic, very skilled live performer. (The entire 31-minute discussion is definitely worth a listen, but the part that specifically addresses personal branding starts around 18:20.)

According to David Carr, Williams himself said, “I’m a creature of live television. That’s where I feel most comfortable. That’s what I’m good at.” He’s even rumored to have thrown his hat in the ring to replace Jay Leno. Williams seems to be telling us his true talent and passion lies with being in front of a live audience rather than with journalism specifically. When Williams wanted Leno’s gig, they should have taken him seriously.

I feel so strongly about the bad rap personal branding is getting because the insecurity of the current journalism job market requires us to articulate and demonstrate our value every day. Defining (not crafting) one’s personal brand is in that sense a survival skill. Blaming branding rather than dishonesty and embellishment in journalism reflects poorly on the whole concept of personal brands when, in fact, it’s just smart career management.

This isn’t about “personality journalism.” Every journalist – every human being – has a personality. But every journalist is not, nor aspires to be, a celebrity. McNamara suggested that having a personality and revealing it in a journalistic personal brand by definition involves falsehoods, exaggeration and self-aggrandizement. In fact, when done effectively, it’s the complete opposite. Personal branding is about authentically communicating your unique value as a journalist among your professional-category peers and backing up that brand with quality work to build credibility and trust among your audience and colleagues. That is the opposite of what Williams has done.

Frankly, I thought this argument had largely been settled. I find it tiresome that once again we have in McNamara a journalist who, similar to Gene Weingarten, has cultivated a strong personal brand with the blessings of her publication but nonetheless feels the need to decry branding’s corrupting effects. (Following his widely challenged rant against personal branding, Gene Weingarten went as far as to single out my post defending branding for journalists, calling it “very troubling.” He did so on his monthly chat, a lovely vehicle for him to support his personal brand.)

It’s time to acknowledge we all need strong brands to survive in this business, and then get back to focusing on the stories.

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

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An out-of-work microbiologist.

A mental-health clinician in private practice.

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

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

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

It changed lives.

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

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

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

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

It changed my career.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It changed my relationships.

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

It even changed my mom’s life. 

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

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

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

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

Committing (to) 26 acts of LinkedIn kindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

January 7, 2014 at 3:06 pm

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.”

#ONA13 session recap: Building your professional brand with LinkedIn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources for building your brand as a journalist

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When I speak with journalism students about their personal brands, I always stress they shouldn’t wait until they’re graduated to establish their online presences. Everything they need to share their bodies of work and begin distinguishing themselves within the profession is right at their fingertips. Seriously, it’s all there.

So where should they begin?

I’ve created a blog resources page that lists the links I provide students to get them started. It reflects my approach to personal branding for journalists:

  • Know yourself.
  • Know your goals and values.
  • Know how, where and to whom to communicate those qualities effectively.

Understanding your personality, skills, talents and life experiences allows you to make smart choices about where you fit in the newsroom.  If you can articulate your career goals and value system, you can target employers and opportunities to reflect them. Ultimately, the self-awareness you gain from defining your brand as a journalist will make it easier to authentically engage your audience, connect with colleagues and build trust with the public.

 

 

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

October 11, 2013 at 3:08 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This should make us pause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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