Archive for the ‘Building Your Brand’ Category
As I mentioned in a recent post, my blogging about social media and personal branding played a major role in my getting hired as a social media producer at azcentral. My multimedia journalism graduate degree and familiarity with social media tools allowed for a smooth transition into Republic Media’s converged TV, print and online newsroom.
But after less than a year in the position, I had to quit my job a few weeks ago because the company my husband works for has decided to relocate us to the NY metro area. I’m now focusing on preparing for our move but will continue to write this blog, do freelance social media work and give guest lectures until we’re settled. I’m sad to leave Phoenix and my colleagues at azcentral. I have to admit, however, that I’m really excited about the career opportunities this move will offer in New York.
Although I worked at azcentral only briefly, it was enough time to recognize which parts of the job energized me and what I have to offer as part of a news organization. My main responsibilities involved posting stories on Facebook and Twitter, monitoring social media for trends and breaking news and engaging our audience. I definitely enjoyed that role, but after a while, I found my most satisfiying times in the newsroom were when I was using social media to help other journalists with their reporting. So I actively started approaching reporters and finding ways social media could assist them with their stories. Whether I was finding sources on Facebook who had been specifically affected by the massive Wallow Fire or using Storify to crowdsource reaction to a unusual local weather phenomenon, I loved how social media enhanced stories and did my part to show reporters how to take advantage of it. Those experiences eventually defined my contribution to our social media team and refined my brand.
Finding breaking news sources using social media
My day usually began by scanning my TweetDeck streams for local and national news that had broken overnight. (I loved being paid to know what was going on.) Our converged newsroom meant I was a few feet from the breaking news desk, print reporters, online team and television producers. If I saw a tweet from a Twitter user or another news organization that mentioned a developing story, I’d be on my feet to check if they knew about it. This responsibility suited my personality well; it’s my nature to be helpful and to share information with people. I monitored news tweets, hashtags and social media comments for relevant content and passed it on whenever it might be useful.
One highlight for me was when a Breaking News tweet I saw helped turn an international story into a local one for azcentral. I heard an early morning story on NPR about a Russian plane crash and later saw a @BreakingNews tweet announcing the plane was carrying an entire Russian hockey team.
I clicked the link to the NHL press release and found the coach was former Phoenix Coyotes player Brad McCrimmon, so I alerted the breaking news desk and told the home page editor about it. He searched our archives, found dozens of references to the coach and called the reporter who covers the Coyotes. Within 20 minutes, we had the enhanced wire story on our site. We posted our local story on Facebook and Twitter within the next hour.
This example elegantly highlights how social media’s role as part of a converged newsroom dynamic led to comprehensive news coverage of a local, and yet international, tragedy.
Crowdsourcing special projects
Azcentral’s social media team encouraged reporters to tap into our social media followers (as well as their own) to crowdsource, and I let them know I was there to help. We used live chats to generate questions for interviews with experts, turned to Quora to find answers to niche questions, and when Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, I gathered local reaction using Storify. Most often, we helped reporters use Twitter and Facebook to find story ideas and sources.
Our crowdsourced 9/11 anniversary Arizona Republic front page was an unprecedented and unexpected social media achievement. Before the anniversary, azcentral and 12 News posted requests for six-word responses to the question “What does 9/11 mean to you?” on Facebook and Twitter and got over 600 responses. Their collective impact was so profound that the editors decided to wallpaper the front page of the Arizona Republic with the six-word statements against a silhouette of the Twin Towers and New York skyline. For the first time in the paper’s history, the front page was crowdsourced. The response was overwhelmingly positive within the local community and the newspaper industry.
I became a journalist because I wanted to tell people’s stories. Using social media tools to bring out otherwise unheard voices – even if they’re only making six-word statements – truly inspired me, and this part of my role as social media producer confirmed that I want crowdsourcing to be an even bigger part of my next job.
Training reporters and editors
I really enjoyed training colleagues to use social media for reporting. Despite the ubiquity of social media references in the news and within the newsroom, many very talented journalists had no interest in creating or actively using social media accounts. They’d been able to write compelling stories without them for years and saw no need to change their habits. Some had Twitter accounts but didn’t know how to maximize them, while others had been effectively using them to solicit ideas and sources and were eager to learn new tricks.
Each week I wrote a social media newsletter to share tips and give examples of five good tweets from the week. I also did one-on-one training of how to set up Twitter, Facebook’s subscribe feature, LinkedIn and TweetDeck. The feedback I got from reporters, whether it was a quick email saying the Five Good Tweets helped them become more comfortable with tweeting or a request for crowdsourcing advice, showed me the range of confidence and social media expertise throughout the staff. I genuinely enjoyed working with all skill levels and tailoring the training to their needs.
Providing help is a central part of who I am and my brand as a journalist, whether it’s to get information out, tell stories or teach. For now, I’ll be have to put that energy into helping my family move, but soon enough I’ll be using it to help myself get a job.
When I talk to journalism students about using social media to build their brands, their questions often are practical ones: What if someone already has my name as a Twitter handle? Do I really have to edit my Facebook page? How often should I blog? But the best question a student asked me challenged the very idea that journalists should bother with personal branding in the first place:
“It takes so much time to do everything you’re talking about, like blogging and tweeting and keeping all those profiles updated, on top of writing stories. How do you know it’s actually paying off for you?”
Before I could reply, his professor provided the best answer: “Because she’s standing up here in front of you.” (If you know Cronkite School professor Tim McGuire, you can appreciate his delivery of that line.)
The fact is the student was right. It takes extra effort to maintain an online presence as a journalist. And I admitted I couldn’t tell him which tweet would be the one that got him retweeted 25 times, which blog post would be shared around the world or which skill listed on his LinkedIn profile would make him rise to the top of a search.
Nonetheless, I assured him all that extra effort was worth it because each tweet, each blog post and each online profile defined his brand and provided a virtual trail for potential employers to find him. I told him I knew this personally because I’d sent tweets that got dozens of retweets, I’d written a blog post that was shared from Peru to Spain after someone translated it into Spanish and I’d been contacted for jobs via LinkedIn – all while I was still a grad student.
Then I reassured him there was no reason he and his classmates couldn’t do the same.
Today’s j-school students have everything they need to start mapping out their careers. They can write niche blogs, create simple portfolios, connect with others doing the work they aspire to do and develop professional networks across the country before they’ve even begun their job searches. It hasn’t always been that way; when I went to journalism school in the 1980s, students sent out resumes, applied for jobs and waited for a phone call. But as a grad student over two decades later, I recognized that from my first assignment, I was building the online brand that would eventually get me my job as a social media producer.
Here’s how I did it:
Creating a name for myself – literally: I had no online identity when I began grad school after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom. Google searches of my name brought up a scholar who researched Egypt and one passing reference to me as my husband’s wife. I clearly had some work to do. When I got my first online assignment to create a blog, I deliberately used my full name, Jennifer Gaie Hellum, and did the same on social media accounts and as a reporter at Cronkite News Service. By the end of grad school, a search for Jennifer Hellum – even without my middle name – brought me to the top of the page on Google.
Helping people find my work: I always took the time to add tags to blog posts for SEO, add links to other blogs and thank others who linked to mine. Publishing a post meant sending a tweet with the link and any relevant hashtags, keywords or the Twitter handle of anyone I’d interviewed. I also took my professors’ advice and created a LinkedIn account, joined journalism associations and bought my vanity URL to use for my online portfolio.
Choosing blog topics and reporting assignments that fit my brand: This blog started as an assignment for a digital media entrepreneurship class. As someone with little online media experience at the time, I found a digital topic, personal branding via social media, that genuinely fit with my earlier advertising and public relations career. At the suggestion of my professors, I kept the blog going during the summer and beyond my final semester because it had become clear I was the only person regularly writing about the topic. During my capstone semester as a producer and reporter at Cronkite News Service, I found ways to use social media as a reporting tool and even wrote about city governments using social media. In the end, my blog and social media knowledge became the strongest part of my resume.
Doing the job I aspired to have: As soon as I learned about social media as an area of journalism, I began using it to learn about social media jobs. I set up Google alerts and TweetDeck columns for “social media editor” and read everything I could about the position. I followed social media editors on Twitter, looked at their job histories and skill sets on LinkedIn and read their blogs and decided my interests and personality fit well with the work. I also participated in Twitter chats with online journalists, and if they mentioned a digital tool I was unfamiliar with, I looked it up so I could join in the conversation. (The chat organizer later invited me to be a guest panelist about personal branding and social media along with experienced journalists.) And during my last sememster, I went to the Online News Association conference in D.C and used what I learned to improve CNS’s Facebook profile and help other reporters find sources on Twitter. All that extra effort paid off when I was recommended for a social media producer position at azcentral.com and was able to share what I knew and how I’d used it.
Of course, I’m not the only one to figure out that I didn’t have to wait to start building a brand. Many multimedia journalism students post their reels on YouTube, share photos on Flickr and create online portfolios that showcase their programming skills, and it’s paying off. They’re getting hits, they’re getting noticed and best of all, they’re getting hired.
During the past week, seasoned journalists and renowned academics exchanged volleys over whether journalists should concern themselves with their personal brands. As someone who has spent the past year and a half blogging about personal branding for journalists, I felt compelled to weigh in and share how someone from the newest generation of journalists felt about this career management strategy.
The debate began when Medill School of Journalism student Leslie Trew Magraw requested to interview two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten about how he built his brand. Instead of discussing how he’d grown his reputation throughout his four-decade career, Weingarten used Leslie’s assignment to deliver an indictment of the media’s focus on marketing and the consumer’s influence on content. He then took a shot at the new generation of journalists for not being willing to work hard to earn their reputations:
Now, the first goal seems to be self-promotion — the fame part, the “brand.”
Many veteran journalists are very uncomfortable with the notion of a person having a brand, believing that focusing on marketing your talent automatically detracts from attention to your work and compromises your integrity. They came up in the business at a time when journalists didn’t have to worry about marketing their careers; producing good work and being associated with a reputable news organization was enough to “make a name for yourself.”
For many journalists, the changing media landscape’s effect on employment dynamics – from long-term job security to professional nomadism – requires proactive management of their careers. Fortunately, having a career strategy and professional integrity and are not mutually exclusive, and it is from that perspective that I write about personal branding.
I have to believe those on both sides of the branding argument want the same thing: to make a living with integrity while doing a job they love. If we can rise above the branding versus reputation semantics and generational finger pointing, young professionals in all fields can benefit from journalism’s branding discussion as they seek to establish their careers.
Personal branding is fundamentally about how to distinguish yourself from those with whom you share general characteristics. That is to say, your brand is your intrinsically unique set of qualities that give you value. If you want the people with whom you interact professionally to see your singular value, you first have to be able to be aware of it yourself first:
Be authentic. Your personality, passions, life experiences, values system and beliefs inform the kind of work you naturally are drawn to. Use that knowledge of your core values as the foundation for your career decisions. Without that awareness, that compass to guide you, you won’t be able to determine whether an opportunity is a good fit. As an extroverted news junkie who’s happiest when I’m providing people with information they find useful, my working as a social media producer allows me to professionally be true to who I am and do so confidently and credibly.
Understand where your talent and skills lie and use them. Your brand is meaningless unless you produce quality work to support it, and that starts with knowing what you do well. Many resources are available to help you identify your intellectual strengths and natural talents. You may have figured that out a long time ago or may still be struggling to pinpoint your greatest asset. Taking aptitude tests and talent assessments helped me appreciate my interest in languages and affinity for storytelling that I’d taken for granted, which eventually led me to journalism.
Communicate effectively. All the passion, hard work and talent in the world won’t get you where you want to go if nobody knows about it. That’s why I’m writing my blog, participating in Twitter chats and connecting online. Knowing how to clearly and effectively share what you’re about as a person and an employee is the difference between being in the loop as opportunities arise and being left in the dark.
- Reach out to colleagues at work, at events and online to learn more about your profession.
- Make sure you can tell them what you have to offer that sets you apart from others.
- Take advantage of tools such as blogs, portfolio sites and YouTube to create a digital footprint where you can express creatively express why you have value in your field.
- Keep your online profiles up to date, making sure they collectively provide consistent information.
- And finally, be smart about what you post on social networks and Twitter. Whether you consider it personal or professional, it all affects your brand.
These strategies don’t relieve you of the responsibility of hard work; in fact, they add to it. And when it’s done to build a personal brand authentically and competently, I don’t know how anyone could argue with that.
When I decided to call my student blog Brand Me a Journalist, I chose the name because I thought it was somewhat clever and easy to remember. I hadn’t fully contemplated its inherent call to action – that is, until I read Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten’s response to a student who asked how he developed his brand:
The best way to build a brand is to take a three-foot length of malleable iron and get one end red-hot. Then, apply it vigorously to the buttocks of the instructor who gave you this question. You want a nice, meaty sizzle.
I had two reactions to his advice:
- I hope he never takes my blog name literally. (The guy clearly has the technique down, and I’m not into body modification.)
- I hope he’s not a mentor.
As a graduate student at the Cronkite School, I learned about personal branding in Tim McGuire’s 21st century media organizations class and later began this blog for Dan Gillmor’s digital media entrepreneurship class. These classes addressed the economic realities and creative possibilities in the new media landscape. Both professors, whom I consider mentors, encouraged me to write this blog and impressed upon us the need to strategically begin creating our digital footprints as students – a powerful career-launching tool that was not available to j-students when I got my undergraduate degree in 1989.
These respected newspapermen understood the increasingly important role of personal branding for journalists, so I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Medill professor Owen Youngman had assigned a graduate student, identified simply as “Leslie”, to reach out to Weingarten about the topic.
I was completely caught off guard to read the way Weingarten treated Leslie, not being familiar with his distinctive brand. I’d made similar cold-call requests of veteran journalists such as Worldcrunch’s Jeff Israely, and they gladly discussed their brands. But instead of enlightening her with how a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s” came to be a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning columnist (he even has a tagline, a considerable branding asset) at one of the country’s most prestigious news organizations, Weingarten used the occasion to decry the hijacking of journalism’s noble mission by marketing departments and user-generated content.
As Steve Buttry pointed out in his reply to Weingarten’s non-answer to Leslie’s question, Weingarten was not interested in admitting his considerable success is due in part to the strength of his well-cultivated personal brand. His disdain for the word “branding” prevents him from recognizing that it simply is about defining yourself as a journalist and establishing your reputation among your audience, which is no different than what journalists have historically done; it just used to be called “making a name for yourself.”
Indeed, Weingarten has established a formidable
reputation name brand, which is supported by his publishers’ marketing efforts and his deliberate social media presence. At various points during his four-decade career, he strategically positioned himself:
- by committing himself to covering a specific beat to the best of his ability
- by developing valuable relationships with readers and sources
- by associating with other journalists doing similar work
- by pursuing related opportunities that complemented his position
All of these are elements of branding. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he’s very deliberately built his brand.
But rather than seeing Leslie’s overture to a veteran journalist as an opportunity to pass on his professional insights to the next generation of reporters, Weingarten dismisses us as unworthy, talentless self-promoters who aren’t willing to work hard “to get great stories.” Leslie tried to get a great story, one about an accomplished journalist who started out as a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s”; instead, she got a lecture.
So while Weingarten finds comfort in longing for the way things used to be, we aspiring journalists will continue to take advantage of digital media tools available to launch our careers:
- by building innovative portfolio sites that show our command of writing and programming
- by posting video resumes on YouTube to show our storytelling, camera work and editing skills (we multimedia journalists do it all)
- by uploading photos to Flickr and Instagram
- by finding sources via Facebook
- by connecting with colleagues via Twitter, journalism chats such as wjchat, LinkedIn groups and conferences to learn about the jobs we aspire to have
- by staying up until 3 a.m. to write blog posts that very likely won’t be seen but that reveal our passion for writing and commitment to our beats
- by reaching out to those veteran journalism pros who get that branding is just a word, not a threat
All this before we’ve been hired. Through our initiative, focus and hard work, we’re assembling bodies of work, “making names for ourselves” and pursuing our goals as journalists.
So you can keep your red-hot iron, sir; we’re building our own brands.
When I talk to journalism students about managing their personal brands, they often are overwhelmed by the maintenance of their online profiles and portfolios. Students as well as working journalists are constantly producing new content and/or acquiring new skills that should be reflected in their online identities. Whether you do it weekly, monthly or seasonly, it’s important to have a routine for updating profiles, building networks, adding content and clarifying your brand.
So now that it’s officially spring, set aside time this week to do some personal branding spring cleaning. Start with one account and see how much has changed since you last updated your content. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to tackle one list each day, your digital footprint will be up to date in a week.
- Make sure your profile blurb is up to date. Include your photo, current position and location, as well as a link to your blog, LinkedIn or portfolio page. Without these details, those you follow will have to do too much work to decide whether they should reciprocate and follow you. So they probably won’t.
- Use the remaining lines of your blurb to relate what you feel is most central to your brand, whether it be your beat, interests, associations or personality.
- Consider whether your profile picture continues to reflect the professional image you want to present. Is the photo current? Is the image recognizable? Could people you know ITL (in Twitter life) pick you out of a group IRL (in real life)?
- Take a moment to look at your Twitter page (not TweetDeck or Hootsuite) stream of tweets collectively as a snapshot of who you are as a journalist. Make sure the tweets in general are professionally relevant.
- Consider the knowledge, skills and talents you have and evaluate whether they’re reflected directly or indirectly in your tweets.
- Ask yourself if a viewer of your Twitter page could identify your journalistic niche. If not, send a few tweets, retweets and replies to clarify what you’re interested in.
- Decide whether you’re effectively promoting a relevant niche or unnecessarily pigeonholing yourself and undermining your greater professional goals.
- Look for unintentional bias or questionable ethics in your tweets and in those you retweet. Delete anything questionable.
- If you’re following keywords or hashtags, look for Twitter users who appear frequently in those feeds and consider following them to start conversations and expand your network.
- Note which other hashtags they follow.
- Check your privacy settings: are they public, allowing you to connect with your audience, create discussions and find sources and story ideas, or private?
- If public, make the page suitable for current and prospective employers, sources and colleagues to see in its entirety.
- Update your profile page information, keeping it consistent with your Twitter profile information while adding other details about yourself that invite connections with your audience.
- Include a link to your portfolio or blog in your “Contact Information.”
- Use the “About Me” section of the “Basic Information” tab to add other social media accounts, such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Read your wall and consider the ongoing story it tells about you. Does it reflect your personal brand well? Would a source find you trustworthy? Discreet? Credible?
- Check the photos you’ve been tagged in for appropriate content. Remove tags if offensive or otherwise damaging.
- Review fan pages you’ve “liked” and decide whether they reflect positively or negatively on the brand you’re trying to present. Consider adding a disclaimer the “About Me” section of the “Basic Information” tab to explain that your “liking” a fan page does not indicate your endorsement of it, but rather it simply gives you access to the feed.
- Look for relevant news organizations to “like.” These can change as your beat and niche change.
- Check out your colleagues’ profiles to find journalism groups to join.
- Home: Update your status to reflect what you’re currently working on. Are you looking for story ideas? Sources? A new job?
- Profile: Check to see who has viewed your profile recently and look for possible connections to pursue.
- Decide if your photo is appropriate as a professional representation suitable for your niche. Correct any outdated information and add new employment experience, skills, associations and links to relevant work.
- Update your “Info” page, incorporating your Twitter profile information and adding details about yourself that invite connections with your audience. Include links to your other social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and portfolios.
- Contacts: Write a recommendation for someone you found valuable as a connection.
- Groups: Look for employer, alumni, journalism and association groups to join and participate in a discussion.
- Jobs: Check to see who’s hiring and what skills/knowledge they’re asking for in job descriptions that interest you.
- Inbox: Reply to any messages you’ve received.
- Companies: See who has profiles associated with specific news organizations and other employers for possible connections.
- More: Consider purchasing an upgrade to gain access to extended profiles and job opportunities.
- Do a Google search to see what others are finding when they search your name. Is it you or someone with a similar name who appears in the search results? If so, consider using a more search-friendly name professionally.
- Do additional, narrower “News” and “Blogs” searches (under the “more” search tab) to see if your work is being linked to. Add relevant links to your portfolio.
- Set up Google alerts for your name and blog name to receive notifications. This is particularly useful if your work has been used by a news aggregator or cited on a blog.
- Consider adding blogs to your RSS that are relevant to your niche in journalism. Commenting on posts and engaging colleagues will increase your online authority and presence in search.
- Check out your Klout score. Regardless of whether you find it to be a reliable measure of online authority, your colleagues and potential employers may, so you should be familiar with it.
- Read through your “About” page and decide whether it authentically represents your voice, your niche and your brand.
- Look over the headlines of your posts to make sure they are on topic. Read through the comments and find opportunities for conversations with your readers.
- Revisit your blogroll and determine whether to delete or add sites. In the end, you want a focused yet comprehensive blogroll that encompasses the range of topics within your journalistic niche and blog topic.
- Add sharing widgets such as TweetMeme that help readers easily share your posts on Twitter and Facebook.
- If you are using a blogging platform, consider purchasing the URL of your blog name and migrating your content there.
- Look at your homepage. Does it clearly state your area of specialization within journalism?
- Click through all of your tabs to make sure the navigation is logical.
- Click through all the links and fix any broken ones.
- Update your employment, awards and associations sections.
- Post recent work or add links to content you’ve created.
- Find a weekly chat such in which you can participate that addresses topics within your niche. Journalism chats such as #spjchat take place on Twitter, within news organizations and on Poynter.com.(Here’s a post I wrote about chat etiquette.)
- Make time in your schedule to participate live or read through transcripts after they’ve been posted or curated.
- Look through transcripts to find who hosts and actively participates in the chats and follow them on Twitter.
- Suggest topics you’d like to see discussed.
- If you can’t find a chat that specifically addresses your specialty, consider creating/hosting one as a way to establish authority within your niche.
If you have a routine for maintaining your online presence, feel free to share tips and suggestions in the comments.
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.
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.”
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.
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, Achiever, Communication, 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Each week, the Cronkite School hosts well-known journalists and accomplished authors as part of their Must See Monday lecture series for students. I was thrilled to see that among this fall’s lineup was personal branding expert Dan Schawbel.
I had the opportunity to interview Dan via email for a blog post last spring and looked forward to meeting him in person. He proved to be a tireless ambassador of personal branding, spending the day lecturing to classes, meeting with faculty and engaging anyone interested in harnessing their unique brand.
Dan’s presentation centered mostly on his new book, “Me 2.0: Four Steps to Building Your Future.” Much of his advice addressed strategies for defining career goals and communicating them effectively to find professional success. For aspiring journalists, the strategies are particularly relevant as our field gets more fragmented and less defined. The faceless employee of the legacy news organization has given way to the journalist as his own brand. He started by describing the deconstructed job market we’re in that has put us in charge of our professional fates:
The internet has forced us to become marketers, the economy has forced us to become experts and the recruitment system has forced us to become networkers.
That means we are ultimately responsible for managing how desirable, competent and relevant we appear online. So how do we do that?
Dan’s strategic plan for creating a strong personal brand requires us to proactively evaluate what we want and go after it aggressively.
Discover: What’s your niche? To say you want to be the next Katie Couric or Brian Williams isn’t a strategic as deciding you’re going to be the best-informed multimedia journalist focusing on Arizona business news. (Or, let’s say, personal branding for aspiring journalists.) One of the most effective exercises in journalism schools today is requiring students to choose blog topics and cover them for a semester. Our passions and talents instinctively surface and help us direct our effort toward areas that engage us, and, as a result, engage our audiences. Choose the area where you can use your life experiences and personality to enhance your expertise, making you an indispensable voice on that topic.
Create: Your portfolio, blog, email signature, business card and resume all are in your toolkit. These are the virtual representations of the professional you want to be. Along with your social media profiles on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, they’re the assets that your colleagues, network and potential employers see. These elements should be professional, customized and visually compatible. Above all, they should authentically represent who you are in person.
Communicate: Use online tools to get your name and your work out there on a consistent basis. Be strategic with who you connect with. This is not using people; it’s associating with people who inspire you and who can make you more effective at the work you do. By contributing to the conversations taking place on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and news comment sections, you’re creating a digital footprint in the environment where you want to grow your expertise. Networking events like conferences, meet-ups and online chats offer opportunities to develop relationships that can lead to personal references and online endorsements.
Maintain: Consistently cultivate your search presence. Monitor your Google hits for both positive and negative press. When you’re praised, promote it with sincerity. And if you find you’ve received negative comments or been referenced in an undesirable way by friends or colleagues, address it directly and do what you can to suppress it in search or eliminate it.
I wondered how many of the underclassmen in the audience understood the implications of personal branding in light of the openness they embrace with their online identities. Dan emphasized that 80% of employers use social networks for background checks. Managing your online reputation is an ongoing responsibility. The reality is your “digital dirt” stays with you, and it’s up to you minimize its effect on your career.