Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

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

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An out-of-work microbiologist.

A mental-health clinician in private practice.

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

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

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

It changed lives.

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

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

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

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

It changed my career.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It changed my relationships.

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

It even changed my mom’s life. 

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

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

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

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

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.”

How my social media producer job helped refine my brand as a journalist

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As I mentioned in a recent post, my blogging about social media and personal branding played a major role in my getting hired as a social media producer at azcentral. My multimedia journalism graduate degree and familiarity with social media tools allowed for a smooth transition into Republic Media’s converged TV, print and online newsroom.

But after less than a year in the position, I had to quit my job a few weeks ago because the company my husband works for has decided to relocate us to the NY metro area. I’m now focusing on preparing for our move but will continue to write this blog, do freelance social media work and give guest lectures until we’re settled. I’m sad to leave Phoenix and my colleagues at azcentral. I have to admit, however, that I’m really excited about the career opportunities this move will offer in New York.

Although I worked at azcentral only briefly, it was enough time to recognize which parts of the job energized me and what I have to offer as part of a news organization. My main responsibilities involved posting stories on Facebook and Twitter, monitoring social media for trends and breaking news and engaging our audience. I definitely enjoyed that role, but after a while, I found my most satisfiying times in the newsroom were when I was using social media to help other journalists with their reporting. So I actively started approaching reporters and finding ways social media could assist them with their stories. Whether I was finding sources on Facebook who had been specifically affected by the massive Wallow Fire or using Storify to crowdsource reaction to a unusual local weather phenomenon, I loved how social media enhanced stories and did my part to show reporters how to take advantage of it. Those experiences eventually defined my contribution to our social media team and refined my brand.

Finding breaking news sources using social media

My day usually began by scanning my TweetDeck streams for local and national news that had broken overnight. (I loved being paid to know what was going on.) Our converged newsroom meant I was a few feet from the breaking news desk, print reporters, online team and television producers. If I saw a tweet from a Twitter user or another news organization that mentioned a developing story, I’d be on my feet to check if they knew about it. This responsibility suited my personality well; it’s my nature to be helpful and to share information with people. I monitored news tweets, hashtags and social media comments for relevant content and passed it on whenever it might be useful.

One highlight for me was when a Breaking News tweet I saw helped turn an international story into a local one for azcentral. I heard an early morning story on NPR about a Russian plane crash and later saw a @BreakingNews tweet announcing the plane was carrying an entire Russian hockey team.

I clicked the link to the NHL press release and found the coach was former Phoenix Coyotes player Brad McCrimmon, so I alerted the breaking news desk and told the home page editor about it. He searched our archives, found dozens of references to the coach and called the reporter who covers the Coyotes. Within 20 minutes, we had the enhanced wire story on our site. We posted our local story on Facebook and Twitter within the next hour.

This example elegantly highlights how social media’s role as part of a converged newsroom dynamic led to comprehensive news coverage of a local, and yet international, tragedy.

Crowdsourcing special projects 

Azcentral’s social media team encouraged reporters to tap into our social media followers (as well as their own) to crowdsource, and I let them know I was there to help. We used live chats to generate questions for interviews with experts, turned to Quora to find answers to niche questions, and when Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, I gathered local reaction using Storify. Most often, we helped reporters use Twitter and Facebook to find story ideas and sources.

Our crowdsourced 9/11 anniversary Arizona Republic front page was an unprecedented and unexpected social media achievement. Before the anniversary, azcentral and 12 News posted requests for six-word responses to the question “What does 9/11 mean to you?” on Facebook and Twitter and got over 600 responses. Their collective impact was so profound that the editors decided to wallpaper the front page of the Arizona Republic with the six-word statements against a silhouette of the Twin Towers and New York skyline. For the first time in the paper’s history, the front page was crowdsourced. The response was overwhelmingly positive within the local community and the newspaper industry.

I became a journalist because I wanted to tell people’s stories. Using social media tools to bring out otherwise unheard voices – even if they’re only making six-word statements – truly inspired me, and this part of my role as social media producer confirmed that I want crowdsourcing to be an even bigger part of my next job.

Training reporters and editors

I really enjoyed training colleagues to use social media for reporting. Despite the ubiquity of social media references in the news and within the newsroom, many very talented journalists had no interest in creating or actively using social media accounts. They’d been able to write compelling stories without them for years and saw no need to change their habits. Some had Twitter accounts but didn’t know how to maximize them, while others had been effectively using them to solicit ideas and sources and were eager to learn new tricks.

Each week I wrote a social media newsletter to share tips and give examples of five good tweets from the week. I also did one-on-one training of how to set up Twitter, Facebook’s subscribe feature, LinkedIn and TweetDeck. The feedback I got from reporters, whether it was a quick email saying the Five Good Tweets helped them become more comfortable with tweeting or a request for crowdsourcing advice, showed me the range of confidence and social media expertise throughout the staff. I genuinely enjoyed working with all skill levels and tailoring the training to their needs.

Providing help is a central part of who I am and my brand as a journalist, whether it’s to get information out, tell stories or teach. For now, I’ll be have to put that energy into helping my family move, but soon enough I’ll be using it to help myself get a job.

My advice to j-school students: How building an online brand helped me get my online job

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When I talk to journalism students about using social media to build their brands, their questions often are practical ones: What if someone already has my name as a Twitter handle? Do I really have to edit my Facebook page? How often should I blog? But the best question a student asked me challenged the very idea that journalists should bother with personal branding in the first place:

“It takes so much time to do everything you’re talking about, like blogging and tweeting and keeping all those profiles updated, on top of writing stories. How do you know it’s actually paying off for you?”

Before I could reply, his professor provided the best answer: “Because she’s standing up here in front of you.” (If you know Cronkite School professor Tim McGuire, you can appreciate his delivery of that line.)

The fact is the student was right. It takes extra effort to maintain an online presence as a journalist. And I admitted I couldn’t tell him which tweet would be the one that got him retweeted 25 times, which blog post would be shared around the world or which skill listed on his LinkedIn profile would make him rise to the top of a search.

Nonetheless, I assured him all that extra effort was worth it because each tweet, each blog post and each online profile defined his brand and provided a virtual trail for potential employers to find him. I told him I knew this personally because I’d sent tweets that got dozens of retweets, I’d written a blog post that was shared from Peru to Spain after someone translated it into Spanish and I’d been contacted for jobs via LinkedIn – all while I was still a grad student.

Then I reassured him there was no reason he and his classmates couldn’t do the same.

Today’s j-school students have everything they need to start mapping out their careers. They can write niche blogs, create simple portfolios, connect with others doing the work they aspire to do and develop professional networks across the country before they’ve even begun their job searches. It hasn’t always been that way; when I went to journalism school in the 1980s, students sent out resumes, applied for jobs and waited for a phone call. But as a grad student over two decades later, I recognized that from my first assignment, I was building the online brand that would eventually get me my job as a social media producer.

Here’s how I did it:

Creating a name for myself – literally: I had no online identity when I began grad school after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom. Google searches of my name brought up a scholar who researched Egypt and one passing reference to me as my husband’s wife. I clearly had some work to do. When I got my first online assignment to create a blog, I deliberately used my full name, Jennifer Gaie Hellum, and did the same on social media accounts and as a reporter at Cronkite News Service. By the end of grad school, a search for Jennifer Hellum – even without my middle name – brought me to the top of the page on Google.

Helping people find my work: I always took the time to add tags to blog posts for SEO, add links to other blogs and thank others who linked to mine. Publishing a post meant sending a tweet with the link and any relevant hashtags, keywords or the Twitter handle of anyone I’d interviewed. I also took my professors’ advice and created a LinkedIn account, joined journalism associations and bought my vanity URL to use for my online portfolio.

Choosing blog topics and reporting assignments that fit my brand:  This blog started as an assignment for a digital media entrepreneurship class. As someone with little online media experience at the time, I found a digital topic, personal branding via social media, that genuinely fit with my earlier advertising and public relations career. At the suggestion of my professors, I kept the blog going during the summer and beyond my final semester because it had become clear I was the only person regularly writing about the topic. During my capstone semester as a producer and reporter at Cronkite News Service, I found ways to use social media as a reporting tool and even wrote about city governments using social media. In the end, my blog and social media knowledge became the strongest part of my resume.

Doing the job I aspired to have: As soon as I learned about social media as an area of journalism, I began using it to learn about social media jobs. I set up Google alerts and TweetDeck columns for “social media editor” and read everything I could about the position. I followed social media editors on Twitter, looked at their job histories and skill sets on LinkedIn and read their blogs and decided my interests and personality fit well with the work. I also participated in Twitter chats with online journalists, and if they mentioned a digital tool I was unfamiliar with, I looked it up so I could join in the conversation. (The chat organizer later invited me to be a guest panelist about personal branding and social media along with experienced journalists.) And during my last sememster, I went to the Online News Association conference in D.C and used what I learned to improve CNS’s Facebook profile and help other reporters find sources on Twitter.  All that extra effort paid off when I was recommended for a social media producer position at azcentral.com and was able to share what I knew and how I’d used it.

Of course, I’m not the only one to figure out that I didn’t have to wait to start building a brand. Many multimedia journalism students post their reels on YouTube, share photos on Flickr and create online portfolios that showcase their programming skills, and it’s paying off. They’re getting hits, they’re getting noticed and best of all, they’re getting hired.

A j-school graduate’s defense of (figuratively) branding journalists

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When I decided to call my student blog Brand Me a Journalist, I chose the name because I thought it was somewhat clever and easy to remember. I hadn’t fully contemplated its inherent call to action – that is, until I read Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten’s response to a student who asked how he developed his brand:

The best way to build a brand is to take a three-foot length of malleable iron and get one end red-hot. Then, apply it vigorously to the buttocks of the instructor who gave you this question. You want a nice, meaty sizzle.

I had two reactions to his advice:

  1. I hope he never takes my blog name literally. (The guy clearly has the technique down, and I’m not into body modification.)
  2. I hope he’s not a mentor.

As a graduate student at the Cronkite School, I learned about personal branding in Tim McGuire’s 21st century media organizations class and later began this blog for Dan Gillmor’s digital media entrepreneurship class. These classes addressed the economic realities and creative possibilities in the new media landscape. Both professors, whom I consider mentors, encouraged me to write this blog and impressed upon us the need to strategically begin creating our digital footprints as students – a powerful career-launching tool that was not available to j-students when I got my undergraduate degree in 1989.

These respected newspapermen understood the increasingly important role of personal branding for journalists, so I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Medill professor Owen Youngman had assigned a graduate student, identified simply as “Leslie”, to reach out to Weingarten about the topic.

I was completely caught off guard to read the way Weingarten treated Leslie, not being familiar with his distinctive brand. I’d made similar cold-call requests of veteran journalists such as Worldcrunch’s Jeff Israely, and they gladly discussed their brands. But instead of enlightening her with how a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s” came to be a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning columnist (he even has a tagline, a considerable branding asset) at one of the country’s most prestigious news organizations, Weingarten used the occasion to decry the hijacking of journalism’s noble mission by marketing departments and user-generated content.

As Steve Buttry pointed out in his reply to Weingarten’s non-answer to Leslie’s question, Weingarten was not interested in admitting his considerable success is due in part to the strength of his well-cultivated personal brand. His disdain for the word “branding” prevents him from recognizing that it simply is about defining yourself as a journalist and establishing your reputation among your audience, which is no different than what journalists have historically done; it just used to be called “making a name for yourself.”

Indeed, Weingarten has established a formidable reputation name brand, which is supported by his publishers’ marketing efforts and his deliberate social media presence. At various points during his four-decade career, he strategically positioned himself:

  • by committing himself to covering a specific beat to the best of his ability
  • by developing valuable relationships with readers and sources
  • by associating with other journalists doing similar work
  • by pursuing related opportunities that complemented his position

All of these are elements of branding. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he’s very deliberately built his brand.

But rather than seeing Leslie’s overture to a veteran journalist as an opportunity to pass on his professional insights to the next generation of reporters, Weingarten dismisses us as unworthy, talentless self-promoters who aren’t willing to work hard “to get great stories.” Leslie tried to get a great story, one about an accomplished journalist who started out as a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s”; instead, she got a lecture.

So while Weingarten finds comfort in longing for the way things used to be, we aspiring journalists will continue to take advantage of digital media tools available to launch our careers:

  • by building innovative portfolio sites that show our command of writing and programming
  • by posting video resumes on YouTube to show our storytelling, camera work and editing skills (we multimedia journalists do it all)
  • by uploading photos to Flickr and Instagram
  • by finding sources via Facebook
  • by connecting with colleagues via Twitter, journalism chats such as wjchat, LinkedIn groups and conferences to learn about the jobs we aspire to have
  • by staying up until 3 a.m. to write blog posts that very likely won’t be seen but that reveal our passion for writing and commitment to our beats
  • by reaching out to those veteran journalism pros who get that branding is just a word, not a threat

All this before we’ve been hired. Through our initiative, focus and hard work, we’re assembling bodies of work, “making names for ourselves” and pursuing our goals as journalists.

So you can keep your red-hot iron, sir; we’re building our own brands.

Social media spring cleaning: 50 tasks (or 7 short lists) for maintaining your personal brand

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When I talk to journalism students about managing their personal brands, they often are overwhelmed by the maintenance of their online profiles and portfolios. Students as well as working journalists are constantly producing new content and/or acquiring new skills that should be reflected in their online identities.  Whether you do it weekly, monthly or seasonly, it’s important to have a routine for updating profiles, building networks, adding content and clarifying your brand.

So now that it’s officially spring, set aside time this week to do some personal branding spring cleaning. Start with one account and see how much has changed since you last updated your content. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to tackle one list each day, your digital footprint will be up to date in a week.

Twitter:

  1. Make sure your profile blurb is up to date. Include your photo, current position and location, as well as a link to your blog, LinkedIn or portfolio page. Without these details, those you follow will have to do too much work to decide whether they should reciprocate and follow you. So they probably won’t.
  2. Use the remaining lines of your blurb to relate what you feel is most central to your brand, whether it be your beat, interests, associations or personality.
  3. Consider whether your profile picture continues to reflect the professional image you want to present. Is the photo current? Is the image recognizable? Could people you know ITL (in Twitter life) pick you out of a group IRL (in real life)?
  4. Take a moment to look at your Twitter page (not TweetDeck or Hootsuite) stream of tweets collectively as a snapshot of who you are as a journalist. Make sure the tweets in general are professionally relevant.
  5. Consider the knowledge, skills and talents you have and evaluate whether they’re reflected directly or indirectly in your tweets.
  6. Ask yourself if a viewer of your Twitter page could identify your journalistic niche. If not, send a few tweets, retweets and replies to clarify what you’re interested in.
  7. Decide whether you’re effectively promoting a relevant niche or unnecessarily pigeonholing yourself and undermining your greater professional goals.
  8. Look for unintentional bias or questionable ethics in your tweets and in those you retweet. Delete anything questionable.
  9. If you’re following keywords or hashtags, look for Twitter users who appear frequently in those feeds and consider following them to start conversations and expand your network.
  10. Note which other hashtags they follow.

Facebook:

  1. Check your privacy settings: are they public, allowing you to connect with your audience, create discussions and find sources and story ideas, or private?
  2. If public, make the page suitable for current and prospective employers, sources and colleagues to see in its entirety.
  3. Update your profile page information, keeping it consistent with your Twitter profile information while adding other details about yourself that invite connections with your audience.
  4. Include a link to your portfolio or blog in your “Contact Information.”
  5. Use the “About Me” section of the “Basic Information” tab to add other social media accounts, such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
  6. Read your wall and consider the ongoing story it tells about you. Does it reflect your personal brand well? Would a source find you trustworthy? Discreet? Credible?
  7. Check the photos you’ve been tagged in for appropriate content. Remove tags if offensive or otherwise damaging.
  8. Review fan pages you’ve “liked” and decide whether they reflect positively or negatively on the brand you’re trying to present. Consider adding a disclaimer the “About Me” section of the “Basic Information” tab to explain that your “liking” a fan page does not indicate your endorsement of it, but rather it simply gives you access to the feed.
  9. Look for relevant news organizations to “like.” These can change as your beat and niche change.
  10. Check out your colleagues’ profiles to find journalism groups to join.

LinkedIn:

  1. Home: Update your status to reflect what you’re currently working on. Are you looking for story ideas? Sources? A new job?
  2. Profile: Check to see who has viewed your profile recently and look for possible connections to pursue.
  3. Decide if your photo is appropriate as a professional representation suitable for your niche. Correct any outdated information and add new employment experience, skills, associations and links to relevant work.
  4. Update your “Info” page, incorporating your Twitter profile information and adding details about yourself that invite connections with your audience. Include links to your other social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and portfolios.
  5. Contacts: Write a recommendation for someone you found valuable as a connection.
  6. Groups: Look for employer, alumni, journalism  and association groups to join and participate in a discussion.
  7. Jobs: Check to see who’s hiring and what skills/knowledge they’re asking for in job descriptions that interest you.
  8. Inbox: Reply to any messages you’ve received.
  9. Companies: See who has profiles associated with specific news organizations and other employers for possible connections.
  10. More: Consider purchasing an upgrade to gain access to extended profiles and job opportunities.

Google/search:

  1. Do a Google search to see what others are finding when they search your name. Is it you or someone with a similar name who appears in the search results? If so, consider using a more search-friendly name professionally.
  2. Do additional, narrower “News” and “Blogs” searches (under the “more” search tab) to see if your work is being linked to. Add relevant links to your portfolio.
  3. Set up Google alerts for your name and blog name to receive notifications. This is particularly useful if your work has been used by a news aggregator or cited on a blog.
  4. Consider adding blogs to your RSS that are relevant to your niche in journalism. Commenting on posts and engaging colleagues will increase your online authority and presence in search.
  5. Check out your Klout score. Regardless of whether you find it to be a reliable measure of online authority, your colleagues and potential employers may, so you should be familiar with it.

Blog:

  1. Read through your “About” page and decide whether it authentically represents your voice, your niche and your brand.
  2. Look over the headlines of your posts to make sure they are on topic. Read through the comments and find opportunities for conversations with your readers.
  3. Revisit your blogroll and determine whether to delete or add sites. In the end, you want a focused yet comprehensive blogroll that encompasses the range of topics within your journalistic niche and blog topic.
  4. Add sharing widgets such as TweetMeme that help readers easily share your posts on Twitter and Facebook.
  5. If you are using a blogging platform, consider purchasing the URL of your blog name and migrating your content there.

Portfolio/Google profile:

  1. Look at your homepage. Does it clearly state your area of specialization within journalism?
  2. Click through all of your tabs to make sure the navigation is logical.
  3. Click through all the links and fix any broken ones.
  4. Update your employment, awards and associations sections.
  5. Post recent work or add links to content you’ve created.

Chats:

  1. Find a weekly chat such in which you can participate that addresses topics within your niche. Journalism chats such as #spjchat take place on Twitter, within news organizations and on Poynter.com.(Here’s a post I wrote about chat etiquette.)
  2. Make time in your schedule to participate live or read through transcripts after they’ve been posted or curated.
  3. Look through transcripts to find who hosts and actively participates in the chats and follow them on Twitter.
  4. Suggest topics you’d like to see discussed.
  5. If you can’t find a chat that specifically addresses your specialty, consider creating/hosting one as a way to establish authority within your niche.

 

If you have a routine for maintaining your online presence, feel free to share tips and suggestions in the comments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use Your Social Media Skills as a Social Media Editor

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Most of my posts have focused on how to use social media to build your personal brand. These same tools are being used by publications to expand their audiences and build relationships with their communities and have created a new niche of journalism jobs.

If using social media comes naturally to you, you might want to do as the journalists in this 10,000 Words column have and use those skills to enhance your marketability and meet a vital need at most media outlets.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 6, 2010 at 8:16 pm