Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

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

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

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

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

Finding breaking news sources using social media

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

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

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

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

Crowdsourcing special projects 

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

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

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

Training reporters and editors

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

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

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

ONA11 put the spotlight on social media as a reporting tool

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In 2010, I attended ONA’s annual conference in Washington, DC, as a journalism graduate student. I knew I was interested in finding an online journalism job after graduation, possibly doing social media, and thought ONA would be the place to gain insights on how journalists were using social media. So I took advantage of the student registration rate, had some business cards made and envisioned my meeting all the social media people I followed on Twitter.

But aside from a few sessions that touched on community engagement and an impromptu project for Intersect, I didn’t find many discussions about the kind of work I thought I might do in a social media job. Don’t get me wrong; I learned a lot at ONA10 about online news operations, emerging technology and digital reporting tools. As a first-time attendee, however, I left the conference without handing my card to anyone in social media and thought maybe ONA wasn’t a forum where social media played a very prominent role.

What a difference a year makes.

Any doubt I had about social media’s place in online journalism was completely dismissed at ONA11 in Boston. From the opening paragraph of the co-chairs’ welcome in the conference program (“Social media tools continue to transform the way news breaks …”) to the standing room-only Twitter and Facebook sessions, it was clear social media’s increasing role in journalism was being fully embraced at this year’s gathering.

It’s understandable. In the year since the 2010 conference, social media continued to transform the newsgathering and reporting process:

This year’s conference organizers apparently noticed the increased interest in social media’s journalistic value and responded by adding a social media track of sessions, and I hit them all. I heard NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin share his live-tweeting and tweet curation insights as part of the keynote lunch panel discussion. I fought the crowds to see Twitter content team member and digital strategist Erica Anderson and Facebook journalist program manager Vadim Lavrusik each lead a pair of sessions to share best practices and strategies for using their sites. And I took notes as Storify creator Bert Herman, along with Washington Post’s social media producer Katie Rogers and ProPublica director of engagement Amanda Michel, discussed Twitter’s strengths as a reporting tool. As an unexpected bonus, I ended up interviewing Reuter’s social media editor Anthony DeRosa for my blog after meeting him at his session on personal branding. (More on that in my next post…) Journalists working as community managers, social media editors and online engagement directors led a range of discussions about using social media to do serious journalism.

This time, I didn’t hold back from introducing myself to them. I asked for advice and shared what we’re doing at azcentral to incorporate social media tools into our reporting. Incredibly talented people doing creative, innovative things to connect with their communities were more than willingness to share what they know with me. I left ONA11 energized by what I’d learned and who I’d met, knowing I definitely was in the right place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how I did it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had two reactions to his advice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter:

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

Facebook:

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

LinkedIn:

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

Google/search:

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

Blog:

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

Portfolio/Google profile:

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

Chats:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

Personality type

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

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

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

Aptitudes

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

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

Talents

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

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

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

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

Skills/Knowledge

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

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

Life experiences and interests

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

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

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

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.

Using Social Media as a Journalistic Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 13, 2010 at 2:46 am

Social Media Workshops Available to Teach Old (and New) Journalists New Tricks

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Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Student Affairs, Columbia University School of Journalism (Photo courtesy of Columbia University)

Today I saw two tweets announcing workshops for journalists to learn how to harness social media tools. One was for USA Today’s free webinar today taught by Awareness, Inc., a Burlington, MA social media marketing firm.

The other tweet announced five workshops led by Columbia School of Journalism dean of student affairs and professor Sree Sreenivasan. He’s a highly regarded technology and social media expert who appears to “walk the walk”: He blogs, hosts webcasts, is an active user of Twitter (@sreenet) and his Facebook profile, where he uses his fan page to promote the free workshops he conducts across the country teaching journalists about social media. The classes range from basic to advanced, and from the comments on his fan page, appear to have a strong following.

Whether you’re looking to build your personal brand or looking for story ideas, sources or background information, social media can open you to a word of instant, direct access to people. So if you can’t find Sree Sreenivasan’s workshops near you, take some time to search for a webinar or workshop in your area, or ask someone you know to give you a quick lesson.

Using social media isn’t that tricky; you just have to be open to the possibility that these tools that can be used for navel-gazing do, in fact, have powerful uses for journalists.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 8, 2010 at 1:42 am

A Nod to Tom Peters' definitive article: "The Brand Called You"

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Whenever I do Google searches to generate blog post topics on building your personal brand, I invariably come across blogs that mention Tom Peters‘ 1997 article in Fast Company entitled “The Brand Called You.” I remember reading his book “In Search of Excellence” for an undergrad public relations class in 1988, which is ironic to me because sometimes I feel like this blog is more about PR than it is about journalism. But I guess that’s the point: journalists in growing numbers are becoming solely responsible for promoting their work as jobs are eliminated.

And it seems as though Tom Peters saw this coming way before the news industry was ready (or willing) to hear it. Although he references the Net, your Rolodex and beepers, much of what he had to say about taking control of your professional identity in 1997 sounds as fresh and as urgent today as it did then:

“The good news — and it is largely good news — is that everyone has a chance to stand out. Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark.”

To think he felt such certainty of professional manifest destiny before the web’s power was fully realized, before web 2.0 and the era of “Have Blog, Will Prosper.” (From the recent dates of the comments, it’s clear others find his ideas to be timely, too.)

Check out his challenges and calls to action and consider what you’re doing to define your journalistic brand, but read them while keeping in mind all the powerful ways social media can help you the achieve them.

“What makes you different?” Can you define it in 15 words or less, as he suggests, or within the limits of a Twitter profile? Have you crafted a personal tagline for your personal web site and portfolio? Are you using social media to define your professional niche, through the tweets you send and the comments you leave? Have you found others with similar interests and connected with them through LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter?

“What’s the pitch for you?” Are you using social media to increase your web presence in a way that’s consistent with your brand? Do your tweets, Facebook posts, Flickr streams or blog posts betray the image your wish to portray? Do they target the kind of work you want to do?

“What’s the real power of you?” How are you increasing your credibility? Are you leaving comments on blogs? Do you participate in live chats? Do you make references in your blog to relevant work you admire?

“What’s loyalty to you?” Are you using social media to create a following of readers and colleagues to engage in conversations? Not only do social media offer opportunities to express your brand identity, they also have become essential for researching stories and finding sources.

“What’s the future of you?” Have you created a strategy for where you want your career to go? Are you making contacts with people at those organizations and staying informed about them and their careers?

As the “CEO of You” in the digital age, the corporate ladder of you is in fact a series of links and clicks, all at YOUR fingertips.

http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/10/brandyou.html