Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Archive for April 2010

Journalism Students' Summer To-Do List

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Just found this great checklist on the 10,000 Words blog with 3o things journalism grads should do during their summer off. It’s from last year but no less timely, and I’d argue that the list of tasks and challenges is a good exercise for any journalist interested in creating a personal brand. It includes measurable goals for using social media as well as developing multimedia skills and learning new software. The list reads like a crash-course version of the syllabus from our multimedia journalism bootcamp at Cronkite.

Start with one task and see where it takes you!

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 29, 2010 at 4:38 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heather’s tweet had been her virtual business card.

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

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

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

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

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 27, 2010 at 10:36 am

How Craig Silverman Built a Personal Brand on Merit, not Pedigree

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As I’ve mentioned before, the Cronkite School does an amazing job at bringing in prominent journalists to share their insights with its undergrads and graduate students. Last Thursday, Dan Gillmor and CJ Cornell hosted Canadian journalist Craig Silverman, editor of Regret the Error, for a whirlwind day of guest lectures and discussions with faculty and students. While much of the focus was on his expertise on topics of accuracy and corrections, I was drawn to Craig’s success story of using social media to create his own professional niche at age 27. During one of his brief breaks between lectures, we had the chance to sit down and discuss how he did it.

Regret the Error creator Craig Silverman at ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism’s Digital Media Entrepreneurship Lab

Craig started freelancing in 1996 when he was in journalism school and had been freelancing full-time for two years when he began looking for a way to “kick start” his career in 2004. He found a niche in tracking corrections and accuracy, despite having no background in copy editing. (He said he chose the topic because errors offered the opportunity for quick, pithy posts.) “I realized there was no expert there,” he said, “so I thought I could potentially become the expert. It’s an amazing thing to think I could just do this.”

He started by evaluating different paid blogging services (because he “wanted the blog to look good”) and having a friend with a design background create a logo for him. He then wrote a two-page business proposal for his friends to review, tested his posts on them and went live with the blog. From concept to market, all within two weeks.

On the first day he got over 10,000 hits, confirming he’d indeed identified a need. The Craig Silverman/Regret the Error brand was up and running.

When I asked Craig how he managed to spread the word about his blog, I expected him to say he’d posted the link in comment sections of other journalists’ blogs. “No, he replied, “I didn’t want to be too spammy. I wanted to go to them as a fellow professional.” So he sent emails to bloggers, including Jim Romenesko, and asked them to take a look at what he was doing and post a link to his blog if they liked what they read.

Through six years of research and consulting with scholars, historians, fact checkers and news industry leaders, Craig has effectively established his personal brand as an accuracy expert. In addition to being editor of Regret the Error, he’s the managing editor of two websites and writes two weekly columns (one for the Columbia Journalism Review — not a bad gig).  He published a book titled “Regret the Error” in 2007 and currently has over 400 fans on Facebook and over 2,000 followers on Twitter. All because he identified a niche and started a blog.

While he’s the first to admit the blogosphere is much more crowded now than it was in 2004, Craig stressed more than once that opportunities still exist for journalists to create their own niches. “Journalists can establish expertise on their own. People look at the merit rather than the pedigree.”

Of course, his entrepreneurial success was both inspiring and reassuring to this forty-something rookie journalist, so I asked Craig what advice he’d give to journalists entering the field now with so many social media tools at their fingertips. “Number one, you have to own your own domain name and Twitter ID and be conscious of what you’re doing with them.” He recommends using your personal website to post updates on professional achievements, awards, speaking engagements, and topics relevant to your niche.

“The best way to make people want to hire you is to have a strong personal brand. Even if you aspire to be on a staff somewhere, you have to realize that employers are motivated by brands as well as bodies of work.”

Using Social Media as a Journalistic Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 13, 2010 at 2:46 am

My Personal Brand Tagline: Reflection or Aspiration?

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

Telling Stories Through Multimedia Journalism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to just work that into 15 words or less.

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

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

Throwing Boulders into Your Digital Career Path

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My husband has a standard response when people sabotage themselves by making avoidable mistakes: “Why throw boulders into the road in front of yourself?” He makes that comment whenever he sees people sell themselves short, not take advantage of opportunities, or make foolish choices that block their success. As a natural strategic thinker, managing his personal brand comes pretty easily to him. He has a passion for his career (he runs a broadcast and digital media company) and an ambitious nature that has led him to make smart professional and social choices. Not surprising, he’s baffled by some of the stuff people post on social media.

This New York Times article provides a cautionary tale of how students unwittingly turn off potential employers with content they post online. Like it or not, employers– often from an older generation of people who draw a distinction between public and private life– can access your digital history with a simple Google search. What they find can make or break your getting hired.

So take a moment to do your own preemptive search. Look at your Twitter feed and see if you like the story it tells about you. Click through your Facebook photos and decide whether they pass the grandma test. Read through your blogs and the comments you’ve posted on others and consider if they support the image you’re trying to create. If not, it’s time to clear the path of those career-killer boulders.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 4, 2010 at 3:04 pm

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