Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Archive for July 2010

To Follow or to be Followed: Building Your Twitter Network

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(This is the fourth of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)

Before I started graduate school, the idea of using Twitter seemed narcissistic to me. I quickly recognized, however, what a powerful tool Twitter could be when used stategically. Whether for breaking news or industry-related topics, Twitter provides immediate access to conversations taking place among journalists about newsgathering and the future of journalism. In the Twittersphere, we’re all invited to participate in the discussion.

The next social media challenge on the 10,000 Words to-do list involves using Twitter to increase your exposure in the journalism community:

Task #4: Friend at least 50 journalists on Twitter who in turn follow you back.

Although I’ve been using Twitter primarily for career-related purposes, I hadn’t stopped to assess exactly how many of my followers are journalists. This task made me wonder how I was going to get TV reporters and newspaper columnists to follow an unknown grad student. My only strategy was to start following them and hope they’d find my Twitter profile interesting enough to start following me back.

But luckily for me, Albany, NY-based journalist Alexis Grant saw my promo of this task at the foot of my last post and left me a twitterific gift before I’d even begun the challenge:

… I’ve got a good list of journos on Twitter who I think represent the future of the industry… http://twitter.com/alexisgrant/journfuture/members

That was the paradigm shift I needed. Her list of journalists in traditional and online media not only opened my eyes to the value of Twitter lists as a resource, but it also reminded me that today’s journalism community is a dynamic group of professionals with a diverse range of job descriptions. Of course I could get journalists to follow me; they already had. I’ve been communicating with web journalists, online news editors, social media editors, multimedia journalism professors, students–and yes, even some good ol’ reporters– for the past year. I’ve never met Alexis Grant, but she is one of the 100+ journalists I have followed who reciprocally have followed me (or visa versa).

So this task is that easy, right? Just go to a journalist’s Twitter page and look at their lists for groups of people in the business. In fact, it’s not that easy. That’s sure to provide you many people to follow, but that’s only part of this challenge. You need to get followed in return. Here’s what I’ve learned about the politics of following and being followed over the past year.

Why would a journalist on Twitter want to follow me?

Before you begin to follow others on Twitter, you first need to establish a Twitter profile of your own that will compel others to follow you. When I get an email notice saying someone is following me only to find that my new follower has no profile bio statement, web link or even a location, I usually don’t follow back. Same goes for those with less than a full page of tweets or single-digit “following” stats. Having few followers isn’t an immediate turnoff for me; everybody has to start somewhere. The red flag more often is when someone only has a few sporadic tweets, which tells me this person is not an active Twitter user.

Before you start going crazy clicking people’s follow buttons and hoping they’ll follow you back, take some time to increase your chance of getting followed by creating a tweet history.

What do I say if don’t have any followers?

It may feel strange sending tweets to no one. But by spending at least a few days filling your Twitter profile page with 15-20 tweets before you start following people, you’ll give those people something to look at when they receive the follow notification.

  1. Fill out your profile. People want to know who you are. Use your professional name as your Twitter ID and include your photo and location. If possible, use the web section to link to your blog, portfolio page, Google profile or any other site that will provide more information about you. Use the bio section to identify your employer or share your career goals, interests or personality.
  2. Consider your personal brand and how you want to present yourself to the world. Think about the digital profile you want to establish and send tweets that speak to your career niche with an authentic voice. The Personal Branding Blog has a practical checklist that offers a strategy for getting started on tweeting. Keep it on hand for when you don’t know what to say and want to say something of value.
  3. Use keywords relevant to your niche. Writing a well-crafted tweet increases the chance it will be seen. For example, a tweet and a link from a blogger who writes about immigration issues in Arizona that reads “Here’s my new post” will not show up in searches. On the other hand, “Here’s my new post about immigration issues in Arizona” will go to anyone following the keywords “immigration” or “Arizona”.
  4. Include hashtags. Hashtags are keywords, phrases or abbreviations preceded by #. They’re used as a kind of shorthand to indicate topics or events. For example, #ona is used for the Online News Association. If you’re writing a tweet related to ONA that doesn’t mention it specifically, adding the hashtag #ona to the end of the tweet flags it for anyone specifically following that hashtag (but not necessarily following you). Note the hashtags being used by journalists and look them up in a hashtag directory such as tagdef.com.
  5. Retweet links, comments and observations that you find valuable. A retweet, or RT, is how you share something someone else found interesting enough to send in a tweet.  Retweeting gives them credit for the content of their tweet while allowing you to add your input.
  6. Send a response to a comment or question. If you think you have something to add to the conversation, jump in. But remember, Facebook is like having a conversation with friends in your living room, while Twitter is more like a conversation with acquaintances at a business function or cocktail reception.

Ask yourself, “Are these tweets something of value? Are they, on the whole, rich with relevant career-related content and commentary?”  If you have a full page of tweets that give a sense of who you are as a journalist, then you’re ready to start building your “following” list.

How do I find journalists to follow on Twitter who will in turn follow me?

This process may sound like a popularity contest to the cynical person (there are a few in journalism), but  in a very real sense it’s a credibility contest, a professional-value contest and an authority contest.

  1. Use Google search instead of Twitter to find people. Don’t rely on the Twitter “Search” or “Find People” functions to locate people or organizations using Twitter. I’ve had much greater success using Google by searching the name followed by “on Twitter”. For example, “Scott Simon on Twitter” will bring up several Twitter accounts with the name Scott Simon, but you can easily see that NPR’s host of Weekend Edition sends tweets using @nprscottsimon.
  2. Begin by following news organizations, journalism schools, and professional organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists. This will start your base “following” activity. Look at who else is following these organizations, as well as whom they find valuable enough to follow.
  3. Add the people you know in the business. Look up colleagues, classmates, professors or acquaintances. They are likely to follow you back, giving you a base of “followers” before you add people you don’t know.
  4. Find the individual journalists associated with publications or organizations you respect. This is the beauty of Twitter. As I wrote in an earlier post,  we now are just one degree of separation from the veterans of the craft.
  5. Look at whom they follow and check out their “lists”. If they follow a large number of people, it may be easier to look at their lists rather than each individual. Do they have a specific group of journalists they follow? Have they themselves been “listed”?  This means someone has grouped them within a category of similar Twitter users, which could include lists of journalists.
  6. Do a google search for lists of journalists to follow on Twitter. Many journalism blogs, such as muckrack.com, 10,000 Words and SPJ, have put together lists of prominent journalists on Twitter. Chances are these people have many followers, which could lessen your chance of being followed by them, but consider following them anyway.
  7. Participate in Twitter chats. Each week, groups of journalists gather online for Twitter chats with specific topics. Check out chats such as PoynterOnline#wjchat, #cjchat#journchat and #pubmedia to find journalists in your niche.
  8. Watch to see who gets recommended on “Follow Fridays”. The hashtag #ff is used in a tweet when someone is recommending another Twitter user. Set aside time on Fridays to see who is being recommended by other journalists.

Lastly, when you do get followed by a fellow journalist, consider it being handed a digital business card and send a tweet saying thanks for the follow.

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Next up: Task #5: Become a part of a crowdsourcing project. (I submitted my Facebook photo for the crowdsourced TIME magazine cover, but I don’t think that counts as journalism…)

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

July 26, 2010 at 11:04 am

Creating a Flickr Account Suitable for an Aspiring Multimedia Journalist

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(This is the third of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)

The first two posts of this series focused on establishing a blog and then using Twitter to bring traffic to it. With a year of blogging under my belt, I was in my element and wrote the posts to prove it. And as I indicated in the tease at the end of the last post, I felt equally confident about the upcoming task:

Task #3: Shoot 100 amazing photos and post them on Flickr.

As was the case with blogging, I felt a step ahead of this challenge because I already had a Flickr account. I’ve been an amateur photographer since I lived in Manhattan in the late 1990s, where I took an introductory photography class at the New School in Greenwich Village. I take my pocket-sized digital camera with me everywhere I go and recently have been testing out my new Canon EOS Rebel T1i digital SLR, so I have plenty of new photos to post.

However, when I went to Flickr to add those photos to my account, I realized I had a bit of work to do to make my account an effective element of my personal branding strategy. I had set up the account before I decided to go to graduate school and used it to share photos with my family and friends. I selected what at the time was a suitable Flickr web address:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hellumfamilypics/ (Oh, is that link not working? I’ll get to that in a moment…)

Although I chose a great address name for helping Grandma find the Christmas photos, it’s not something I’d want on my portfolio page for potential employers to see. Unfortunately, changing a Flickr web address is as difficult as changing your birthday.

That is to say, you can’t.

Flickr unequivocally does not allow you to change your web address and says the only solution is deleting the account. But even after I did that, my problem wasn’t solved. Because I used “Jennifer Gaie Hellum” as my screen name on the deleted account, I now can’t get access to my name for the new one. I’ve been through three days and two levels of Flickr Member Support, hoping that in the end I’ll be able to have two accounts: one for professional use, and one for sharing pictures with the Facebook holdouts in my life.

Rather than give a lesson here on setting up a Flickr account (ehow.com has several tutorials on the subject), I’ll instead sum up what I’ve learned about using Flickr as a forum for career-related photography and as an element of my personal branding digital strategy.

  1. Think through what you want to accomplish with your account before you set it up. If the Flickr support team comes through for me in the end, I’ll be the first to give them a thumbs-up. But I urge you to think it through before you start so you won’t go through the frustration I have in trying to make changes.
  2. Use your professional name as your Flickr web address and screen name. As much as possible, use the same name on all your social media accounts to maximize your search potential.
  3. Create “sets” of photos that address the kind of work you want to do. Journalists increasingly are responsible for shooting photos as well as gathering stories. If you are considering a particular beat, think of the kind of images associated with the stories you’d be telling and seek opportunities to take photos of people and scenes that would accompany those stories. Organize and label your photos on your Flickr page so it’s ready to be linked to your professional portfolio site.
  4. Be your own photo editor. Flickr only allows you a limited amount of uploads per month, so you need to be selective. Show your best work.
  5. Find a separate forum for sharing personal photos. If a photo doesn’t tell a story, capture a detail or share a compelling, well-composed image, save it for Facebook or some other personal photo-sharing account.
  6. Decide what you want to say through your photostream. Perhaps you aspire to be an award-winning photo journalist. Or maybe you simply want an employer to know that you know how to compose a picture and use a photo-sharing site. Having a Flickr account will allow the public access to your work and evaluate your level of talent, so make sure it supports you career goals.
  7. If you are serious about photography, consider joining Flickr groups. Take the time to comment on others’ photos and invite discussion about yours. Actively participating in a social network of photography enthusiasts can earn you “testimonials” on the site and will highlight your commitment to the craft.

As for checking off Task #3, I guess I’ll have to take an incomplete. I promise to update this post with my new-and-improved Flickr web address and recent photos as soon as I get my case resolved with Flickr. I hope to max out my account’s upload quotas in the fall when I take my first photojournalism class. (That’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was an undergrad back in 1985, when I couldn’t afford the cost of all the film!)

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Next up: Task #4. Friend at least 50 journalists on Twitter who in turn follow you back. Now this one has to be as easy as it sounds…

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

July 21, 2010 at 3:46 am

Adventures in Retweets: My 48 Hours as an International Blogging Sensation

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(This is the second of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)

After a two-month hiatus from blogging, I was pleased to see the enthusiastic response to my return post as I announced my effort to tackle the ambitious 10,000 Words to-do list. I got an encouraging amount of blog traffic and a pair of comments, including votes of confidence from a journalism professor and from the list’s author himself.

I didn’t, however, accomplish the next task on the list:

Task #2: If you already have a blog, write a post that gets retweeted 20 times.

No, although the retweets I got were highly appreciated ones from a few high-profile journalists, they totaled a humbling three retweets. I’m hopeful the number will increase as I share my successes, failures, obstacles and reflections, but for now I’ll have to focus this post on my only experience of getting retweeted more than 20 times.

Over two exhilarating days last May, a tweet announcing a blog post of mine went out to my 100+ followers, got retweeted by a few of my professors and found its way to a Peruvian journalist with a gift for translation and a large international following. Here’s how I related the incident to my professor Dan Gillmor the following day:

I have to thank you for the RT yesterday. You set off a cascade of RTs, which included a Peruvian journalist who translated my post and credited me by name. It’s been re-tweeted from her site 100 times and posted on FB 30 times, and I’m suddenly being followed by dozens of South American journos. (Fortunately, I speak Spanish well enough to understand what’s being said by them.) … I ended the day with 956 hits on my blog and another 250+ today. Crazy. So much for a blog wrap-up; I think I’ll keep writing it for a while.

Ironically, the post was supposed to be the conclusion to this blog, an end-of-semester reflection on what I had learned while blogging 2-3 times a week for Dan and CJ Cornell’s Digital Media Entrepreneurship class.

To what do I credit this unexpected level of response to my blog, which during the semester had only twice received more than 100 hits in a day? In fact, in covering the social media/personal branding beat, I noticed a few things about retweeted tweets:

  1. Enumerated lists catch people’s eyes. Like those on magazine cover blurbs, lists of tips, suggestions and other actionable tasks appeal to people’s desire for advice and measurable results.
  2. Tweets posted during the workday get noticed more than those posted at 2 a.m. (when I often finished writing my posts). Even though Twitter users have applications like TweetDeck and Seesmic for managing tweets, I’ve found the tweets that trickle in during the day get more individual attention than the dozens waiting for me when I check it in the morning.
  3. Well-crafted tweets, laden with relevant keywords and IDs of other Twitter users, will get retweeted by people other than your followers.

I decided to test my first theory on my final post, hoping for maximum traffic to my student blog. I set out to write a top-ten list and eventually ended up with a collection of tips: 12 Tips for Journalists: My Semester on the Personal Branding Beat. I then, as always, posted a tweet, making sure to use essential keywords such as “social media”,” journalists” and “personal branding” (note the time stamp):

I went to bed pleased with my list strategy and woke only to be disappointed by the lack of response. I had worked hard on this post, highlighting the skills I’d gained and the interviews I’d conducted. I’d even managed to reference one of my digital media heroes, Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl)– although I’d failed at embedding her podcast. But later in the day, she provided the necessary code, and I retweeted the revised posts to signal to her that I’d successfully added it. This gave me the opportunity to test out my second theory, and I re-sent my tweet 12 hours after I originally posted it:

Within minutes, a few of my professors at Cronkite retweeted the link and sent direct messages saying they liked the post. They had missed the early-morning tweet completely. (It was finals week for all of us.) Fortunately for me, my professors are highly regarded in journalism nationally and, apparently, internationally. Peruvian digital journalist Esther Vargas, founder of Clasesdeperiodismo.com, an online digital journalism school for Latin American, saw the tweet and translated the entire blog post into Spanish:

From there, things truly became viral. In addition to the 50 retweets of my original tweet, readers of her blog from all corners of Central and South America, as well as Europe, responded by sending retweets and posting links on Facebook. My sons and I giggled as my hits climbed past 100, passed 500 and topped out near 1,000 in a day.

OK, my viral adventure may not have made me an international blogging sensation, but it did show me how powerful Twitter can be when used effectively. (An added benefit: I now get to read Spanish-language “tuits” from my new periodismo friends from around the world.)

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Next up: Task #3: Shoot 100 amazing photos and post them on Flickr. (This one will be fun. I got a new digital SLR for Mother’s Day– apparently just in time!)

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

July 11, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Practicing What I Preached: Tackling the Journalism Student's Summer To-Do List

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A few months ago, I posted a link to an ambitious summer to-do list from the journalism and technology blog 10,000 Words. With nearly half of my summer gone and my sons away on vacation, I’ve decided to see how far down the list of 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer I could get without access to the resources at the Cronkite School– similar to what traditional journalists would have to do to update their multimedia skills on their own.

Task #1: Start a blog and post at least twice a week.

Check. (This challenge is off to a great start!) I’ve had to write two blogs while in graduate school, one about being a non-traditional (older) student and this one about social media and personal branding. So rather than start another, I’ll resume writing this blog with a post about how easy it is to start one.

As recently as a year ago, I’d never knowingly read a blog, much less written one. I ignorantly had bought into all the stereotypes about bloggers being people in their pajamas/basements/garages writing about their hobbies/interests/obsessions and assumed they had nothing to say that would interest me. In fact, blogging is an important journalistic skill and an effective way for emerging journalists to create an online footprint or for established reporters to update their skills, show initiative and showcase their talents.

It wasn’t until we grad students were assigned blogging as a weekly task that my eyes were forced open to the power of blogging as a professional tool. I had only a weekend to decide on a topic, select a theme (what the blog looks like) and find my voice. Fortunately, I found an excellent resource in The Huffington Post’s Complete Guide to Blogging. The quick, easy read explained to me in practical terms how to get started and keep a blog going. It really was all I needed. (That and a deadline, courtesy of my professor.)

So how do you get a blog up and going within a weekend?

1. Pick a topic. Consider your career goals: What beat interests you? Are you interested in local, state, regional, national or international issues? Do you have a particular passion or talent that complements your journalism training? Make sure the topic is narrow enough to develop an expertise yet broad enough to allow you variety of subjects to explore. Among my graduate cohort we had an incredibly diverse range of blog topics: the established business journalist blogged about Phoenix business news, the amateur epicurean wrote about her adventures in the kitchen, and the aspiring international correspondent covered front pages of newspapers from around the world.

2. Pick a blogging platform. There are many blogging platforms available, some of which are free. (All of the above highlighted blogs were created using the free platform WordPress.com.) A paid service may be appropriate for those who are interested in making a career of blogging, but for those who simply want to try their hand at a new medium, the free services are more than adequate.

WordPress.com and Google’s Blogger have easy-to-use sites that walk you through setting up a blog. You can use their templates or personalize your blog with custom headers featuring your own photos or graphics, as well as specific widgets for desired functions such as search or archives.

3. Find your voice. Blogging is a more intimate medium than traditional print. While you don’t have to become a diarist or reject the journalistic standards of objectivity, you do want to find a tone in your writing that engages your reader and invites conversation. That voice can be authoritative or humorous, skeptical or entertaining. Just make sure it’s authentically your voice.

4. Start writing. Use your first post as an introduction to your blog. Outline your vision for the blog and what the reader can expect from you. Make sure you identify yourself on your “About” page and include a photo that presents a professional image.

5. Keep writing. Update your blog at least twice a week. Refer back to that introductory post from time to time to see if your posts are in sync with the goals you first set out for your blog. If they aren’t, consider acknowledging the shift in a post or adjust the focus of your content to get it back on track. And then get back to writing.

It really is that simple.

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Next up: Task #2: If you already have a blog, write a post that gets retweeted 20 times. Been there, done that and then some! (Well, only once, but that still counts, right?)

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

July 7, 2010 at 2:23 am