Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Archive for February 2011

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.

Participating in journalism chats to establish your personal brand

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One of the primary benefits of Twitter for me has been the opportunity to connect with other journalists. As a grad student, I took my professors’ advice and began following journalists and academics recommended through #FollowFriday references and lists of journalism “must-follow” Twitter users.

It was through their tweets that I first noticed the #wjchat hashtag and began participating in online chats. Not only has it served as a way to meet and learn from journalists across the country, it has provided an opportunity to introduce myself and build my personal brand within the industry.

Before Twitter, online users could find like-minded people within niche communities and connect with them in chat rooms, but the content remained within the “walls” of the room, and the participants’ identities often were anonymous or faceless names. Twitter chats now allow users to view chats as they happen and invite them to jump into conversations, create professional connections and share knowledge they gain with their own followers through retweets. All the while, profile pictures and Twitter IDs serve as digital business cards every time they join in, creating friendships in Twitter life (ITL) and lending faces and names to potential future meetings in real life (IRL).

Hundreds of chats now take place on Twitter. The organic emergence of journalism chats during the past few years, including #journchat#wjchat, #pubmedia and now #spjchat, has allowed j-school students, academics and working journalists across the U.S. and Canada to gather weekly and spend an hour or two discussing topics ranging from traditional newsroom concerns to cutting-edge digital tools. By participating in chats specific to your niche (e.g., #wjchat for me) as well as the more general #spjchat, you can connect with those doing similar work and also stay up to date with broader topics.

I began participating in online chats last summer as a way to stay connected to the journalism community between semesters. I’d seen the hashtag #wjchat in tweets throughout the year and out of curiosity added a column to my TweetDeck to see what it was. (Others use chat sites such as TweetChat to follow chats.) Each Wednesday, I’d see a stream of tweets from #wjchat regulars, announcing/promoting/anticipating their weekly gathering:

After a couple of weeks of lurking, I jumped in myself and quickly recognized how the conversations taking place on #wjchat provided me access as a student to the real-world conversations taking place in newsrooms. Through chat references to digital tools, I learned about new storytelling tools such as TumblrPosterous, Storify, and Intersect.

Along the way, I’ve become a regular on #wjchat, actively contributing when I felt I had knowledge or insights to offer and sitting back as an observer and learner when I didn’t. When SPJ started their weekly #spjchat in late 2010, I participated in their chats as well. At one point during those early chats, I mentioned this blog and a few weeks later was invited to be a featured panelist for a chat on personal branding. By using an authentic voice and presenting myself professionally, I apparently managed to establish myself as a credible source on the subject.

Jumping in for your first chat

I recently suggested my sister join in on #wjchat and was suprised to hear she found it quite intimidating to insert herself into the non-linear conversation with strangers in a professional context:

“It felt like I was butting into a circle at a conference cocktail hour without an introduction and announcing, “Here’s what I think: …”

I reassured her the people in these chats are by and large welcoming and participate to make connections and share knowledge, rather than to exclude or intimidate. She agreed to dive into the next chat, and I acted as a Cyrano de Bergerac of sorts, explaining how it worked via direct messages.

Here are some of the tips I shared to help her understand the conventions used during the chats. The examples are from a December 2010 #wjchat featuring Jim Brady, formerly of TBD.com and washingtonpost.com.

  • Remember to tag your tweets with the chat hashtag. Without the hashtag, your tweets stay in your Twitter stream but won’t reach participants who don’t follow you.

  • Start by introducing yourself. Don’t worry if the chat session already has started; people will be popping in and out throughout it. When you’re ready to join in, give your real name (rather than your Twitter ID) and mention what you do in journalism. You have 140 characters to share who you are, your place within the field and how it might relate to the day’s topic.

  • Let your followers know you’re about to participate in a chat. Outside of the context of a chat stream, your frequent tweets at best may not appear to be relevant to your followers and at worst may be highly annoying.

  • If you’re responding to a question, reference it in your tweet. Start the tweet with the question number, e.g., Q1, and end it with the hashtag.

  • Retweet what you find interesting. This is not just a way to say, “Yeah, what she said!” By retweeting, you’re forwarding noteworthy tweets to your followers who aren’t necessarily participating in the chat.

  • Enjoy the collegiality but stay on topic. Chat regulars often develop an online rapport and engage in friendly exchanges that add a personal note to the conversation. Brief exchanges that entertain the entire group add a sense of camaraderie, but inside jokes and prolonged direct conversations should take place free of the chat hashtag. (Take those conversations offline or send direct messages.)

  • Play nice. Presenting opposing views and differing opinions can enhance the chat conversation, provide insights to participants and contribute positively to your online identity. But snarky comments, hostile replies and confrontational behavior undermine the process and distract from the flow of the conversation. The chat culture is distinct from the online comment culture; consider your tone (avoid CAPS and excessive exclamation points) and keep it respectful.

  • Remember your manners. Don’t forget to thank your host and panelists when you leave the chat. (It’s also appropriate to give a nod to those with whom you had a running exchange.) Many chat participants —  as well as others who missed it — review transcripts when they’re posted and often find new people to follow.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

February 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm