Participating in journalism chats to establish your personal brand
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 Tumblr, Posterous, 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.