Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Twitter bios and LinkedIn summaries as journalists’ personal brand statements

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Could you state your value as a journalist in 30 seconds? What about in three paragraphs, or in 160 characters?

How readily could you give an elevator pitch about yourself?

Most journalists have heard the term “elevator pitch” used to describe a quick, concise statement that presents a story idea. They understand the importance of spending time crafting a compelling yet brief speech about a story’s unique angle and how it differs from other treatments of the same topic. In fact, pitching is part of journalism; every day in newsrooms across the country, reporters present persuasive, strategic arguments to build credibility with sources, gain access to information and get buy-in from their editors. Yet I imagine many of these same journalists would be very uncomfortable with the task of creating a personal pitch, or brand statement, to define what makes them unique, credible and valuable as journalists – and even more reluctant to publish it as such.

The truth is anyone who has filled in the bio section on a Twitter account or a summary statement on LinkedIn has written a pitch to the public. These brief blocks of information play a significant role in the decision to “Follow” or “Accept”, and a poorly written one for many is a dealbreaker. I’m always surprised to see when journalists forgo these opportunities to establish credibility and trust and instead leave them blank.

Despite all the anti-marketing, anti-PR angst from journalists concerned about personal branding efforts compromising their integrity, the reality is that just like anyone who has ever applied for a job, journalists need to be able to readily and clearly state why others should care about what we have to say. “I like telling stories” and “I find people interesting” aren’t unique statements; they describe 99% of journalists. The purpose of having a well-defined brand statement is to express the unique qualities that distinguish you from other journalists. So you get the sources. And the information. And the story.

In my case, saying I have a master’s degree in multimedia journalism and specialize in social media doesn’t make me particularly unusual among journalists. But including that I got that degree while in my 40s, after studying PR as an undergrad, having a career in advertising and living in several of the top 10 U.S. cities, and while blogging about personal branding for journalists, hopefully reveals a depth to my life experience as well as credibility to my focusing on social media. It’s true that I, like most journalists, am curious and enjoy storytelling, but my online profile statements go further by describing how my curiosity aids my journalism (by seeking ways to help reporters find stories) and why I’m qualified and credible enough to use social media to tell a particular story (through my blog, PR background and job experience.)

I spoke to a group of business journalism students who were given the task of creating personal brand statements. Many described themselves with words such as “hardworking”, “ambitious”, “curious” and “creative.” Although these are admirable qualities, the frequency of their use among the classmates made it clear they weren’t unique or exclusive. The key to a compelling journalist’s brand statement is to present relevant qualities and specific experience that as a package would persuade others to trust you to tell their stories.

The blog Brazen Careerist recently featured LinkedIn’s annual list of top 10 overused buzzwords used in the U.S. in LinkedIn profiles and resumes:

1.    Creative
2.    Organizational
3.    Effective
4.    Extensive experience
5.    Track record
6.    Motivated
7.    Innovative
8.    Problem solving
9.    Communication skills
10.   Dynamic

These positive yet impotent adjectives and nouns don’t do anything to express what you have to offer.

LinkedIn senior manager for corporate communications and consumer PR Krista Canfield suggests using such general qualities to inspire detailed descriptions in summary statements and throughout LinkedIn profiles.

“Don’t just say you’re creative. Make sure you reference specific projects you worked on that demonstrate your creativity,” says Canfield. “Rather than saying’extensive experience’, make sure you list all your actual work experience on your profile. ‘Extensive experience’ is all in the eye of the beholder; it’s better to be specific.”

Read through your online profile bios and summary statements and ask yourself if the words you’ve used adequately and authentically tell your story. Then ask yourself if reading the same introduction on someone else’s bio would be enough to make you consider letting that person tell your story for you. If not, take a few minutes to revise your journalist personal pitch:

  1. Tell who you are, what you do and what makes you uniquely qualified to do it credibly.
  2. Work it into your Twitter bio, your LinkedIn summary and your blog’s “About” page.
  3. Get familiar enough with it that you could fire it off in a tweet if someone asked, “What do you do?”

If you feel you or someone you know has a strong Twitter bio, LinkedIn summary or personal brand statement, share it in the comments below.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

December 22, 2011 at 3:00 am

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