Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

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

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