Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Posts Tagged ‘Cronkite School of Journalism

Why Brian Williams’ problem isn’t his having a personal brand

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In the wake of Brian Williams’ self-imposed hiatus from the NBC Nightly News anchor desk (which his bosses later extended to a six-month suspension without pay), L.A. Times television critic Mary McNamara wrote a column blaming personal branding for Williams’ departure:

On Saturday, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams announced that he would be temporarily vacating his chair because his personal brand recently came in direct and injurious contact with his professional obligations.

You can imagine my exasperated reaction to her implying that personal branding rather than a lack of journalistic integrity was the source of his demise. LSU journalism professor Steve Buttry’s blog post today tells me I’m not the only one who disagrees with her assessment. Her unwillingness to separate having a personal branding from pursuing celebrity not only distracts the conversation from the larger, more fundamental issue of Williams’ failure to adhere to the first principle of ethical journalism  – to seek truth and report it – but also unfairly indicts in toto the act of a journalist communicating his or her professional value. The real issue is not branding but rather those who seek celebrity at the expense of their journalistic ethics and the news organizations that enable it.

I’ve been blogging about personal branding for journalists for five years and have always stressed here, as well as in guest lectures at ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism, that having a brand and having integrity are not mutually exclusive. McNamara claims that Williams couldn’t reconcile the incompatibility of “personal branding” and his “professional obligations.” That’s actually not the case. His personal brand as she defined it, one “anchored in trustworthiness” as an “intrepid journalist, great storyteller and excellent late-night guest,” wasn’t in conflict with his professional obligation to tell the truth. One can be an ethical, truthful, intrepid, trustworthy journalist who also tells great stories on late-night talk shows. Ask Tom Brokaw.

Williams’ problem wasn’t his having a personal brand; it was his having an inauthentic one. The injury McNamara describes as having resulted from Williams’ choice “to bolster the Brian Williams brand” in fact came from his continued decision to betray what was the Brian Williams brand – as well as his professional obligation to be truthful.

So why did he betray his established brand? The emerging narrative suggests it was inevitable because the crafted brand was out of sync with his authentic brand. That’s the part McNamara missed.

As New York Times Media Equation columnist David Carr and network news blogger Andrew Tyndall alluded to on NPR’s Brian Lehrer Show, Williams’ credibility crisis seems to have begun years ago when he and NBC cultivated a brand for Williams as a “war correspondent” and “sober network-news anchor” rather than recognizing his true talent as a charismatic, very skilled live performer. (The entire 31-minute discussion is definitely worth a listen, but the part that specifically addresses personal branding starts around 18:20.)

According to David Carr, Williams himself said, “I’m a creature of live television. That’s where I feel most comfortable. That’s what I’m good at.” He’s even rumored to have thrown his hat in the ring to replace Jay Leno. Williams seems to be telling us his true talent and passion lies with being in front of a live audience rather than with journalism specifically. When Williams wanted Leno’s gig, they should have taken him seriously.

I feel so strongly about the bad rap personal branding is getting because the insecurity of the current journalism job market requires us to articulate and demonstrate our value every day. Defining (not crafting) one’s personal brand is in that sense a survival skill. Blaming branding rather than dishonesty and embellishment in journalism reflects poorly on the whole concept of personal brands when, in fact, it’s just smart career management.

This isn’t about “personality journalism.” Every journalist – every human being – has a personality. But every journalist is not, nor aspires to be, a celebrity. McNamara suggested that having a personality and revealing it in a journalistic personal brand by definition involves falsehoods, exaggeration and self-aggrandizement. In fact, when done effectively, it’s the complete opposite. Personal branding is about authentically communicating your unique value as a journalist among your professional-category peers and backing up that brand with quality work to build credibility and trust among your audience and colleagues. That is the opposite of what Williams has done.

Frankly, I thought this argument had largely been settled. I find it tiresome that once again we have in McNamara a journalist who, similar to Gene Weingarten, has cultivated a strong personal brand with the blessings of her publication but nonetheless feels the need to decry branding’s corrupting effects. (Following his widely challenged rant against personal branding, Gene Weingarten went as far as to single out my post defending branding for journalists, calling it “very troubling.” He did so on his monthly chat, a lovely vehicle for him to support his personal brand.)

It’s time to acknowledge we all need strong brands to survive in this business, and then get back to focusing on the stories.

My advice to j-school students: How building an online brand helped me get my online job

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When I talk to journalism students about using social media to build their brands, their questions often are practical ones: What if someone already has my name as a Twitter handle? Do I really have to edit my Facebook page? How often should I blog? But the best question a student asked me challenged the very idea that journalists should bother with personal branding in the first place:

“It takes so much time to do everything you’re talking about, like blogging and tweeting and keeping all those profiles updated, on top of writing stories. How do you know it’s actually paying off for you?”

Before I could reply, his professor provided the best answer: “Because she’s standing up here in front of you.” (If you know Cronkite School professor Tim McGuire, you can appreciate his delivery of that line.)

The fact is the student was right. It takes extra effort to maintain an online presence as a journalist. And I admitted I couldn’t tell him which tweet would be the one that got him retweeted 25 times, which blog post would be shared around the world or which skill listed on his LinkedIn profile would make him rise to the top of a search.

Nonetheless, I assured him all that extra effort was worth it because each tweet, each blog post and each online profile defined his brand and provided a virtual trail for potential employers to find him. I told him I knew this personally because I’d sent tweets that got dozens of retweets, I’d written a blog post that was shared from Peru to Spain after someone translated it into Spanish and I’d been contacted for jobs via LinkedIn – all while I was still a grad student.

Then I reassured him there was no reason he and his classmates couldn’t do the same.

Today’s j-school students have everything they need to start mapping out their careers. They can write niche blogs, create simple portfolios, connect with others doing the work they aspire to do and develop professional networks across the country before they’ve even begun their job searches. It hasn’t always been that way; when I went to journalism school in the 1980s, students sent out resumes, applied for jobs and waited for a phone call. But as a grad student over two decades later, I recognized that from my first assignment, I was building the online brand that would eventually get me my job as a social media producer.

Here’s how I did it:

Creating a name for myself – literally: I had no online identity when I began grad school after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom. Google searches of my name brought up a scholar who researched Egypt and one passing reference to me as my husband’s wife. I clearly had some work to do. When I got my first online assignment to create a blog, I deliberately used my full name, Jennifer Gaie Hellum, and did the same on social media accounts and as a reporter at Cronkite News Service. By the end of grad school, a search for Jennifer Hellum – even without my middle name – brought me to the top of the page on Google.

Helping people find my work: I always took the time to add tags to blog posts for SEO, add links to other blogs and thank others who linked to mine. Publishing a post meant sending a tweet with the link and any relevant hashtags, keywords or the Twitter handle of anyone I’d interviewed. I also took my professors’ advice and created a LinkedIn account, joined journalism associations and bought my vanity URL to use for my online portfolio.

Choosing blog topics and reporting assignments that fit my brand:  This blog started as an assignment for a digital media entrepreneurship class. As someone with little online media experience at the time, I found a digital topic, personal branding via social media, that genuinely fit with my earlier advertising and public relations career. At the suggestion of my professors, I kept the blog going during the summer and beyond my final semester because it had become clear I was the only person regularly writing about the topic. During my capstone semester as a producer and reporter at Cronkite News Service, I found ways to use social media as a reporting tool and even wrote about city governments using social media. In the end, my blog and social media knowledge became the strongest part of my resume.

Doing the job I aspired to have: As soon as I learned about social media as an area of journalism, I began using it to learn about social media jobs. I set up Google alerts and TweetDeck columns for “social media editor” and read everything I could about the position. I followed social media editors on Twitter, looked at their job histories and skill sets on LinkedIn and read their blogs and decided my interests and personality fit well with the work. I also participated in Twitter chats with online journalists, and if they mentioned a digital tool I was unfamiliar with, I looked it up so I could join in the conversation. (The chat organizer later invited me to be a guest panelist about personal branding and social media along with experienced journalists.) And during my last sememster, I went to the Online News Association conference in D.C and used what I learned to improve CNS’s Facebook profile and help other reporters find sources on Twitter.  All that extra effort paid off when I was recommended for a social media producer position at azcentral.com and was able to share what I knew and how I’d used it.

Of course, I’m not the only one to figure out that I didn’t have to wait to start building a brand. Many multimedia journalism students post their reels on YouTube, share photos on Flickr and create online portfolios that showcase their programming skills, and it’s paying off. They’re getting hits, they’re getting noticed and best of all, they’re getting hired.

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.

Dan Schawbel’s personal branding advice to journalism students

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Each week, the Cronkite School hosts well-known journalists and accomplished authors as part of their Must See Monday lecture series for students. I was thrilled to see that among this fall’s lineup was personal branding expert Dan Schawbel.

I had the opportunity to interview Dan via email for a blog post last spring and looked forward to meeting him in person. He proved to be a tireless ambassador of personal branding, spending the day lecturing to classes, meeting with faculty and engaging anyone interested in harnessing their unique brand.

Dan’s presentation centered mostly on his new book, “Me 2.0: Four Steps to Building Your Future.” Much of his advice addressed strategies for defining career goals and communicating them effectively to find professional success. For aspiring journalists, the strategies are particularly relevant as our field gets more fragmented and less defined. The faceless employee of the legacy news organization has given way to the journalist as his own brand. He started by describing the deconstructed job market we’re in that has put us in charge of our professional fates:

The internet has forced us to become marketers, the economy has forced us to become experts and the recruitment system has forced us to become networkers.

That means we are ultimately responsible for managing how desirable, competent and relevant we appear online. So how do we do that?

The Four-Step Personal Branding Process

 

Dan’s strategic plan for creating a strong personal brand requires us to proactively evaluate what we want and go after it aggressively.

 

Discover: What’s your niche? To say you want to be the next Katie Couric or Brian Williams isn’t a strategic as deciding you’re going to be the best-informed multimedia journalist focusing on Arizona business news. (Or, let’s say, personal branding for aspiring journalists.) One of the most effective exercises in journalism schools today is requiring students to choose blog topics and cover them for a semester. Our passions and talents instinctively surface and help us direct our effort toward areas that engage us, and, as a result, engage our audiences. Choose the area where you can use your life experiences and personality to enhance your expertise, making you an indispensable voice on that topic.

Create: Your portfolio, blog, email signature, business card and resume all are in your toolkit. These are the virtual representations of the professional you want to be. Along with your social media profiles on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, they’re the assets that your colleagues, network and potential employers see. These elements should be professional, customized and visually compatible. Above all, they should authentically represent who you are in person.

Communicate: Use online tools to get your name and your work out there on a consistent basis. Be strategic with who you connect with. This is not using people; it’s associating with people who inspire you and who can make you more effective at the work you do. By contributing to the conversations taking place on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and news comment sections, you’re creating a digital footprint in the environment where you want to grow your expertise. Networking events like conferences, meet-ups and online chats offer opportunities to develop relationships that can lead to personal references and online endorsements.

Maintain: Consistently cultivate your search presence. Monitor your Google hits for both positive and negative press. When you’re praised, promote it with sincerity. And if you find you’ve received negative comments or been referenced in an undesirable way by friends or colleagues, address it directly and do what you can to suppress it in search or eliminate it.

Afterthought

I wondered how many of the underclassmen in the audience understood the implications of personal branding in light of the openness they embrace with their online identities. Dan emphasized that 80% of employers use social networks for background checks. Managing your online reputation is an ongoing responsibility. The reality is your “digital dirt” stays with you, and it’s up to you minimize its effect on your career.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

October 14, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Personal Branding Expert Dan Schawbel on Why Journalists Should Care about Their Personal Brands

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I’ve been blogging about how journalists can build their personal brands with social media for the past semester. Although I’ve profiled several journalists and their personal brands, I realized that I haven’t sought the advice of a personal branding expert. An earlier post featured the definitive article written about personal branding by Tom Peters; in fact, the next generation’s personal branding guru Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0, cites that article for inspiring his career.

I emailed Dan recently to discuss how he found his niche and built his personal brand. Make sure you click the link below; his story is an inspiration and a blueprint for how you can change your life by pursuing your dream–with passion, with hard work, and with a strategy.

My thanks to Dan for giving this rookie blogger and journalist his time and insights; I plan to take his advice very soon. (Stay tuned…)

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Jennifer Gaie Hellum: Your degree is in marketing and IT and you spent much of your early career doing marketing and PR. How did you get interested in personal branding?

Dan Schawbel: Here is the complete story:

http://www.personalbrandingblog.com/my-story-from-nobody-to-brand-name-entrepreneur-in-under-3-years.

 

Jennifer: What made you decide to start blogging? Did you do it specifically to create your own personal brand or out of an interest in personal branding?

 

Dan: I started a blog in 2006 to help students get internships and help them learn from my triumphs during college, where I had eight internships, seven leadership positions and my own company. I then read Tom Peter’s The Brand Called You article in Fast Company, and it was my calling. I started my blog that night and haven’t looked back. My personal brand is personal branding, correct.  It wasn’t as intentional as it seems. It was a natural progression from middle school.

Jennifer: You’re a blogger, a writer and a publisher. Do you consider yourself a journalist?

Dan: Yes, and no. I don’t abide by the traditional journalism rules for the most part. I have two blogs, a magazine, and two columns in mainstream media (BusinessWeek and Metro). All of these platforms are flexible and I can basically write anything about personal branding I so choose. A journalist that is hired by a company has to cover a certain beat, from a certain location, and has to run everything by his or her editor for approval. If you get paid to write articles, there are more corporate obstacles you have to run through to get published.

Jennifer: Why should journalists care about personal branding?

Dan: The media landscape is changing and a lot of journalists are losing their jobs and being left with nothing. By developing a personal brand, you’re protecting yourself from a layoff. Journalists should create their own blog, with a list of articles they have had published and links to them. They should also write original content on their blog, so they can become part of the online community, be a valuable contributor, and grow an audience to help boost their careers.

Journalists, unlike most people, are already visible so they have the clear advantage. For instance, a journalist that works for Men’s Health or Vogue will already have a leg up on others that don’t have that credibility. The key is knowing how to leverage other platforms (in this case, the magazines) to your own benefit.

You need to have a website and use other media to promote it, because at the end of the day, your website or blog is your only asset. You can get laid off tomorrow and have nothing if you don’t protect yourself. Also, journalists are being expected to not just write content, but to promote it. More and more journalists are being paid based on pageviews, so if you don’t have platform, you won’t make much money.

Jennifer: What social media tools, beyond Twitter and blogging, should journalists be using to promote their brands?

Dan: There is actually a really popular social network for journalists called Wired Journalists (http://www.wiredjournalists.com). It’s based on the Ning.com architecture. Other than that, I think journalists should get serious about video because it’s slowly becoming part of the job description, so I would resort to using YouTube and other video sharing sites for practice at a minimum. Blogging is by far the most important thing you can do as a journalist, and almost every mainstream media site has blogs now, so you should take advantage of those opportunities. Then there’s LinkedIn and Facebook, but they are a bit less relevant to journalists in my opinion.

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Dan Schawbel, recognized as a “personal branding guru” by The New York Times, is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, LLC, and the leading authority on personal branding. He is the author of the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0. Dan is the founder of the Personal Branding Blog®, the publisher of Personal Branding Magazine®and the Student Branding Blog, head judge for the Personal Brand Awards®, director ofPersonal Branding TV®, and holds live Personal Branding Events.

Every Day (and Every Page View) is an Interview

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On any given day, being a grad student at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication can feel like being in a journalism version of Raphael’s School of Athens. We pass Pulitzer Prize and Murrow Award-winning professors in the hallways and sit in their classrooms. (More than once I’ve heard someone say, “I can’t believe I just talked to …”) Pioneering new media heavyweights teach us about digital entrepreneurship and invite sought-after venture capitalists to share their insights and encourage our creativity. Not only do we have top-tier faculty to tap into, but there’s also the steady stream of major news outlets whose representatives visit Cronkite to recruit interns and hire recent grads. The collective experience and influence at Cronkite open doors for us that simply aren’t accessible at many other journalism schools.

File:Sanzio 01.jpg

Source: vatican.va

That’s why I try to approach every day in the building as an interview. No, I don’t wear a suit or bring a resume to class. But in general, I try to be aware that we could be invited at the last minute to join the faculty for lunch with a distinguished visitor. Or that the person chatting with me in the elevator could be the speaker at that evening’s event. I try to go to class prepared and participate in discussions, follow my professors and classmates on Twitter and add what I hope are thoughtful comments on their blogs. ( I’ll admit I have yet to master the typo-free tweet. I need more sleep to be able to tame that tiger…)

Professor Tim McGuire recently wondered out loud why some students aren’t more strategic in the way they approach their time at Cronkite, as if they aren’t aware that they’re making impressions and defining themselves every day in class and through social media. In fact, many professors end up becoming friends with former students on Facebook and connecting with them on LinkedIn, giving the once semester-long relationship potential for a much longer life. This added dimension to the student/professor dynamic makes it that much more important for us to build our professional networks within the school.

It may be that because I am an older student and worked in advertising before going back to school, I tend to think of school as my workplace. But I don’t think this career awareness is about age; some of the most impressive, strategic-thinking classmates of mine are –gulp– nearly half mine. They take advantage of opportunities, write well-crafted tweets and choose niche blog topics that as a whole clearly indicate the type of specialized journalist they want to be. In this era of the journalist as brand, they’re playing really good offense.

And most impressively, they’re taking risks to reach out to these seemingly larger-than-life faculty members and seeking their advice and encouragement. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re already connecting with them on LinkedIn.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

February 21, 2010 at 11:25 pm