Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Posts Tagged ‘Journalism

Twitter boot camp: #TheRules (or #TheTips) for journalists

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I recently got a Twitter notification announcing my third anniversary as @jghellum. I joined Twitter in the summer of 2009 as the first assignment of my journalism grad school “boot camp.” Our cohort hashtag was #bc9, and it’s been fun watching the subsequent classes’ hashtags emerge each fall – the latest being #bcxii – as Cronkite school associate professor Leslie-Jean Thornton (@ljthornton) guides the aspiring journalists through the art of the well-crafted tweet.

When I saw a recent tweet from Fast Company soliciting Twitter best practices under the hashtag #TheRules, I thought of those aspiring journalists navigating a medium that doesn’t actually have written rules and trying to figure out how to use it professionally.

 

Many Twitter users offered helpful advice. However, some took exception to the use of #TheRules, defending the organic nature of how Twitter etiquette has emerged. I contributed several strategies of my own, and in a nod to the objections, adopted a less rigid (and perhaps less intimidating for newbies) hashtag, #TheTips:

 

Because Fast Company’s crowdsourced rules weren’t specifically geared toward journalists, I thought I’d share the effective tweet-crafting practices I learned during my Twitter boot camp, conventions I’ve picked up along the way and #TheTips I’ve shared with colleagues in the newsroom as they joined Twitter.

Best practices for getting started:
  1. Use your byline or a form of it as your Twitter handle. Each tweet is an opportunity for connecting with your audience. If they can’t connect your handle with your byline when you share worthwhile information, you’ve missed the opportunity to build relationships and become part of a community.
  2. Select a headshot, whether a candid or a studio photo, as your avatar. When your tweet shows up in other’s Twitter feeds, you want them to feel like you’re having a conversation, like you’re looking them in the eye and they can trust you.
  3. List your location and link to your blog, portfolio or LinkedIn account. Twitter is about connecting; provide opportunities for others to connect with you locally and online.
  4. Maximize your bio profile content to communicate your brand. Avoid generalizations and obscure references and instead list the qualities of your brand (your current position, unique experience and/or professional aspirations) that set you apart from other journalists and compel others to follow you.
Strategies for the well-crafted tweet:
  1. Write concisely. Use your 140-character limit to tighten up your writing. Use fewer than 140 to allow for easy retweeting.
  2. Avoid serial tweets. If you need more than three tweets to make a point, write a blog post instead. Series of tweets are difficult to RT; blog posts aren’t.
  3. Know the keywords related to your beat. Use Google Trends to compare terms and find those most frequently used to increase your tweet’s exposure beyond your followers.
  4. Use hashtags. They flag your tweet when the subject of your tweet isn’t part of your message.
  5. Learn the shorthand. Use RT when you retweet a message in its entirety; use MT if you’ve modified its content to the point of altering its message. If you create your own message based on information you learned in someone else’s tweet, credit them at the end with a HT (hat tip.)
  6. Monitor your Twitter page as a snapshot of your brand. When you follow others, they in turn will make a split-second decision of whether to follow you, based largely on your bio and most-recent tweets.
#TheTips for effective engagement:
  1. Engage your audience. Ask questions and respond to @mentions. Share links relevant to your beat and join conversations that are already happening.
  2. Always attribute tweets to the original source. It’s bad form to hijack shortened links posted by others and present them as you own.
  3. Avoid the #humblebrag. Presenting self-congratulatory news in a self-deprecating way looks desperate. Most people will see through it and some may question your sincerity.
  4. Don’t protect your tweets. If you’re there to engage your audience (why else be here?), don’t protect your tweets and prohibit interaction with the public.
  5. Take private conversations offline. Twitter is about sharing information at least some of your followers will find valuable. If no one else gets it, send DMs instead.
  6. Play nice. When engaging in a discussion on Twitter, be a good listener and be professional. No one likes a bully, and any tweet can be captured in a screen grab.
Best of luck to #bcxii and all the veteran journalists who are just now jumping into the Twitterverse. If you have Twitter tips to offer journalists, add them in the comments.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

September 17, 2012 at 7:14 am

How my social media producer job helped refine my brand as a journalist

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As I mentioned in a recent post, my blogging about social media and personal branding played a major role in my getting hired as a social media producer at azcentral. My multimedia journalism graduate degree and familiarity with social media tools allowed for a smooth transition into Republic Media’s converged TV, print and online newsroom.

But after less than a year in the position, I had to quit my job a few weeks ago because the company my husband works for has decided to relocate us to the NY metro area. I’m now focusing on preparing for our move but will continue to write this blog, do freelance social media work and give guest lectures until we’re settled. I’m sad to leave Phoenix and my colleagues at azcentral. I have to admit, however, that I’m really excited about the career opportunities this move will offer in New York.

Although I worked at azcentral only briefly, it was enough time to recognize which parts of the job energized me and what I have to offer as part of a news organization. My main responsibilities involved posting stories on Facebook and Twitter, monitoring social media for trends and breaking news and engaging our audience. I definitely enjoyed that role, but after a while, I found my most satisfiying times in the newsroom were when I was using social media to help other journalists with their reporting. So I actively started approaching reporters and finding ways social media could assist them with their stories. Whether I was finding sources on Facebook who had been specifically affected by the massive Wallow Fire or using Storify to crowdsource reaction to a unusual local weather phenomenon, I loved how social media enhanced stories and did my part to show reporters how to take advantage of it. Those experiences eventually defined my contribution to our social media team and refined my brand.

Finding breaking news sources using social media

My day usually began by scanning my TweetDeck streams for local and national news that had broken overnight. (I loved being paid to know what was going on.) Our converged newsroom meant I was a few feet from the breaking news desk, print reporters, online team and television producers. If I saw a tweet from a Twitter user or another news organization that mentioned a developing story, I’d be on my feet to check if they knew about it. This responsibility suited my personality well; it’s my nature to be helpful and to share information with people. I monitored news tweets, hashtags and social media comments for relevant content and passed it on whenever it might be useful.

One highlight for me was when a Breaking News tweet I saw helped turn an international story into a local one for azcentral. I heard an early morning story on NPR about a Russian plane crash and later saw a @BreakingNews tweet announcing the plane was carrying an entire Russian hockey team.

I clicked the link to the NHL press release and found the coach was former Phoenix Coyotes player Brad McCrimmon, so I alerted the breaking news desk and told the home page editor about it. He searched our archives, found dozens of references to the coach and called the reporter who covers the Coyotes. Within 20 minutes, we had the enhanced wire story on our site. We posted our local story on Facebook and Twitter within the next hour.

This example elegantly highlights how social media’s role as part of a converged newsroom dynamic led to comprehensive news coverage of a local, and yet international, tragedy.

Crowdsourcing special projects 

Azcentral’s social media team encouraged reporters to tap into our social media followers (as well as their own) to crowdsource, and I let them know I was there to help. We used live chats to generate questions for interviews with experts, turned to Quora to find answers to niche questions, and when Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, I gathered local reaction using Storify. Most often, we helped reporters use Twitter and Facebook to find story ideas and sources.

Our crowdsourced 9/11 anniversary Arizona Republic front page was an unprecedented and unexpected social media achievement. Before the anniversary, azcentral and 12 News posted requests for six-word responses to the question “What does 9/11 mean to you?” on Facebook and Twitter and got over 600 responses. Their collective impact was so profound that the editors decided to wallpaper the front page of the Arizona Republic with the six-word statements against a silhouette of the Twin Towers and New York skyline. For the first time in the paper’s history, the front page was crowdsourced. The response was overwhelmingly positive within the local community and the newspaper industry.

I became a journalist because I wanted to tell people’s stories. Using social media tools to bring out otherwise unheard voices – even if they’re only making six-word statements – truly inspired me, and this part of my role as social media producer confirmed that I want crowdsourcing to be an even bigger part of my next job.

Training reporters and editors

I really enjoyed training colleagues to use social media for reporting. Despite the ubiquity of social media references in the news and within the newsroom, many very talented journalists had no interest in creating or actively using social media accounts. They’d been able to write compelling stories without them for years and saw no need to change their habits. Some had Twitter accounts but didn’t know how to maximize them, while others had been effectively using them to solicit ideas and sources and were eager to learn new tricks.

Each week I wrote a social media newsletter to share tips and give examples of five good tweets from the week. I also did one-on-one training of how to set up Twitter, Facebook’s subscribe feature, LinkedIn and TweetDeck. The feedback I got from reporters, whether it was a quick email saying the Five Good Tweets helped them become more comfortable with tweeting or a request for crowdsourcing advice, showed me the range of confidence and social media expertise throughout the staff. I genuinely enjoyed working with all skill levels and tailoring the training to their needs.

Providing help is a central part of who I am and my brand as a journalist, whether it’s to get information out, tell stories or teach. For now, I’ll be have to put that energy into helping my family move, but soon enough I’ll be using it to help myself get a job.

A j-school graduate’s defense of (figuratively) branding journalists

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When I decided to call my student blog Brand Me a Journalist, I chose the name because I thought it was somewhat clever and easy to remember. I hadn’t fully contemplated its inherent call to action – that is, until I read Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten’s response to a student who asked how he developed his brand:

The best way to build a brand is to take a three-foot length of malleable iron and get one end red-hot. Then, apply it vigorously to the buttocks of the instructor who gave you this question. You want a nice, meaty sizzle.

I had two reactions to his advice:

  1. I hope he never takes my blog name literally. (The guy clearly has the technique down, and I’m not into body modification.)
  2. I hope he’s not a mentor.

As a graduate student at the Cronkite School, I learned about personal branding in Tim McGuire’s 21st century media organizations class and later began this blog for Dan Gillmor’s digital media entrepreneurship class. These classes addressed the economic realities and creative possibilities in the new media landscape. Both professors, whom I consider mentors, encouraged me to write this blog and impressed upon us the need to strategically begin creating our digital footprints as students – a powerful career-launching tool that was not available to j-students when I got my undergraduate degree in 1989.

These respected newspapermen understood the increasingly important role of personal branding for journalists, so I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Medill professor Owen Youngman had assigned a graduate student, identified simply as “Leslie”, to reach out to Weingarten about the topic.

I was completely caught off guard to read the way Weingarten treated Leslie, not being familiar with his distinctive brand. I’d made similar cold-call requests of veteran journalists such as Worldcrunch’s Jeff Israely, and they gladly discussed their brands. But instead of enlightening her with how a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s” came to be a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning columnist (he even has a tagline, a considerable branding asset) at one of the country’s most prestigious news organizations, Weingarten used the occasion to decry the hijacking of journalism’s noble mission by marketing departments and user-generated content.

As Steve Buttry pointed out in his reply to Weingarten’s non-answer to Leslie’s question, Weingarten was not interested in admitting his considerable success is due in part to the strength of his well-cultivated personal brand. His disdain for the word “branding” prevents him from recognizing that it simply is about defining yourself as a journalist and establishing your reputation among your audience, which is no different than what journalists have historically done; it just used to be called “making a name for yourself.”

Indeed, Weingarten has established a formidable reputation name brand, which is supported by his publishers’ marketing efforts and his deliberate social media presence. At various points during his four-decade career, he strategically positioned himself:

  • by committing himself to covering a specific beat to the best of his ability
  • by developing valuable relationships with readers and sources
  • by associating with other journalists doing similar work
  • by pursuing related opportunities that complemented his position

All of these are elements of branding. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he’s very deliberately built his brand.

But rather than seeing Leslie’s overture to a veteran journalist as an opportunity to pass on his professional insights to the next generation of reporters, Weingarten dismisses us as unworthy, talentless self-promoters who aren’t willing to work hard “to get great stories.” Leslie tried to get a great story, one about an accomplished journalist who started out as a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s”; instead, she got a lecture.

So while Weingarten finds comfort in longing for the way things used to be, we aspiring journalists will continue to take advantage of digital media tools available to launch our careers:

  • by building innovative portfolio sites that show our command of writing and programming
  • by posting video resumes on YouTube to show our storytelling, camera work and editing skills (we multimedia journalists do it all)
  • by uploading photos to Flickr and Instagram
  • by finding sources via Facebook
  • by connecting with colleagues via Twitter, journalism chats such as wjchat, LinkedIn groups and conferences to learn about the jobs we aspire to have
  • by staying up until 3 a.m. to write blog posts that very likely won’t be seen but that reveal our passion for writing and commitment to our beats
  • by reaching out to those veteran journalism pros who get that branding is just a word, not a threat

All this before we’ve been hired. Through our initiative, focus and hard work, we’re assembling bodies of work, “making names for ourselves” and pursuing our goals as journalists.

So you can keep your red-hot iron, sir; we’re building our own brands.

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

Practicing What I Preached: Tackling the Journalism Student's Summer To-Do List

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A few months ago, I posted a link to an ambitious summer to-do list from the journalism and technology blog 10,000 Words. With nearly half of my summer gone and my sons away on vacation, I’ve decided to see how far down the list of 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer I could get without access to the resources at the Cronkite School– similar to what traditional journalists would have to do to update their multimedia skills on their own.

Task #1: Start a blog and post at least twice a week.

Check. (This challenge is off to a great start!) I’ve had to write two blogs while in graduate school, one about being a non-traditional (older) student and this one about social media and personal branding. So rather than start another, I’ll resume writing this blog with a post about how easy it is to start one.

As recently as a year ago, I’d never knowingly read a blog, much less written one. I ignorantly had bought into all the stereotypes about bloggers being people in their pajamas/basements/garages writing about their hobbies/interests/obsessions and assumed they had nothing to say that would interest me. In fact, blogging is an important journalistic skill and an effective way for emerging journalists to create an online footprint or for established reporters to update their skills, show initiative and showcase their talents.

It wasn’t until we grad students were assigned blogging as a weekly task that my eyes were forced open to the power of blogging as a professional tool. I had only a weekend to decide on a topic, select a theme (what the blog looks like) and find my voice. Fortunately, I found an excellent resource in The Huffington Post’s Complete Guide to Blogging. The quick, easy read explained to me in practical terms how to get started and keep a blog going. It really was all I needed. (That and a deadline, courtesy of my professor.)

So how do you get a blog up and going within a weekend?

1. Pick a topic. Consider your career goals: What beat interests you? Are you interested in local, state, regional, national or international issues? Do you have a particular passion or talent that complements your journalism training? Make sure the topic is narrow enough to develop an expertise yet broad enough to allow you variety of subjects to explore. Among my graduate cohort we had an incredibly diverse range of blog topics: the established business journalist blogged about Phoenix business news, the amateur epicurean wrote about her adventures in the kitchen, and the aspiring international correspondent covered front pages of newspapers from around the world.

2. Pick a blogging platform. There are many blogging platforms available, some of which are free. (All of the above highlighted blogs were created using the free platform WordPress.com.) A paid service may be appropriate for those who are interested in making a career of blogging, but for those who simply want to try their hand at a new medium, the free services are more than adequate.

WordPress.com and Google’s Blogger have easy-to-use sites that walk you through setting up a blog. You can use their templates or personalize your blog with custom headers featuring your own photos or graphics, as well as specific widgets for desired functions such as search or archives.

3. Find your voice. Blogging is a more intimate medium than traditional print. While you don’t have to become a diarist or reject the journalistic standards of objectivity, you do want to find a tone in your writing that engages your reader and invites conversation. That voice can be authoritative or humorous, skeptical or entertaining. Just make sure it’s authentically your voice.

4. Start writing. Use your first post as an introduction to your blog. Outline your vision for the blog and what the reader can expect from you. Make sure you identify yourself on your “About” page and include a photo that presents a professional image.

5. Keep writing. Update your blog at least twice a week. Refer back to that introductory post from time to time to see if your posts are in sync with the goals you first set out for your blog. If they aren’t, consider acknowledging the shift in a post or adjust the focus of your content to get it back on track. And then get back to writing.

It really is that simple.

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Next up: Task #2: If you already have a blog, write a post that gets retweeted 20 times. Been there, done that and then some! (Well, only once, but that still counts, right?)

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

July 7, 2010 at 2:23 am

The Entrepreneurial Journalist

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Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Carnegie Corporation’s two-day summit A Way Forward: Solving the Challenges of the News Frontier, held at the Paley Center of Media in New York. Deans, faculty members, students and journalists gathered to discuss how “journalism education should transform in order to best prepare students for careers in the 21st century.” A tall order, to be sure. One moderator joked about the seemingly presumptuous, or at best overly ambitious, task of “solving the challenges” in the course of a two-day gathering. But for the most part, the event’s speakers earnestly tried to address how this generation of journalists will need to adapt their skills and enrich their knowledge base to compete in the digital media age.

Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Comm faculty and grad students at the Carnegie Corp. and The Paley Center for Media’s Summit on the Future of Journalism Education

It’s a topic we grad students at Cronkite examined at length last fall in Professor Tim McGuire‘s course on 21st century new organizations and entreprenuership. (Unfortunately, the blizzard caused Tim’s flight to be cancelled and he couldn’t attend with the rest of us.) From early in the semester, Tim stressed that the days of a journalist spending his or her entire career with one organization were a thing of the past. More likely, he said, journalists will be identified by their names rather than their association with a particular news outlet. Our task will be to strategically cultivate a personal brand, with a distinctive voice and unique subject-matter expertise, which will allow us to create our own job opportunities. This career strategy, which incorporates blogging, tweeting and using social media to develop professional contacts, seemed like a reasonable approach to the majority of us in his class.

Yet during a panel discussion on entrepreneurial journalism moderated by Jeff Jarvis (who spoke to Tim’s class via Skype last fall,) Geneva Overholser, director of Journalism at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, acknowledged just how radical a shift this is:

“Five years ago I’d rather have cut my tongue out than tell a journalism student, ‘Be your own brand.'”

Nonetheless, there she was, urging us to accept the reality, evolve our craft and create our own career paths. Clearly these are revolutionary times in media.

As John Thornton, chairman of the Texas Tribune put it, “Things are fuzzy. People who aren’t comfortable with ambiguity aren’t going to make it in entrepreneurship.” (We’ve heard this from Dan Gillmor and CJ Cornell in our Digital Media Entrepreneurship course.)

Still, those who have gone before us into the new media frontier, such as POLITICO editor-in-chief  John Harris, offered reassurance to the students in the audience that respecting time-honored principles of journalism, such as reporting credibility and authority, can still guide us and lead us to rewarding experiences.  “I’ve always thought that you can be loyal to enduring values of journalism while still finding your voice. Focus on your distinctive value and learn how to market yourself, and you’ll have more fun, and probably get more pay.”

More fun and more money. Sounds good to me.

That may be counter to everything the current climate of layoffs and upheaval seems to suggest, but if these journalism educators and industry leaders can adapt and optimistically embrace what the new media realities offer, we entrepreneurial journalists surely can, too.