Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Posts Tagged ‘Shelby Sebens

How journalists’ personal brands enhance community engagement

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I just returned from the Online News Association’s annual conference in Washington, DC, where I had the opportunity to hear industry leaders discuss technology and trends that are shaping the future of online news. The subject of personal branding unexpectedly came up during a session about news organizations’ engagement policies when NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard posed the following question:

In lean newsrooms, how do you get reporters to get involved in comment moderation?

Jeff Hidek, community engagement editor for the Wilmington StarNews’ StarNewsonline.com, responded that the paper’s reporters became invested in moderating their comments after focus group findings revealed how significantly readers paid attention to reporters’ bylines and social media accounts.

I talked to Jeff after the session to find out more about how the reporters’ personal brands influenced their readers’ loyalty. He said although the focus groups’ purpose had been to address general topics about the paper and its website rather than its reporters, the most insightful finding came when they asked the readers what would make them read a story that they wouldn’t normally read.

“The most consistent comment was ‘because I follow Shelby (Sebens) on Twitter‘ or ‘I’m going to read any story by Si (Cantwell) because he comes out to our community and cares about what we say,’” Jeff said.

Consequently, the focus group results gave the reporters a heightened awareness of and greater appreciation for their readers’ loyalty, which made them more interested in participating in the comments. It also gave them more leverage in pitching stories to their editors.

“What a great way to connect to say thanks for reading,” Jeff said. “And at the same time, by reading things like ‘I always read anything Shelby writes’ (reporters) found they now could go to their editors and say, ‘Let me write this; I know they’ll read it.'”

He added that by harnessing social media to develop their brands, the reporters not only strengthened their readerships but also grew their pool of sources. For example, Shelby started a blog for her beat and became even more closely identified with her Brunswick County reporter brand. When she later handed off the beat to another reporter, he inherited a loyal base while she retained her readers as she became the city government reporter. Jeff also helped the paper’s film reporter Amy Hotz create a Ning social network page called Wilm on Film to access people who worked in Wilmingtons’s film industry.

“Now any time Amy has a question, instead of paging through the regional film commission’s directory for sources, she posts it on Facebook, Twitter and wilmonfilm.com and has four sources in no time.”

Since taking on the position of community engagement editor (in addition to being the paper’s TV critic), Jeff has been in charge of streamlining the paper’s social media policies and accounts and developing curation guidelines for the reporters’ individual accounts. These guidelines include that reporters commit to regularly moderating comments and posting on their social media accounts.

He also acts as a newsroom liaison to the paper’s marketing department as reporters’ personal brands take a greater role in the paper’s overall marketing strategy. He said there’s been no pushback from management against emphasis on reporters’ brands because they know that what’s good for the reporter is good for them. In fact, management has committed to doing a branding campaign focused on its reporters similar to those done by television news programs.

“They recognize that everyone at the paper is a representation of the paper,” Jeff said. “It’s great that we have a brand as a paper and as site, but it’s more than that; we want people to see us as part of the community – because we are part of the community.”