The most crucial and influential platforms in this arena are social media sites. As Brian Kress of the Richards Group states in his article "Rise of the Brand Journalist," sites like Facebook and Twitter were initially derided by serious journalists (and rightly so) as petty media, "defined by their minutiae." But, thanks to their phenomenal popularity, they are rapidly becoming crucial to the careers of budding and established journalists alike. As Kress goes on to say, we now:
"see the platforms through the eyes of their founders, for their intended purpose: to have a global conversation, an open dialogue between we plebeians and the powers that be, to put their feet to the fire and require transparent, honest feedback. We began to use them as such: aggregators of the important things in our lives, the things we need to know or respond to."
During a live chat on Poynter last week, Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: New Ryles for Career Success and Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future, highlights the importance of social media sites as a means of self-promotion for journalists. He reminds us that "What you do outside of work" can have either a positive or a negative effect on your reputation in the workplace, and connects personal activity with "the brand you build."
He goes on to say that "privacy is fading away and soon we won’t care about it so much," highlighting one of the major snags in the rise of social media and its affect on the news world. The line between public and private is become increasingly less distinct, and the way that journalists handle this murky territory can have both positive and negative effects on their work, their company and their personal reputation as a reporter. And this is where journalists seeing and treating themselves as a brand can be useful, and is often imperative.
In a recent post on NiemanLab, media analyst Ken Doctor considers the "value of media personality these days," and how it is changing, particularly in the wake of "various media divorces," such as David Pogue’s recent move from The New York Times to Yahoo, The Wall Street Journal’s split from Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, and Nate Silver leaving NYT. Doctor asks us to consider "the business case of star power," arguing that it has "morphed" during the past three years "because of the changing economics of the business."
The relationship between the personality and the brand is mutually influential. Media can "count the direct revenue driven" by a journalist’s online activity, and the "elusive – but very real – brand building" as "personalities do help build brands."
However, Doctor points out that "The bigger the brand […], the more value the brand may confer on the personality, as compared to the reverse." Journalists need to be personalities, they need to be brands and to promote themselves, but they must be careful not to let ego overtake their actions and must remember that – particularly with big-name publications such as the NYT – the company name is bigger than theirs and often can make or break them. As Doctor says, "know your place, in all senses of that phrase."
Schawbel, when advising journalists on how to navigate social media, advises writers to "be smart about what [they] post. If you’re a journalist, you should focus on one topic and become the most knowledgeable on that topic. By doing that, you will gain followers." What is important is adaptability; having a strong media presence and of course a personality to go with that, but at the same time being aware of what to promote or not.
He highlights the difference between "hard" and "soft" skills, maintaining that having, for example, a fantastic resumé will often get you an interview but an employer needs to see that you can "fit into the corporate culture" to be able to get the job. Companies want to know that you will adapt to their team and way of working, and so help their reputation – not harm it.
As Joe Grimm, who led the Poynter discussion, says: "Strong journalistic brands do for people just what they do for companies, leading to greater reach and opportunity."
Schawbel reinforces the importance of understanding "social networking, blogging, video and advertising." There is no way around the importance of a social media presence, and therefore journalists must learn how to manage their own, and think of themselves as a brand to be managed and promoted online, which in turn will gain them attention for their writing and followers.