TNTJ December: Brand yourself and join the conversation

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that this post is also part of my series, Tips from a J-Student. Red the first post, Picking up skills and contacts at a professional workshop.

(This post originally appeared on the Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists blog ring in response to December’s topic, How have you built your online brand?)

How have I built my online brand? Like many who responded to this month’s topic, some of my online branding has been unintentional.

But I’ll freely admit that there are several steps I’ve taken with my online brand in mind. What follows includes a mix a both:

Web presence

  • If you want to go way back, the first time I put my name on the Web came in middle school when I made a Hometown at AOL site (Hometown was shut down awhile back).
  • I later created a more formal personal site, first on FreeWebs in fall 2004. Next, I built an HTML site created in (cringe) Word and designed with (double cringe) frames for a non-journalism class project in fall 2006. No surprise, I took that one down. Then came a clean and simple HTML/CSS site I hand-coded for an online journalism class project in spring 2008.
  • I bought my domain,, in early fall 2008.
  • I set up a blog, first on Blogger in November 2007 and then moved it to a self-hosted WordPress site on WebFaction in August 2008. The blogging engine doesn’t inherently help your brand, but using WordPress over Blogger has two distinct advantages. For one, I think people respect WordPress more. Second, it shows you are more blog-savvy, especially if you purchase hosting and set it up on your own. Finally, give your blog a unique name (mine is The Linchpen) and a clear tagline (mine is “A blog about online journalism and journalism education).
  • Your blog and/or personal site should have a few key things: an about page with a brief biography, a resume, work samples (writing, video, whatever) and a way for a visitor to contact you.
  • Don’t forget microblogging! Do not underestimate the power of Twitter. Seriously. I have 10 times more followers on Twitter than I have RSS and e-mail subscribers on my blog (I track those stats with Feedburner). I also use Twitter and find it more more useful than “normal” blogging. My online brand is enhanced because I offer updates on my journalism-related activities, provide various insights, share links (including links to new blog posts), contribute to discussions, answer questions and offer assistance when people have problems.
  • Flickr, YouTube,, Vimeo and other social media. In short, I’m on too many. Tip: don’t drive yourself crazy trying to do everything. Focus on what you enoy and what works best for you. After initially driving myself a little crazy, I found a good balance last spring and I’ve adapted that balance since then based on my interests, etc.
  • Wired Journalists and other journalism-related Ning groups. If you’re not on Wired Journalists, that should be one of the first things you do after reading this post.
  • Publish2 – This network is at least a triple threat: create a profile to promote you and your experience, post links to your clips and blog posts and share general links (you can also save them to and post to Twitter by checking two boxes with Publish2’s nifty browser tool). They also have this really cool contest, “I am the future of journalism,” where they are offering the winner a job (shameless plug: vote for my entry!).
  • Link to people because they are likely reciprocate, depending on the circumstances. The more people mention or link to you, the better.

From blogging to joining Wired Journalists, a huge part of building your brand is joining the conversation. Why be a shadow of a person when you can give yourself a face, a voice and an identity. And make friends!

Work, associations and affiliations

  • The Miami Hurricane – Having your name attached to known news organization is helpful. Having your name and a leadership position attached to a known news organization is very helpful. Apparently, I did such a good job ingraining online that I was the editor in chief that some people still think I am (that honor belongs to Matthew Bunch* this year). I was the face of The Hurricane and you should be a face for your organization.
  • The Miami Herald – The earliest memory I have of my name appearing on a Google search result came when I participated in the Herald’s “Teen Speaks” program during my junior and senior years of high school. Since then, I’ve freelanced for the community news section in summer 2005 and worked as a metro intern (writing and video) in summer 2008. Same deal here; your name + their name = good for your brand. I’ve also interned for the South Florida Sun Sentinel and Forum Publishing Group.
  • CoPress – I am the community manager and a core team member, so I am one of the most public faces for the organization. Being a part of and leader with a first-of-its-kind, innovative, foward-thinking organization can’t be a bad thing. Similar to what I do on Twitter, I’m offering insights, advice and joining a conversation, in addition to be part of a group that aims to help collge news sites.
  • Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists – Yeah, that’s this group! w00t. You can show off your blog smarts, promote yourself and cross-promote your blog. Another instance of being associated with a know brand or a brand larger than yourself (particularly something related to what you want to do – journalism) is very helpful.
  • Online News Association – I can only deduce that my role as student group leader resulted from the online presence, brand and reputation I had established beforehand. Having this role only helps add to my online brand. It’s yet another example of associating with a big-name, professional organization.
  • Society of Professional Journalists – This year I’m the University of Miami chapter president. That doesn’t really help build up my online brand. Entering contests does. This makes it possible to win awards, which gets your name on a nice press release (2005 and 2007), is always good. It’s especially when those press releases are posted on major news sites like Yahoo and Reuters.
  • Capitalize on associations – Example: “Miami Herald internship” is the second most popular keyword people use to find my blog (The most popular keyword is “greg linch.” I know that because I use Google Analytics). Two students found my blog last summer during my internship and asked for advice about applying. Besides showing your not a cut-throat shark, giving advice and helping people adds to your reputation and, therefore, your brand.

Overall, it’s been about five years since I’ve had what I consider an active online presence. I will continue to build my online brand, passively and actively, as time goes on because this is not a task that’s every really completed.

So, what should you do?

Search for your name on Google. Consider where you are online and where you’d like to be. Set goals. Brand yourself and join the conversation.

Good luck! Feel free to contact me with any questions.

*Related to Matthew Bunch’s site, I created his portfolio site for a Web production class assignment – free of charge. Considering this post and that experience, I think it’s significant because it shows how helping your peers can contribute to your brand as a good person – not selfishly guarding your brand. Also, it shows I can make an HTML/CSS site from scratch.

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