Nine Keys to a Robust Editorial Career in Social Media

For B2B journalists and editors, the transition to the social-media era can be daunting, especially if they rely on their employers to lead the way. As an ASBPE-Medill survey of B2B editors showed last April, traditional publishing companies have offered little new-media training or guidance.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Social media is in part about the empowerment of individuals, and if publishers are letting their employees go it alone, so much the better. Stepping into the breach, the American Society of Business Press Editors has worked to ease the transition to a social-media world by, among other efforts, sponsoring a number of Webinars for B2B editors on this and related topics. As part of my presentation in their most recent event, held last month, I identified the following nine tactics B2B journalists can use to take control of their careers in the new-media era.

1. Be media neutral.

Unless your goal is to become a museum piece, you will need to be open to all types of media. Your background may be in print, but you must stop thinking of yourself as a print person. In the social-media era, people expect to interact with editors and journalists in a variety of media. If you aren’t yet comfortable with things like podcasting or screen captures or video blogs, you should start investigating them now. If your employer isn’t interested in supporting you in this effort, then do it on your own time.

2. Be employer neutral.

Just as you need to open yourself up to different types of media, you should also be open to different types of employers. In a world where everyone’s a publisher, you don’t have to work for a traditional B2B publisher to be a B2B journalist. There’s potentially a role for you in any B2B enterprise, and not in doing PR or traditional marketing work, but in practicing straight journalism.

One journalist who’s already experienced this shift is the well-known B2B editorial consultant and blogger Paul Conley. In a recent blog post, he noted a dramatic change in the source of his work. Less than a year ago, he said, “most of my income derived from traditional publishers practicing traditional B2B journalism.” Today, though, he works entirely for commercial concerns, creating, as he puts it elsewhere, “pure editorial that is, in and of itself, a lead-gen tool”.

3. Be an entrepreneur.

It there’s any potential employer you shouldn’t be neutral about, it’s you. Even if your paycheck comes from someone else, you are ultimately working for yourself. So start thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur. Initiative, creativity, and passion are central to making yourself valuable in social media. As it happens, those are the exact traits that entrepreneurs need to succeed as well.  If burdened with an old-media mentality, your employer may not appreciate entrepreneurship–but that road to nowhere is all the more reason why you have to practice it whenever and wherever you can.

4. Be a brand.

In the social-media world, being entrepreurial means managing yourself and your career as if they were a brand. By now, most B2B journalists have heard of the concept of personal branding, and the majority of those are probably still uncomfortable with it. By their nature, editors tend to be fairly cynical about marketing and branding. But in social media, as Gary Vaynerchuk has said, there’s no avoiding it: “Everyone—EVERYONE—needs to start thinking of themselves as a brand. It is no longer an option; it is a necessity.” To be effective in social media, you have to be in control of your identity. Thinking of yourself as a brand is one way to achieve that control.

5. Be a social-media marketer.

Of course, to nurture your brand, you have to market it. And you do that through the social web. You’ve probably heard the horror stories about people leaving compromising or questionable information about themselves on the Web that ends up damaging their job prospects. What that means, of course, is that the opposite is true as well: The record you leave on the social Web can benefit you just as much as it can hurt you.

To quote Vaynerchuk one more time: “Your latest tweet and comment on Facebook and most recent blog post? That’s your résumé now.” This is one reason the ranks of LinkedIn have been swelling of late, and why you should sign up if you haven’t already.

6. Be a social-media networker.

To be clear: the point of social-media marketing is not simply to promote yourself. It is really about taking part in a conversation by collaboratively participating in networks. To do this, you will need to actively embrace social networking tools. Although LinkedIn is the most obvious one for business purposes, Twitter and Facebook may be more valuable, depending on the industries you’re involved in.

At the very least, you should be networking with at least two groups: other journalists and media people, and one or more of the industries you cover. And within those industries, you should be connecting with both readers and advertisers.

7. Be a blogger.

In addition to using networking tools, you should also be blogging. Junta42’s Joe Pulizzi puts it bluntly: “I don’t hire anyone that doesn’t blog.” While that may be an extreme position, there’s no question that blogging experience is becoming a de facto requirement for B2B job applicants.

It’s not enough, though, if you simply blog on your employer’s site or Twitter account. You should own at least one blog and Twitter account of your own, and use them regularly. That’s a key not only to developing your own brand, but to keeping it intact when you leave one employer for another or go out on your own.

8. Be an author.

Although not essential, a brilliant way to build your brand is to write and publish a book. If that sounds daunting, it shouldn’t. Writing and publishing a book these days doesn’t require hiring an agent and finding a publisher. There are plenty of tools to do it yourself. And it doesn’t require hundreds of pages. You can put together an e-book of 30 or 40 pages, distribute it on your blog, and get many of the benefits of traditional book publishing. One accessible and inspiring model is A Brief Guide to World Domination, a personal manifesto by  blogger Chris Guillebeau. While he wrote it to help others achieve their goals, it has earned him enormous career-building exposure as well.

9. Be uniquely essential.

Finally, in whatever you do, you should strive to be someone who’s uniquely essential to your business—what Seth Godin calls a linchpin. As he told Michael Hyatt  in an interview after the publication of Linchpin, “Cogs see a job, linchpins see a platform. Every interaction, every assignment is a chance to make a change, a chance to delight or surprise or to touch someone.” If you see what you do as a job, you’re replaceable—and your career prospects aren’t so hot. But if you see your work as a platform for achievement—even if you don’t always fulfill it—you will be indispensable.  In the social-media era, true success comes not from fulfilling your job description but by adding value.

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