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.

Managing Your Career in the Social Media Era: Sources

As part of a webinar for B2B editors on September 23, 2010, I’m speaking on “Managing Your Career in the Social Media Era.” (The webinar, “Enhancing Your Career in the B2B Press,” is sponsored by the American Society of Business Press Editors.)

Since the webinar format isn’t particularly conducive to embedded links, I’ve listed here the main sources cited in my talk. I’ve included key quotes from most of the sources below in the hopes that even if you haven’t heard my presentation, you’ll be interested in exploring the originals on your own.

Future of news: Insider Dave Morgan touts new media

“Tomorrow’s companies will build empires based on the value that they deliver to their users and advertisers every day, not on their ability to finance and manage scarce bandwidth or expensive printing presses or exclusive distribution networks.”

“No longer is the media world one of a publishers-top editor-section editor-subeditor-journalist hierarchy. Today, audiences are in charge and they want direct access to, and interaction with, journalists.”

What Would Google Do?, by Jeff Jarvis

“Even if the Wall Street Journal reports a scoop behind its paywall, once that information comes out—quoted, linked, blogged, aggregated, remixed, and e-mailed all over—it’s no longer exclusive and rare.”

Gary Hamel: Hierarchy of Employee Traits for the Creative Economy

In discussing the employee traits valued by old media and new media respectively, I invoke Hamel’s “commodity” traits of obedience, diligence, and intellect and his “creative economy” traits of initiative, creativity, and passion.

The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model

“‘You can take something that is thought of as a creative process and turn it into a manufacturing process.’”

Can Robots Run the News?

“To the chagrin of sports reporters everywhere, a team from Northwestern University’s engineering and journalism schools has created a program that automatically generates sports news stories. Stats Monkey uses the box score and play-by-play—even quotes, if they’re available online—to compile articles that follow one of the system’s pre-defined narrative arcs.”

Paul Conley: The seasons, they go round and round

“My working life is now completely consumed by content marketing. As recently as December, most of my income derived from traditional publishers practicing traditional B2B journalism (although mostly on the Web, rather than print.) That is no longer true.”

Crush It!, by Gary Vaynerchuk.

“Everyone—EVERYONE—needs to start thinking of themselves as a brand. It is no longer an option; it is a necessity.” “Your latest tweet and comment on Facebook and most recent blog post? That’s your résumé now.”

Joe Pulizzi’s Blog: Seven Ways to Position Yourself for Unlimited Work

“I don’t hire anyone that doesn’t blog.”

A Brief Guide to World Domination, by Chris Guillebeau (PDF here)

I cited Guillebeau’s personal manifesto as an example of one kind of e-book B2B editors could aspire to.

Book Notes: An Interview with Seth Godin.  (On the publication of Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?.)

“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.”

Advice to the Re-Employed: Think Freelance

Imagine for a moment (and this may not be a stretch for many readers) that you’ve been self-employed for a year or so after a layoff put you out on the streets. You’ve put a decent freelance or consulting career together, gotten hip to the value of personal branding, and learned or relearned the enormous value of autonomy in your work life.

Now, though, you’ve had a tempting job offer you’d be crazy not to take, so you do.

Do you stop thinking like a freelancer and start acting like an employee? Twenty years ago, your answer probably would have been yes. Certainly that would have been your new employer’s expectation.

Today, though, there’s a good chance you would take your free-agent mentality into your new job, and with your new boss’s blessing.

Two blog posts today brought this to mind, one from the employee’s point of view, the other from management’s.

Seth Godin’s challenge to the employed is not to realize that you work for yourself—which you should know by now—but to start acting like it. As he reminds us, “the idea that you are a faceless cog in a benevolent system that cares about you and can’t tell particularly whether you are worth a day’s pay or not, is, like it or not, over.”

And Dan Pink, in a fantastic animated presentation highlighted today by Adam Tinworth, tells management that what motivates employees isn’t money, but three key personal factors: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. As he shows, the self-directed employee is the most productive and creative.

So if you find yourself in this scenario, think of your new job as an extended self-employment gig. In both good ways and bad, that may be exactly what your new employer is expecting.