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Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Gen J Toolbox

Managing your personal 'brand' online

By Cait Barnett

Like most young journalists, I remember Facebook’s infancy. Back then, it was a way to maintain friendships and tag goofy photos of friends. Now, co-workers, superiors and grandparents send me friend requests. Suddenly, that image of me shot-gunning a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon isn’t so funny. Not to a recruiter, at least.

The digital landscape has changed, and we can’t be as carefree anymore, especially as young journalists, especially in this job market. Managing your digital footprint — the online trail of data you leave behind — requires constant diligence, but not without benefit: in the end, it strengthens your image, and can even fast track your job search.

“Recruiters are not just looking at resumes and traditional forms of materials,” said Mark S. Luckie, journalist, multimedia producer and author of 10,000 Words, a blog about where journalism and technology meet. “They’re going online.”

Take control of your career and your reputation. Here are some tips to help you manage your digital footprint.

EDIT YOUR IMAGE

“Readers expect credibility from journalists,” Luckie said, adding that a bad image “can affect the way they see not only the journalist, but also the media publication they represent.”

To avoid compromising your credibility, use privacy settings to restrict access to photographs and information. Monitor your content and avoid uploading anything controversial. Always be positive and tasteful.

CONSIDER YOUR PURPOSE

Take the advice of Daniel Johnson Jr., founder of New Media Cincinnati, a social networking group: figure out who you are, what you stand for and what you want.

“Have that conversation with yourself,” Johnson said. “What do you value? What are you passionate about?”

Think about your ambitions and define your purpose so you can advertise your best self. It will impress recruiters and readers alike.

ENHANCE YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE

A Facebook profile isn’t enough. Create a profile on LinkedIn, start a blog and upload clips to an online portfolio. Use social networking sites to link your content.

When someone searches you, “the first thing that appears should be either a personal site or portfolio,” Luckie said. “So when recruiters are searching for you, they’ll find a representation of your work.”

Take into account what others think, too. Luckie takes special pains to not post anything objectionable. He also pays close attention to his reputation and how others receive him.

“People aren’t just looking at my blogs. They’re looking at stuff I posted on other sites, and what other people are saying about me,” Luckie said.

CONTRIBUTE TO THE CONVERSATION

“Generate some content online for yourself,” Johnson said. “At the same time, look at other blogs. Look at what others are saying, and add something to that conversation. Move it forward.”

Establish yourself in communities you care about. Over time, you start to become known, searchable and findable by employers who seek your skills. Johnson’s well-managed digital footprint and involvement in the social networking conversation have landed him speaking engagements, paying gigs and even job offers.

BRAND YOURSELF

Your image is polished and your role is established. Now keep it that way: Post content regularly, keep profiles and portfolios updated, and stay educated. As writers, we know there is always room for improvement, so we constantly strive for excellence. Apply that mentality to your digital footprint. In marketing terms, build a better brand.

“You want to do something every day to make sure that your actions and words speak as loudly as your brand does,” Johnson said.

Yes, it’s overwhelming. But don’t be intimidated by social networking Web sites and abandon them altogether. After all, according to Luckie, “they’re just vessels for people to upload content.” Utilize them, by all means. Just think about your digital footprint before you, say, tweet about your boss or your favorite hangover breakfast.

Cait Barnett is a member of the SPJ Generation J Committee and a freelance journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @cait_b or e-mail cait.barnett@gmail.com.

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