Thursday, October 13, 2011

Your brand is more than just a label, it's what people think you are

Every Facebook post, every Tweet and every blog a writer uploads contribute to the formation of an online identity, but what contributes to the writer's "brand?"

That key question was addressed this week by a guest lecturer to a San Francisco State University journalism class.

According to Pueng Vongs, the San Francisco Bay editor for Yahoo! Local (and the class instructor), one of a journalist's most-important tools is their "brand." A good brand can open doors, bring (or push away) credibility on a subject and drive readership.

To that end, Vongs arranged for Sherbeam Wright, founder of AndaCommunications, to address students at SFSU's "Social Media for Journalists" seminar on Wednesday. Wright's bio states she has developed and driven communications programs and supported the sales efforts of market-leading high tech companies.

Sherbeam Wright addresses a class at SFSU.
A journalist's brand is "a personal identity that stimulates precise, meaningful perceptions in an audience about the values and qualities of the person," Wright said. That statement means that a brand is not necessarily who you actually are, but what the public thinks you are from the content you produce.

According to Wright, before the advent of the Internet, a journalist's "brand" was actually that of the organization for which they worked. There was little opportunity for the general public to actually engage with a working journalist, or vice-versa.

Now, however, the trend is for news to be a "conversation," rather than simply a broadcast. Aspiring journalists (or public bloggers at large) are expected to have their own brand, be it through blogging, Twitter or some other form of social media.

So how does one build a brand? First, one has to decide ahead of time what they want their brand to be. Wright said that if you want to cultivate a business brand, get involved with LinkedIn. If one has a desire to be a breaking news source, invest heavily in Twitter. Facebook will generate fans, but a personal blog illustrates personality and builds readership.

Wright pointed out a couple examples of people she thinks have been successful in promoting an outstanding online brand. One was Derrick Ashong, who Wright said turns social media into "socially meaningful" media. Another was MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow, who "blew up" past her radio roots due to social media.

While many online media promoters suggest one specializes in a few topics (vertical integration) in order to become a "go-to guy," Wright said covering a wide-range of topics can also pay off, but you "have to know how to package it." In other words, be consistent. You can address many subjects if you, for example, put your own consistent spin on it -- tie it into your locality, put your own humorous take on it, or analyze everything in one certain way.

That revelation prompted Vongs to concede, after some debate, that "horizontal is the new vertical."

Great news for me ... this blog goes all over the place!

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