Social media is scary. Just last week MP Stephen Doughty slammed it as a ‘cesspit’ of abuse, and we’ve all heard the horror stories of people losing their jobs thanks to some questionable tweets from the internet dark ages.
But for journalists, and people looking to break into the media, it’s become a necessary part of the job – and can actually be a great resource if you do it right. Using the right platforms in the right way can help you get work, find stories, make new friends, or even launch your own business. But, just what is ‘right’?
Focus on Less - But Better
Keeping up with the latest tech is important, but try to calm your instincts to try everything. It’s better to use a few platforms really well and build up your presence than be scattered across the web in a thousand different pieces.
One of the biggest myths about social media is that it’s easy. And as a long suffering social producer, I can confidently tell you this just isn’t true. While almost anyone can quite easily post a message (even my Grandad is on Snapchat), building an audience and a niche takes planning, time and hard work.
Grab yourself the all important Twitter account, set yourself up on LinkedIn and add yourself to some journalism facebook groups. If you really feel the need to push the boat out, set up an Instagram. And then go and sit down with a nice cup of tea far away from the internet.
It might sound simple, but keeping some consistency between your platforms is one of the best (and easiest) things you can do. Find a username which you can get across them all – ideally one which centres around your name, make sure you use the same profile picture, and keep your bio broadly the same.
You want editors (and your followers) to instantly recognise you wherever they consume your #content, and this shows you’ve really thought about how to present yourself.
Don’t Undersell Yourself
You’re currently reading a careers advice article, and you’re at least halfway down. You’re obviously killing it, so don’t let yourself tell anyone otherwise.
Don’t call yourself an aspiring journalist, a wannabe media type, or anything else that plays your achievements down. Even if you’re currently on the job hunt, a simple and professional bio is just ten words away:
‘Journalist. Interested in things, other things and some other stuff.’
If you’ve got bylines or have worked for other place, add them in at the end and show the world just how ace you really are.
Keep (Bits Of) Your Personality
It might go against all the advice your mum told you, but no one is going to follow you if you sound like a robot. My biggest internet hate is people who simply tweet links to every story they publish, just with the headline.
Obviously, editors don’t want a liability, but they do want to hire a real person, and being open about the things you enjoy ticks all those boxes, as well as helping readers to trust you as a human being. Some jobs do require you to tweet out a lot of your links - but always try to add a bit of value. Which was the bit of the story you liked best? Was there a funny detail? If they wanted the headline, they’d be getting it from the main news account - you have to be different.
People want to follow a real person who has interests - both in terms of what they cover and what they do outside of work. If you like baking, tweet about your baking. If you love swimming in a Lido, tweet about swimming in the Lido. And, if that is a thing you’re into, you should definitely follow Helena Horton. I promise you won’t regret it.
Develop A Niche For Yourself - And An Audience
Not to keep banging the same musical instrument here, but people aren’t following you for a carbon copy of your employer’s newsfeed. Finding yourself a professional niche gives people a reason to stay interested, and helps to cement you as the go to place for human rights / careers / gin.
Even if you have to do stuff outside your niche, it doesn’t mean you have to share it - share your best quality work, and work which has a theme running through it. As well as keeping your baying fans in check, it also shows prospective employers and commissioning editors exactly what you’re about. You have a professional interest and an area you’re a specialist in, and to be honest, why haven’t they hired you already?
Take Part In Conversations
It almost goes without saying, but it’s easy to get sucked into a trap of just using Twitter for self-promotion. But social just doesn’t really work if you’re not actually interacting with anyone else. It kind of really is in the name.
You’ll find loads of groups of journalists on Twitter, whether it’s the regional reporters in your patch, or people looking for their first break. Start joining in with their conversations, saying useful, insightful or fun things and you’ll quickly expand your network of both people and opportunities.
Similarly, speaking to real people who interact with your work helps to make you seem approachable, responsive and an all round decent human being. Which you are.
Be Nice, To People and Publications
Arguments online are a huge waste of everybody’s time. They rarely generate anything good or change anyone’s mind, hoover up huge chunks of your time, and leave everyone involved feeling pretty crap.
Steel yourself to stay away from anything other than reasoned debate, move away from that subtweet try, and keep your online portal a happy place to be. Similarly, cool it on the slagging off other publications. Editors will look, and they’re not going to hire you if you said their website was a rag back in 2016.
Take A Break
No, seriously. Go and have that cup of tea I mentioned earlier. Turning off notifications was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done, and allows you to take control of when you’re looking at social media and for how long.
After all, you have got you know, journalism to do. And tea to drink.
Jem Collins is a freelance journalist and the founder of Journo Resources, an advice site helping young people break into the media. She has written for publications including Metro.co.uk, the i Paper, PinkNews, RightsInfo and The Independent. You can find her tweeting endlessly @Jem_Collins.