On Friday, Alexandra Chang, a freelance journalist and reporter for Wired, came in to one of my journalism classes to talk to us about how today’s journalists should use social media.

The good news was that she agreed with what my professors had already been telling me.
The bad news was that she agreed with what my professors had already been telling me.
But you’ll probably only get that paradox if you’re a journalist/social media savvy, so let me explain.

When you decide to go into the world of communications, you have to prepare yourself to be creeped on. Your entire Internet presence will be looked at and scrutinized by employers, and can ultimately make or break you when it comes to being offered a job interview. However, because colleges and mentors usually know this, they try their best to prepare their students for this onslaught before they reach the job world. College gives you that four-year window of time to clean up all of your junk and start branding yourself as a professional.

So, yes. That means taking down all of the pictures you put on Instagram of that wild party you went to — that one where you did the sick keg stand while wearing your favorite “Let’s Get Crunk!” tank top.

But having potential employers investigate your Internet background doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. If you learn the tips and tricks of social media, you can turn it in your favor.

For example, Chang said one of her colleagues at The Atlantic was hired because of his Twitter usage. He learned to do the key thing:

Blend professional with personal.

Employers like to see that you have your own personality and know how to be outgoing and friendly. They like to see you engaging with the public and using them as sources. Not only does it show initiative, but it helps to lift the veil between reporters and the public. Plus, it has the implications that you have the potential to get your employer more readers or viewers, and that’s obviously what really matters in the long run.

Twitter post by Joe Brown
Joe Brown, deputy editor at Wired, tells a follower about how sometimes having a personal Twitter can be an advantage.

You need to be a member of the online community, even on platforms other than Twitter. For example, Chang also said that LinkedIn was a great place for anyone in the professional world. As someone who has a LinkedIn account, I can agree with this. I’m a member of the LinkedIn for Journalists group, and I’ve used it to reach out to people to be sources for stories, as well as to just get general advice from seniors in the field. And if you know how to use it right, LinkedIn can be a place for some juicy stories. Did someone just leave a company you’re following? Try to hit them up to see why, or to get an interview about the true in’s of the company now that they’re no longer under their jurisdiction. Has a company hired someone new? Check that person’s background and try to find out why, maybe they have some good history (or some skeletons in their closet).

So, here’s a quick breakdown for those just looking for an overview:

  • Use social media to your advantage. Be professional, but still let your “you-ness” shine through.
  • Use the Internet for sourcing, whether it be through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or some other platform.
  • Follow people who cover topics you’re interested in. This will help you better your own reporting, while also keeping you up-to-date with the developments in your beat area.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your cellphone. It’s the future of mobile reporting — Wired even had its reporters cover the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show by live-blogging the whole event from their smartphones. 
  • Prepare to become a jack-of-all-trades. That’s what employers want now, and that includes knowing how to use social media.

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