By Maria Davison
We're beginning our event, "How to stand out from the crowd."
This evening we're joined by Andrew Gibson, who works at the Orlando Sentinel, Sally French, from MarketWatch and Jessie Lueck, who's working at Hallmark.
While at Mizzou, Jessie Lueck studied magazine design. She is a now a graphic designer for Hallmark cards in Kansas City.
Sally French graduated with a degree in photojournalism. She's working in San Francisco at MarketWatch.
Andrew Gibson was in convergence journalism and took several computer science courses. He's working in Orlando at the Sun Sentinel working on long-term projects and web development.
French says her brand is really based on her work with drones. She took a drone journalism course while at Mizzou and loved it. She made a blog called the Drone Girl, which at first had about four followers, including her mom and dad. But as she continued to work on the blog, it gained a following within the drone journalism community. After two jobs that didn't quite work out, she decided to make her blog her full time job. After realizing she needed a full time job to support herself and she started working at MarketWatch, where she works on social media.
French says she had no followers for a long time. And the process of gaining followers was probably the hardest part. But it eventually became like exponential growth. She says that it's not as easy as school makes it seem – you don't just get followers immediately. It is hard work, but it is possible.
She also says that setting aside time to work on her blog was work. But her training as a journalist helped her rise above several of the other blogs in that space.
She says there was a period where she really wanted to give up. For a while she had about 100 followers, and so she gave up on it for a month. And one of those followers sent her a note asking where she had gone. And that gave her some inspiration to get started again.
Lueck says her work is a little different. She's not in a journalism field. Originally, she was really sure that she wanted to work for a magazine, but after an internship at a magazine, she wasn't so sure. She wanted to show her publication design work, but also the different things she had done in design classes through the art department. The industry standard is to have a website and online portfolio. She used Squarespace, which she says was much cleaner that most other options.
Lueck says that self-editing is really important when it comes to an online presence. It's important to show your personality, but also to know what is too much, what looks good, what doesn't look good. Think about "is this the message I want to send about myself? And is it the same across platforms?"
Gibson says his personal brand doesn't sound as cool as the Drone Girl. He instead built his brand around coding. It's increasingly common for journalists to know a little bit of code – some HTML and CSS. But tried to make it so he was a true developer and a true journalist. He spent a lot of time building and breaking things online. He also did an independent study at KBIA where he did interactive graphics and projects, which was a good place to learn what worked and what didn't.
Some of the work Gibson does is straight technology work – building apps and such. But he's also done some editorial work.
French has two Twitter accounts – a personal account and the Drone Girl. She also covers financial news for MarketWatch, and she didn't want to spam the community she'd built around her drone work with her full time work.
French's best advice is to not give up on building a personal brand online. Come up with something unique – drones was that thing for her – and stick with that until it works. She says putting in the work to make these things work really makes a difference.
Gibson says he is by no means a social media genius. He tried to tweet regularly while he was in school. But being on social media in the professional world is really helpful. He's built up a following of other news developer types, and if he ever has trouble with his code, he puts the question out for his followers and finds that often helps.
Lueck says she really tried to show her creative process in her social presence. On her website, they could find the finalized product, but on her Instagram, she wanted to show the process of creation. For a while, she says, it was only her friends and family looking at it. Her accounts are both personal and professional. And in terms of being processional, she just did what seemed appropriate. She wants people to know her personality and how much she loved working with her hands. For her, the creativity was the brand.
Through the art school, Lueck's art classes were incredibly time consuming, and she was constantly working. She also worked on projects on the side and did freelance work. Whenever someone said, "Will you design something for us?" She always said yes. She's always working to increase her skill set.
Gibson agrees. He says that it's important to always be building new skills. If he had a spare minute, he would start coding stuff. With web development, you have to do it to learn it. The more comfortable you get with the language, the easier it gets.
Lueck says she learned that she had to bring up her personal brand in interview situations and to tell potential employers about all the work you've done.
An audience member is asking how important it is to have a specific theme for your blog. Gibson says it depends. He knows of people who have been hired because of their blogs because they had a hyper-specific focus. And followers would go there looking for a specific set of information. Lueck says that it depends on your situation, but it's really all about what will make you stand out from the crowd. And she's still working on figuring out what her niche can be.
All that said, Gibson and Lueck agree that blogging about something you don't care about won't get you anywhere. But if you don't like what you're working on, start a new blog.
Lueck says that she knew personality was a big component in her hiring process. There are a lot of talented designers out there, and it's important to find a place that is the right place for you. And so it was important to make sure that her personality came through in her personal brand. And that worked out for her – she loves going to work every day.
Gibson says don't be afraid to be annoying – and by that, he means persistent. He followed up with potential employers until he heard something. It's a small industry, and there are a lot of people applying for the same jobs. So don't be afraid to be a little annoying. He also says it helps to build things. Having something to show always helps you stand out. He also says that when you go to build an online portfolio, pull your very best pieces of work.
That's all we have for this evening! Thanks for following along!