Marketing yourself online: your byline is your brand

Last week I announced my intentions to give one of the hardest professional roads a try. I’m trying to be a freelance journalist – in Philadelphia, a city in a persistent media hiring freeze.

So if it’s always important to brand yourself, now is a particularly important juncture for this underemployed writer. For more than a year now though, leading up to and continuing beyond my college graduation, I have employed and developed a growing online community of methods to take control over my Web presence.

I am obsessively trying to find ways to market myself online like more and more multimedia journalists of all ages and experiences. So, what are you doing to promote your name?

I’ve never met Sam Wood and haven’t exchanged more than an e-mail or two with Kia Gregory, but when I see their bylines in the Philadelphia Inquirer, I expect things. I expect a quirky turn of phrase from Wood, and I expect heart from Gregory.

The first story I’ll read in the Inquirer is features writer and Pulitzer Prize-winner Mike Vitez, one of the 10 journalists I respect most.

I’m not making those decisions or creating those expectations by headlines or photos, ledes or cutlines. Instead their regular work in the country’s third oldest-surviving daily newspaper, with one of the largest circulations in the fourth largest media market, has helped brand them.

Let’s assume you’re like me and, even if you have some OK clips, you don’t have a regular voice to hundreds of thousands of people, at least not by traditional means. (As if that’s enough, Wood tweets, Gregory blogs and Vitez has a Web site.)

So, if a potential employer, an editor taking your freelance pitch or even another journalist from whom you want advice is going to figure out how seriously to take you, guess where they’re going: Web searches.

Open up your journalism tool box.

You need to control what it is people find on a Web search of your name, that matters, clog up as many top yields as you can with whatever social networking devices or other Web presences you can, I cay. Hell, I’ve tried to dictate Web image searches of my name.

So, get yourself a domain already. Too scared to shell out the $10.19 to buy it? Then start with a free blog, like WordPress or Blogger or others. Put your name in the url, link to friends and get them to link to you. If you want to blog, then blog (which will help grow your site’s popularity, searchability and your name’s recognition), but if you don’t, you better get your clips, an about and contact pages posted.

Like a business, your name is your brand, all the marketing rules apply. Think tagline: Christopher Wink, a Philadelphia freelance journalist, further brands me and, with links, help my searchability still. Are you a multimedia journalist, a Web designer, a travel writer? Whatever is your focus in five words or less, brand it yours.

Feel uncomfortable with all this talk about you? Well, get used to it, this is the age of self-promotion, and we’ve just gotten started.

Because once you have a Web presence, a byline and a tagline, the games really begin.

Funnel any potential traffic for you toward your Web site. If you subscribe to my line of thinking, that means joining just about any social networking service that comes your way. Make your byline your user name, add a link to your Web site and an RSS feed of its content, if you have any and you can.

With an RSS feed, friends, you can create a broad Web presence without much additional effort at all.

In that way, you have the best chance at connecting with the most networks or sources. After I joined Facebook, I saw an uptick in traffic to my site. My Youtube account brought readers. Other connections I made on Twitter and LinkedIn and even MySpace found this site on through those means.

You will find others who follow this perspective and you’ll be connected in more ways online than you could ever need to be, but that’s only because they are after just what you are: brand recognition. Collect readers. Your connections on social and professional networks will become a base for your brand and your readership, if only because you will become part of theirs.

Remember that in all media, your name matters, but as newspapers sensibly shift more and more focus to the Web, your byline brand needs broadband appeal.

It seems Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists is wondering, too, so I’m joining in the dialogue (See that original post here). This post is cross-posted on that site here.

Photo from WorldofStock.com.