During a recent journalism workshop on using social media, there was a collective groan when the logo for LinkedIn appeared on the Powerpoint slideshow.
One exasperated reporter whined, “Do we have to learn about this? Don’t we already have enough social media in our lives?”
At the time, I shared his pain. Journalists are heavy users of social media platforms. That may stem from a mandate from an editor to promote our stories, or a personal attempt to keep up with the latest tweets of organizations, scientists and politicians in the field we cover. Or, perhaps, for a group full of grade A procrastinators, there’s simply never been a stronger draw than the constant stream of new content that social media provides.
Who has time for yet another platform? Besides, isn’t LinkedIn social media for corporate suits? An online environment where folks can talk about things like “good” being the barrier to “great,” congratulate each other on work anniversaries and endorse one another for various employable skills?
Well, yes. And no.
LinkedIn is all of those things, but can also be a place to keep in touch with colleagues. It can be a powerful “brand building” tool that leads to writing assignments. It can even be another useful tool in a reporter’s toolbox – a Rolodex for our online era.
Here are three things journalists like to do when they’re linked in:
Keep Tabs on Colleagues
Yes, I know, between Facebook and Twitter and e-mails and texting and maybe even an old-fashioned phone call, who needs a new way to stay in touch? Yet LinkedIn is an excellent way to stay up-to-date with the career advancements, changes and achievements of your colleagues. In my work for the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources (IJNR), I try to stay up-to-date with the career trajectories of our alumni. While I might learn about their kid’s first steps or crazy things their cats do on Facebook, LinkedIn is where I’ll discover who they’re writing for now or, even better, that a colleague I’m on good terms with is now an editor at a place I’ve always wanted to pitch.
Do a Little Reporting
Mike Scott, former online editor at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio and now a digital media trainer for Cleveland schools and IJNR, calls LinkedIn “serious” social media. “It gathers work history and expertise, which makes it a very valuable tool for reporting,” he says.
For example, if you’re working on a business story and need a peek inside a company, LinkedIn can not only steer you to current employees to contact, you can use it to find previous employees who are often more candid interviews than folks still on the payroll.
Mike says it’s also good for simply expanding your list of sources. “Let’s say you want to talk to someone in molecular biology,” he says. “You can search for people with expertise in that field and find sources you haven’t talked to before.” Plus, if molecular biology is too broad, LinkedIn lets users drill down further – perhaps molecular pathology or molecular genetics is what you’re after. The information is out there, Mike says, but he does admit it can take some time to learn how to get it.
Thankfully there are places like The Poynter Institute and the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism offering crash courses to journalists get going. And LinkedIn offers a handy little FAQ as well.
Don’t Make Friends
Anne Sasso, contributor to The Science Writer’s Handbook and a freelancer with a lot of corporate clients, says LinkedIn is an invaluable tool for staying on their radar. Anne thinks some of journalists get frustrated with LinkedIn because they use it as a way to connect with friends and colleagues. Instead of duplicating what she’s already getting from Facebook and Twitter, Anne keeps it strictly business on LinkedIn, hiding journalism feeds and focusing on corporate accounts.
“I use LinkedIn to follow the industries that I serve,” she says. “I want to see what my industry contacts are up to, where they’re moving, what they’re reading and liking, [and] what conversations they’re having. I want to be participating in those conversations. I want to be visible to them.”
If someone moves to a new company, she says, that’s a potential new client or source for a project. “By staying in touch with them and visible on their feed, the hope is that, when they need a writer, they’ll think of me.”
Anne’s advice is a perfect way to end this piece. There are plenty of good reasons to check out LinkedIn. Just make sure you know what they are. “I know exactly why I’m there,” Anne says. “I think that’s something journalists might want to sort out before they jump in.”