LinkedIn Tailor Made for Communicators

CABJ - Sharon McMillan on LinkedInLinkedIn is fast becoming one of the most powerful and useful tools for journalists and communicators.  Traditionally known as the place for credible networking with potential employers/clients in today’s frenetic social networking environment, LinkedIn is in fact much more than an employment aid.

With its massive database of professionals and thought leaders in various fields, LinkedIn is also an ideal place for journalists and communicators to conduct research, identify subject experts and develop leads for stories.

In fact, LinkedIn offers an assortment of tools and resources to help you connect in ways that are often far more targetted and effective than other social networking sites.

I recently asked some LinkedIn users to share with me their strategies for harnessing the power of LinkedIn and they offered the following tips:

Sharon, given the size of LinkedIn it can be a difficult process, so I’d suggest combining resources – check out people who’ve provided ‘best answers’ on LinkedIn (see Answers under the “More” tab on the home page) and also those with recommendations by industry field. I’d usually compare these to other searches – check them out on Google and Twitter etc and see what the general buzz is.

I also run some ‘Answers’ streams as RSS feeds and check them regularly, it’s a manual process but it’s a good way to see who is providing valuable advice here. It’s also worth remembering that LinkedIn has a powerful recruitment function, so it might be worth seeing who has recently viewed someone’s profile as well – are they attracting a lot of ‘movers and shakers’?

Matt Owen, Social Media Producer,

Sharon I’d suggest users try finding groups that address their sector / industry and look for people posting suitable material.

What I do, every time I see someone quoted elsewhere on the web, I look them up on LinkedIn.

Mike Aitken, LinkedIn for Sales Strategist,

I first identified a list of thought leaders on Twitter and sought them out on LinkedIn after following them a while. The LinkedIn feature I find most useful for making prudent connections is Groups. My field, public relations, crosses many sectors, so I started a group for regional professionals in the sector I’ve targeted. In that group, I get to know people and they get to know me without the entanglement of a fast connection I might repent at leisure.

Diane Wolfe, Public Relations Director,

If you’re a reporter using these kinds of strategies in your research mix could save time while expanding your reach–two great benefits in today’s 24-hour news environments.

For those working in public relations, using some of these LinkedIn strategies is a great way to conduct background research on issues, strategies and techniques to enhance your client’s/company’s communications or crisis management projects.

If all you’ve done is set up your profile on LinkedIn now’s a good time to explore other features offered through this free network.  Use some of the strategies suggested above to keep abreast of the issues in your beat/area of expertise and to connect with others who may offer unanticipated but needed insight and resources.

Sharon McMillan is a public relations manager and former CABJ Board member.

Journalist’s doc explores black beauty

The Colour of BeautyThis week the National Film Board of Canada launched "The Colour of Beauty", a provocative short documentary that examines racism and lack of diversity in the fashion industry through the eyes of a young, ambitious Black model living in New York city.

Renee Thompson has got the looks, the walk and the drive. But she’s a Black model in a world where White women represent the standard of beauty. In interviews with industry insiders we hear that agencies seldom hire Black models, and when they do, they want them to look "like White girls dipped in chocolate."

Is a Black Model less attractive to designers, casting directors and consumers? What is the colour of beauty? Canadian fashion icons like Jeanne Beker, host of CTV's Fashion Television and Lisa Tant, Editor-In-Chief of Flare Magazine offer their insights.

Since its online launch this week, “The Colour of Beauty” has gone “viral” on the internet and sparked heated debate on influential sites like The documentary has also been featured on CTV News Channel, Canada AM, Fashion Television,, CBC French radio, Le Téléjournal Montreal and La Presse.

Director of the short documentary The Colour of Beauty, Elizabeth St. Philip is also a full-time news producer. Watch Journalist vs Doc Filmmaker where she describes what she considers to be the differences and similarities between making a documentary and producing TV news in bringing vital and compelling stories to an audience.

To watch The Colour of Beauty click here.

Freelancing. Can you cut it?

Being a freelancer can end up like a full-time career; and in order to be successful you must treat it that way. Ideas and relationships with editors and others in the business are the bread and butter of your success. Let’s face it, if you can’t sell your ideas then you can’t be successful. So do you have what it takes to be a successful freelancer? Can you cut it?

According to a recent study the average freelancer makes a little over $35, 000 a year. When you are just beginning, of course, it is more difficult to break into the business and get your name out there. You should be prepared to encounter quite a few setbacks, but the most important thing is to not be discouraged. Don’t let rejection get to you, because if you do, you might miss a golden opportunity. Although one editor might hate your work or your style of writing, another editor might be the complete opposite.  You’re bound to hear the word “no” about a dozen times before you hear that one  “yes.”

Like most jobs it is important to always stay organized when you’re a freelancer. Unlike being an accountant or working in an office, there’s no one there to pick up your slack or to organize you. The only thing that will happen is that clients won’t use you for a second time, which is bad for you and your career.  It’s quite easy to get off track, especially if you’re working at home. Dedicate a certain amount of time each day to spend on writing and doing career-oriented tasks. Get yourself into a routine that you can live by and try to schedule it at the same time everyday so that there will be no distractions. Make sure you write down all deadlines and meetings; document everything (especially contact information) in case you have to consult them down the road for future projects.

To be a good freelancer you must first of all know your market; know who you are pitching to and which publication(s) would potentially buy your stories. In the beginning, especially, you must be persistent. Editors are not always keen on taking on new writers but be ready to go the extra mile. More often than not, your work will speak for itself. Try going for small, or relatively new publications first, and then you may work your way up. That way you can get familiar with the protocols and you may even be able to collect more clippings to add to your portfolio.

Finding fresh story ideas are one of the biggest challenges. Try to start off by writing what you know. Think about some of the magazines, papers and other publications that you read.  Odds are that you are most likely an expert on some of those topics.  A story idea can come in the form of a mere thought of something that is lacking in your favorite read. If you cannot think of any new, creative story ideas then perhaps freelancing isn’t for you. Your fresh perspective is what is going to set you apart from others in the business.

Hopefully you have what it takes to be a freelancer but if you don’t feel that you are quite ready, keep working on perfecting your craft, because practice makes perfect.

Naomi Comrie is a freelancer who has written for publications such as Amoi and Essentials. Currently she is working on her book of combined writings.  Her popular motivational blog can be read every Monday at

Your Career and Social Media

While social media has become a tool and resource for consumers it has had a less than positive impact on the employment front for those who work in media.

Just as audiences have shifted their attention spans to the Internet and the immediate news it delivers, so too have jobs shifted if not disappeared from traditional news rooms. But this isn’t a doom and gloom story.

Sure social media has turned bloggers into celebrated writers and given audiences and unfathomable array of choices for their news and entertainment.  But social media also offers some very special opportunities for the few journalists still working in understaffed newsrooms and communicators as a whole.

Leads and Social Media

If you’re employed at a media outlet now, social media is one of your most readily accessible sources for leads and ideas in your subject area.  With less staff and resources to pull upon in the newsroom, one of the best ways to succeed at your job is to use your time efficiently and social media offers you the opportunity to do just that.

Social media websites like Twitter and Facebook are a hotbed for learning about the most current issues and ideas from just about every sector and every region imaginable.

For example, if you cover the education beat in your city, you’ll want to ensure that you’re following on Twitter all the profiles created for school boards, trustees, teacher unions and parent and student groups in your area.

Often times these groups are on opposite sides of the fence on any given issue, and by following the news each group or individual chooses to release on their profiles, you’re bound to get hints as to the percolating issues for that particular sector.

You can also use the powerful Twitter “Search” feature to find out who is saying what about particular topics in your niche at any point in time.

Facebook also offers the same kind of information.  Status updates provided by organizations and individuals and the responses they receive from their respective audiences can provide you with a multifaceted snapshot of a particular hot issue.

It’s important to note that with Facebook and even with Twitter your research is made an awful lot easier if you are “following” the people from which you wish to learn. Relationships are key for getting an interview within short deadlines.

What about PR?

All of these research tactics apply equally to business communicators/public relations practitioners.

Before a communication strategy is developed to advance an opinion or promote a product/service, you’ve got to conduct research on your market. Social media networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and news sharing websites like Stumbleupon and Digg are gold mines for this kind of information.

The Act of Engagement

You can use social media to do your job more effectively but you can also use social media to network.

We’ve just covered how to use social media to support your research work, but if you are only using social media for research, you’re barely tapping into the power of this resource.

You may post on Facebook or tweet on Twitter from time to time, but if you don’t actually engage in conversation with some of the people you follow, you’ll be viewed as a pretty self-centred individual. That’s extremely counter-productive for an activity that is called “social” networking.

Some people will actually “un-follow” individuals that they know never engage in actual conversation and only seem to push their agenda or promotion one-way.

Your Career

Social media is great for research and for connecting with others in the niche or marketplace where you do business.  When you nurture relationships this way you are also setting the foundation for your career.

Given the uncertainty of jobs in this economy you never know when you’re going to have to job hunt or find a new client to keep your small business afloat.  For that reason it’s important to keep in mind that your next potential employer or contractor could be that person with whom you’ve shared morning niceties on Twitter or debated with on Facebook.

Yes there’s a lot of change in the world of traditional media and public relations but never have the opportunities to connect with your target market and potential employers been so accessible.

It’s a good time to work in communications – your skills will take you far.

By Sharon McMillan
Public Relations Specialist and former CABJ Board Member