The evolution of social media and its dominant role in connecting publishers with audiences has meant that newsrooms expect journalists to use platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and even Snapchat to make contacts and source stories, while developing their own personal brands.

By employing journalists that have a personal following, publishers reach a wider audience, as reporters promote their work on their own accounts.

Of course, it's a win-win situation, as reporters also benefit from developing their professional presence online, helping build the reputation they desire in the industry, and build up a portfolio of work.

"The benefit to a journalist's career is notable," said Lizzie Jespersen, digital content manager, GateHouse Newsroom.

"A reporter's social media presence has become increasingly important to potential employers, because it allows them to understand that reporter's voice and gives them a sneak peek into how the reporter would engage with readers."

But as our professional and personal lives are increasingly merging on social media, how should journalists manage their online personas, and what can they do to improve their personal branding?

Clarify who you are, and what you stand for

Shahab Anari, personal branding strategist, explained that journalists who know their "unique promise of value" – what differentiates them from other professionals – will find it easier to elevate themselves on social media, as they will know exactly who they are targeting and therefore develop a stronger fan base.

"Reporters should remember 'clarity, consistency and constancy' when they are developing a brand online," he said.

"Be clear about who will be following you and what your message is, ensure all your social media accounts are consistent with one another, and that you are posting regular updates for your audience."

He explains that journalists should follow the 80/20 rule, publishing 80 per cent professional content and 20 per cent personal, ensuring they are scrupulous about knowing who is reading what they are posting.

"If you are clear on what you do and what you stand for, you will naturally be picky about what you are sharing and with who. Whatever you post online will be there forever."

Remember you're always broadcasting

Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC Technology correspondent, explained that he has been juggling different social media accounts for over six years to accommodate different audiences – those who want to hear about his latest work and those who would prefer to hear his less formal thoughts, including those about his dog.

“It’s now difficult to keep my professional one going because I use my personal account for both business and personal reasons," he said.

"Over the years, I've learnt that it’s fine to mix personal and professional. But certainly on Twitter, even the personal is to some extent another branch of your professional life. It's broadcasting, so I always say that as a BBC employee, you’ve got to follow the same rules as you would on BBC 5Live.”

Check out this advice for crafting a professional Twitter bio.

Andy Dickinson, digital journalism lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, agreed, adding that it's important for today’s young journalists to be aware that any mistakes made, however unintentional, can put professionals in a negative light and could possibly damage a career.

"I always ask my students, 'if you saw you on Facebook, would you give you a job?' – that's what they really have to think about," he said.

Have fun with it

If you're not enjoying using social media, your audience will see it, explained Jespersen.

"Inject your personality, whether you are sarcastic or upbeat or quizzical, into your social media posts – readers and colleagues want to connect with you, not a hollow version of you," she said.

Indeed, Cellan-Jones emphasised that having a presence online is only good if you are actually representing yourself.

“You don’t want to come across as a corporate automator without any personality, because otherwise, what's the point in being there?,” he said

“When I started, you couldn’t have your own brand – people would laugh at you,” he said.

“But now you can, and should have, an identity that makes you interesting to read – but remember that doesn’t have to be a complete representation of you, as you might not want to project some of your personality online."

Network, network, network

Dickinson recommended that students start a blog on Tumblr, Medium or Wordpress for example, as "a great place to plant a flag for yourself on the net – a place you can control and call your own".

But he also emphasised the importance of getting involved in conversations around the web and not just pushing out your own content all the time.

"These days, it seems like you don't have time to find your feet and grow into the different platforms – you've got to come out having established yourself online, and that's a big challenge," he said.

"They've got to just dive in, make it work for them, and recognise that there are people that may become interested in them."

Additionally Jespersen notes that reporters must remember that social media isn't too far different from the non-virtual world.

"You can't expect to form connections by waiting for everybody to come to you," she said.

"Engage colleagues you'd like to connect with, or readers in your coverage area, by following them, commenting on their posts and expressing an interest in them."

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