By Soila Kenya
Thinking about the online space now compared to how it was ten years ago is overwhelming for anyone. There are now more apps than ever before and it’s always a struggle to decide if getting in on the newest one is worth it. As journalists, there’s added pressure from multiple directions. Where is your audience? How do you separate your personal life online from your professional one? What tone should you take as you communicate online?
I spoke with seven women journalists from Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana to try and get some answers to these questions. I was curious about their branding journeys and what advice they have for their peers across the continent. Here’s what I learned.
Picking a social media platform
The first and easiest step when you think of online branding is social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok. Not to mention the hottest in the market at the moment, Mastodon for those fleeing Twitter. The list of social media apps is endless and can put you in a dilemma about which ones to join or at least which ones to give more attention to. There are several ways to go about this.
Sometimes you get an affinity for one organically as it went for Stellar Murumba and Dzifa Tetteh Tay.
“I used to have a very popular Facebook account that was all over the place and didn’t have my real name on,” says Murumba, regional manager of Global Rooted in Trust Project. “I realised for people to take me seriously when I share my published articles online, I needed to have a more structured and clean account and at that point, it didn’t matter that I was going to start from scratch building a new network of friends from the 5,000 plus that I had on my old account. And that’s how my branding journey as a journalist began,” she says.
Dzifa Tetteh Tay, a Ghanaian journalist says her journey was similar. She began posting on Facebook when it was a brand new fad then slowly aligned her goals with what she posted. “It started with writing about anything I felt like and also posting other people’s work. However, I observed that people responded well to my original works instead of those I had ‘cut and pasted’ and so I was somehow compelled to do more of my own thing to stand out,” says Tetteh Tay.
However, the process of choosing may be a more structured and deliberate journey. For Hannah Ajakaiye, an ICFJ Knight Fellow and journalist from Nigeria, that’s Twitter and LinkedIn.
“Every journalist needs to take Twitter seriously because there are bountiful opportunities for engagement on the platform,” she says. “There are abundant resources on Twitter for women journalists to benefit from. It is also a good tool for visibility. Another platform that is equally important is LinkedIn, I’ve made connections that have recommended me for career opportunities on LinkedIn.”
Nigerian journalist Ijeoma Okereke agrees with the importance of Twitter and LinkedIn. She also found it necessary to align her brand across platforms. “I try to synchronise both accounts for postings. I try to use similar profile pictures, with my bios attached in both,” she says.
There are only so many hours in a day. Picking one or two platforms to focus on allows you to get more out of your interactions. Ensure you are digital safe too by using secure passwords, locking direct messages and taking any other precautions you feel you need to as attacks are not strange to journalists, especially on social media.
Niche and tone
Once you have decided which social platforms to prioritise, another thing to consider is what sort of content you post and how you post it. Will you split your time between personal posts and professional posts? Will you maintain a fully professional profile?
Workplaces sometimes have guidelines on how journalists should behave online, but most times, it is the onus of the journalist to be cognisant of their identity as an employee but more than that, as an independent purveyor of information and professional opinion.
A big problem is how to maintain a double life with your friends and family and with your professional audience. Elizabeth Merab, a health and science journalist in Nairobi, Kenya says she uses social platforms for different purposes.
“My Facebook account is more friendship oriented in that in that space I share stories about me as a person… but when it comes to Twitter it’s purely professional. I do posts around the work I do as a journalist and specifically as a health journalist,” she says.
Finding your niche may be as simple as sticking to your beat as you communicate online.
“I realised where my audience is,” says Merab. “Many of them are doctors and scientists so I share stories, breaking news around health, and webinars. I retweet accounts that have interesting health stories.”
Ajakaiye says that she has also been added to Twitter lists which means she is perceived as a resource on some subject matters. All this lends credibility to your work.
“Overall you must uphold your workplace ethics and treat everyone with respect even on the online streets. It matters a lot for both you as an individual and the organisation you represent,” says Murumba.
Above and beyond social media, there are other things to consider, such as where people can find your work. One option might be to get a website like Dakore Ekpendu and Amina Makori.
Ekpendu is a Nigerian journalist hosting a TV show about public security called Public Security with Dakore. Having her name in the title is beneficial, but Ekpendu also supplements this with a website for her show.
She supplements this with graphics where she shares security quotes with her audience, always ensuring her name or the name of the show is always visible. “I come up with simple yet elegant steps of lasting impressions on anyone going through my pages on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter,” she says.
Makori, a Nigerian broadcast journalist, also has a website but took a different direction with it. Hers is a landing page where viewers are quickly introduced to her work and what skills she has. “I have a website because then you decide what you want to speak about when you want and need to speak about it,” she says. “I want people to be inspired or find comfort when they visit the information I share.”
Murumba and Tetteh Tay both have WordPress blogs where they share more personal blog posts.
“With time, I stopped writing and posting directly on Facebook and WhatsApp and would rather send my work directly to the blog,” says Tetteh Tay. However, she quickly noticed that her followers were unwilling to click blog links and went back to posting directly on Facebook.
Having a website is not necessary though, as long as people can find your work online. “I recently realised that muckrack.com automatically archives articles by an author and that’s another place I can be found,” says Okereke.
In short, there are many ways to kill a rat. Whichever route you take, always ensure you navigate your online presence with intention and try to find your authentic voice. “The moment you follow the trends strictly, you become just another number in the crowd,” says Makori.
These journalists have won awards, promotions, jobs, fellowships and grants both locally and abroad just by taking a more deliberative approach to their online identity as women journalists from Africa. They attest that they would not have had those opportunities without maintaining a vibrant and intentional online presence.
“Having a verified Twitter account and sharing a lot of news around health has opened up interactions with many people that I didn’t know. For instance, I have been invited to webinars by people from Pakistan, Europe, Kazakhstan and the larger African continent,” says Elizabeth.
View your online presence as a networking site for career growth and advancement. The next time potential employers, grantors and award judges type your name into the Google search engine, let them find all your ducks in a row.
“As women journalists, we need to toot our horns, social media provides a platform for doing that,” adds Ajakaiye.
So toot your own horn!
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