Pivoting from a career in broadcast journalism was a big decision for me.
I loved everything about a newsroom environment: the breaking news, researching topics, identifying sources for stories, and feeling like I had a pulse on trends and issues taking place in the world.
I was successful at it, too. In fact, I worked at some of the biggest news corporations in the world, including CNN, ABC News, CBSLA and others.
However, at some point — because I was spending so much time on social media listening for breaking news and looking for story ideas — my interest in social media evolved.
I knew I wanted to make a transition, but I was scared of taking a leap and pivoting to social media marketing.
Today, I can tell you that I’m so happy I did. I learned that my job is not my entire identity, and through journalism, I have so many transferrable skills to thrive in any industry.
Switching careers can feel exciting, but comes with feelings of self-doubt and anxiety.
Here, I want to highlight how broadcast journalism helped me succeed in social media, and tips you can use if you’re considering a career shift of your own.
7 Takeaways From Journalism You Can Apply to Social Media
1. Ask the 5 W questions.
Who? What? Where? When? and Why? These questions are ingrained in any journalist.
The foundational questions to news gathering also apply in the context of content creation, marketing plans, and any content strategy. For instance, any marketer likely asks these questions daily:
Who is this message for?
What is the core message we want them to take away from this?
When (and where) are they most likely to be to consume this message?
Why should they care?
“Why” also goes a little deeper in social media. The internet is flooded with information and it’s your job to capture someone’s attention — and hold their attention for your content.
Why would someone click on this ad?
Why are we targeting this group?
Why is it important that they see this message?
The root of these questions have helped me cut through the jargon of promotions and company announcements to get to the root of the message in the simplest words.
Pro Tip: In journalism school, I learned to simplify the facts by “explaining this story to my mom.” This framework has really helped me simplify information down to its core. I practice this often when trying to take a complex company announcement and whittle it down to its simplest takeaway.
2. Focus on the core story, not the details.
When it comes to creating content, journalists have a unique element they bring to the table: storytelling.
Some people may get caught up in numbers, the tagline, a paragraph in an announcement, and so on.
As a former journalist, I think about the core of the message we want to convey in a social post.
The key takeaway could involve visual elements and emotional triggers, but its foundation will include a concise message or story.
3. Keep up-to-date on industry and competitor trends.
The advantage journalism has provided me when it comes to conducting research is that, even if you have an intuitive sense of your audience, your journalism instincts still compel you to “look into it” and confirm your hypothesis.
For instance, for conducing market research — including what my audience is feeling, thinking, struggling with, dreaming of, reading about, etc. — I put my “investigative” hat on and look within Facebook Groups, or other websites where people can leave comments or questions (such as Quora or Amazon reviews) to gather information about what my audience is seeing, thinking, and feeling.
Additionally, a couple of keyword searches gives me a framework to work with while doing research.
Referring to the latest studies, trends, and reports helps me identify any overlaps and enables me to be a successful social media professional because I keep a pulse on issues that are top-of-mind to my audience.
A little research goes a long way in social media content and writing.
Journalists are naturally curious people, so we sometimes find ourselves entertained by trends and topics that get people talking. We like to quickly parachute in on behavior like this and figure out what the hype is all about, source who started it, and figure out why it’s taking off.
It’s amusing, to say the least, but this innate skill in journalists has helped me in social media because I can (for the most part) keep up with the latest memes, videos, or other trending news that’s popular that day or week. It also helps me recall previous news events or trends that were popular in the past.
Context of topics, audiences, and trends helps me while making editorial or marketing decisions and creating content.
4. Create quality content, even with minimal assets.
When it comes to content creation, journalists have had to work with little or major constraints when it comes to telling a story. You might have only a few usable sound bites, poor video quality, or you’re working with only sound.
Broadcast journalism helped me feel comfortable with improvising and maximizing any assets available.
I learned how to do video, audio and photography editing. I learned different storytelling formats such as radio, TV, print, and online, as well as how to distinguish each piece (i.e. infographic, video, blog post, listicle) and how to adapt them to different social media platforms.
I learned to do this in the most concise way possible, which helped me tremendously while writing short headlines and easy-to-understand text that includes a call to action.
5. Write concisely, and make every word count.
Whether it’s copywriting, writing in a brand’s voice, creating catchy headlines and titles, creating copy that converts a user, incorporating a call-to-action, or enticing a reader to learn more … it’s all important in social media.
Broadcast journalism helped my social media career with my writing skills alone. Ultimately, packaging information in a concise way is so important in social media.
Twitter has a 280 character limit. However, I’m proud that I learned how to write tweets when it had a 140-character limit — including character counts toward photos, videos, and GIFs that were attached!
Brevity is always a best practice when it comes to writing on social media, and broadcast journalism has helped me succeed in that regard.
Effective writing helps your audience understand you, what you offer, and your value and is a critical skill for attracting an online audience.
Pro Tip: Practice reading your words out loud to catch typos or awkward sentence structures. I learned this while writing copy for TV news and it has helped me tremendously while crafting social media posts.
6. Learn how to communicate effectively in crises.
Social media is an extension of any brand, and understanding when something is a reputational risk is important.
My career in broadcast journalism helped me identify potential pitfalls or anticipate remarks people might make. The last thing I want to do is appear tone-deaf or miss the mark with marketing messages.
Working in broadcast journalism has trained me to never lower my guard and always keep my eyes open for threats or liabilities in social posts, marketing campaigns, and imagery.
I also understand news cycles, and during a crisis, I’ve learned how to evolve and adapt to new circumstances and information.
For example, during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, there were different phases of crisis communication companies needed to understand. It was important to pause, pivot marketing and messaging, and identify pain points and re-position your brand, among other things.
Working with so many PR and marketing professionals over the years taught me about how to “own the narrative” of a brand’s story and to serve as a brand steward on social media.
7. Stay resourceful and help your audience find answers to their needs.
I say I’m a digital content strategist, but really, I’m a professional problem-solver.
If I don’t have an answer, I’ll either find the answer or find someone who does.
Broadcast journalism taught me to be resourceful, help my audience with valuable and actionable information, and think quickly on my feet and pitch smart angles.
I’ve come across so many random scenarios while working in social media, including:
- Converting and transferring files
- Helping people with their wifi
- Syncing folders on Sharepoint
- Identifying fonts
- Pitching a story on behalf of the company
- Finding alternative channel or format to communicate a message
- Sourcing video to its original owner
You name it, I’ve probably helped someone figure something out, and because of it, I’m an invaluable asset to my team and my company.
I solve people’s problems (in person and online) which makes me feel like I’m doing a great social service.
Journalists have a big opportunity in the marketing, social media, content strategy, storytelling and advertising space — if you are on the fence, I encourage you to take the leap.