How J-School Made Me a Better Marketer

I am one of those Mizzou J-school grads who got out of news reporting as soon as possible after J-306 my junior year and jumped right into marketing. However, when I look back, one of the most influential factors in setting me on my thoroughly enjoyable career path of interactive marketing has been the HTML editing class I stumbled into as part of an Online Journalism elective course my junior year. I "geeked out" so much in this class that I actually ended up becoming a teaching assistant for the class my senior year, which means that I spent hours per day building websites and helping other people understand Dreamweaver, CSS and web site code. 

Fast forward a decade later and you have the recipe for a social media marketer. I'll always remember one of the first interviews after graduation in which the hiring manager looked at my writing and editing abilities, website building skills and marketing passion, and instantly pinned me as an online marketer. Soon after I was informed what "SEO" and "PPC" meant, I found myself working for a software and online services company where I edited websites, purchased online ads and advised website owners every day on how to convert their site's visitors into customers. I realized there were more than a few things I had learned in J-school that continue to lend themselves well to success in an online marketing and social media marketing career. Here are just a few of them:
The Inverted Pyramid Method of
News Story Writing

Always be thinking about what your target audience wants or needs. J-school taught me how to find the most important facts about a story and present them in the most compelling way to the reader. My professors taught me about the inverted pyramid, the method of "placing of the most important information first within a text". It essentially forces you to be concerned primarily with your audience's needs and wants. Answer the question: "Why should I care?" This concept translates so well outside of just story writing, especially in today's "ADD age" of Internet prevalence and vast access to information, where, for example, the most newsworthy info is the tweet and the headline to the story, the important details are the body of the article, and the background info are the outbound links.
    • As it relates to online marketing: You have a visitor on your site: What are they looking for? Make it really easy for them to find it. Then explain it in simple terms, and make it easy for them to buy it. Don't have enough visitors yet on your site? Then think like they do: Where are they looking for the thing that your company offers (Google, for example)? Go get yourself in front of them and make it easy for them to choose your product or service over your competition. Think of (and talk about) your company and your products in terms of unique selling propositions, not just features and benefits. What does the customer want? Convince and convert.
    • As it relates to social media: Anyone and everyone you want to connect with is going to ask themselves, "What's in it for me?" Why should I be-friend you or follow your Twitter stream, especially if you represent a company? Don't serve me press releases and company promotions all the time. Be human and foster a relationship with me online by offering me useful, valuable information and entertaining, interesting bits of information and commentary. Be concise with your message, which you're going to have to be anyway because in many cases, you only have 140 characters with which to do it.
Be extremely efficient with your time and efforts. It must have been my first week of working for the local newspaper in Columbia, Missouri, aptly named "The Columbia Missourian" that I felt I was working 12-hour days (on top of 12 additional credit hours of school and a part-time job to pay the bills) for an end product that was not an adequate translation of my blood, sweat and tears. Essentially, in J-school, part of your education is a course in which you are officially a reporter for this paper as an unpaid part-time job. This method of learning the ropes of being a true reporter by being thrown into the fire is called "The Missouri Method." 

While I understood that we were being given a rare opportunity for real bylines before graduation, I also felt that the number of eyes that made it to my page-8 article that had taken me 15 hours of interviews and 6 revisions to complete just simply didn't translate. The return on investment, from my perspective, was negative. It was a very personal decision of mine to get out of reporting and editing as soon as possible, and it was the right one for me. But that experience alone taught me that I personally would only be satisfied in my career if I could find ways to make a big splash with everything I do, with the most efficient expense in time and energy. This isn't about being lazy. It's a rather simple equation: The less it takes to make a quick win, the more time you have to spend on the next one, and the sooner you can start working on it. 
    Steinbruegge getting loud
    with an air horn
    • As an online marketer, not only do I feel that my megaphone has become much larger, but I also need to see that the end result is that opportunity to make a tangible impact - on revenue, sales, money! With SEO and paid advertising, I can reach new audiences all over the world, and with a compelling message and product, I can drive the bottom line for a business. Oh, and don't forget that, Voila! Online marketing gives you web analytics and conversion tracking! Is there anything more magical than being able to directly attribute your blood, sweat and tears into actual, quantifiable results? (See image to the right for another example of a great Journalism-grad-turned-online-marketer known for frequently "getting loud" and making a big splash. Proof that it comes with the territory.)

    • As a social media marketer, I have never felt more visible and more connected to an international network of experts, professionals, entertainers, social mavens, connectors, mentors, influencers, brand advocates, customers, co-workers, name it! Twitter gives me a pretty big "megaphone" to reach whomever I desire in a valuable way. The end result of my time investment in social media creates such a compelling and valuable end result, serving both my employer and myself in unique ways. I learn new things every single day, I drive brand visibility and sales opportunities, I get to help shape the public's perception of the company, I am inspired, I get breaking news before the news organizations can give it to me, I have new friends I never would have met otherwise...the list goes on.

      More importantly, leveraging social media for marketing purposes requires one to be efficient with how they spend their time. Tweeting all night long just because you can't sleep doesn't automatically make you a social media marketer, even if it has brought you 200 new followers in a day. There are now so many social networks, millions of people on each of them, and now more and more companies, messages, products all clamoring for those consumers' attention. You have to be selective, specific, and targeted - both with the personal and the professional messages you choose to publish and with the individuals you aim to connect with. The more efficient and focused you can be with your time investment in social media, the more successful you will be. Isn't that a fun challenge? 
There is certainly a piece of all of this that can be attributed to innate characteristics and how I've evolved to think about things. I may not call myself a journalist today, but the Missouri Method, its rigorous work ethic, high expecations and standards, a focus on the audience's needs, and the entire curriculum around distilling information into a concise, targeted message -- each of these things groomed me throughout my Journalism school experience -- and each of them has made me a better online and social media marketer today.