One of the questions we as Communication academics are asked is where are the jobs: students ask us, parents ask us, the media report on the lack of jobs for journalists and others with a Communication degree.
Well, you need to think outside the big media square and I have some tips from people who have been successful in telling stories in the online space.
Over the last 18 or so months I’ve interviewed 30 new media entrepreneurs for a research project – people who’ve started up online media ventures such as blogs, websites, online magazines and digital broadcasting.
These people love what they do and most of them consider themselves successful, either financially or lifestyle-wise or both.
The main research question for the project are around skills, business models, technologies and the degree of success (here’s a link to the research website if you want more info or would like to read some of the findings) but as an interesting side question, I asked each participant what advice they would give our Communication students. Here are some of their best tips: networking, broad skill base, find a niche, engage with your audience, it takes time, and love what you do.
What a privilege to interview such smart, successful people! And their advice really resonates because it confirms that what we’re teaching our students are useful skills. Here are some more details:
It’s knowing people that will lead to good contacts, which will lead to more chances of success. Alaisdair Dewar, founder and editor-in-chief of reviewing site Novastream, is a big believer in getting out there and pushing what you do:
“Don’t sit inside and, you know, tweet at people and send Facebook or email. Get out and actually meet as many people as you can. That’s the only reason we have started to get big because we went to expos and conferences and, you know, took crappy homemade business cards and just had conversations with companies, with studios and people, and just say, hey, this is what I’m doing” (interview 14.8.14).
Suggestions include going to industry conferences (Mumbrella runs one every year) and workshops, find coffee mornings and bar meet-ups, and join networking groups in your area of interest.
Broad skill base
Jobs these days require multiple skills. Being a good writer OR visual storyteller OR sound recorder isn’t enough. Knowing how to write, shoot video, record sound, build/edit/populate a website, take a photograph makes you more attractive in the marketplace. If you know some design or coding, that is also useful, according to pioneering food blogger Ed Charles, as is “knowing how the dynamics of social networks work” (Ed Charles interview, 17.2.15). Veronica Ridge from online magazine Issimo suggests a wide range of skills:
My advice would be to set up their own blog for a start, to get very savvy at social media … They need to know photography. They need to know video. They need audio, editing, yeah. So they need many, many more skills. But the way that the ones who’ve done really, really well, the interns I’ve seen, have been ones that have set up their own news blogs perhaps and then Tweeted and Instagram’d, so that kind of thing” (interview 20.2.15).
Find a niche
Which is exactly what William Bowe, Crikey’s The Poll Bludger, said: “Find a niche” (interview 10.9.14).
“If you don’t want to work for the big institutions, then one way or another, if you are going to be a success as blogger it’s going to be within a very narrow niche. And that’s the magic of the internet, it enables people to seize upon sites that deal with their extremely narrow interests without having to put up with all the extraneous sorts of things they are interested in a traditional news media format” (interview 10.9.14).
Greg Jericho suggests that areas such as local government or local sport are a good area to start specialising and if you blog about it, make sure the local newspaper knows about you to link to your stories: “if there is enough of a community that if you use Twitter and things like that you can quickly become known as the person who knows about all these things. And I think that’s a good way in” (interview, 18.7.14).
While finding a niche is important, Grant Sproule from Throwing Buckets advises caution and common sense: “sit down and to study what’s out there. What are the best ways to get it done? Don’t just jump in and go for the first thing that you see. Make sure you’re aware of the area that you’re getting into, to check out what is out there and what other people are doing and see if there’s ways that you can do it better” (interview 11.11.14). Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes agrees: “it’s not like every niche works … I guess you’ve probably got to do two things. Number one, you’ve got to specialise, but number two, you’ve got to work out how you can make money from your specialisation” (interview 7.8.14).
Another tip is to find a hook. Celeste Liddle, who writes Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist, says the title of her blog “got people giggling” and “was a reasonably clever hook”. But she also mentions that if you’re writing a blog, it has to be actively promoted via any networks and social media. Which brings us to the next point …
Engage with your audience
These online spaces are social and audiences expect interaction but it’s also important to find out what interaction is best in the space you want to play in. Choose the social media that suits your audience. Those who are successful are very aware of who their audience is and one outcome of that awareness is the ability to match the appropriate social media to their audience. Are they on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter? Do they prefer to engage on a blogsite? Is a weekly/biweekly/daily email going to be useful?
As an example, Tim Duggan, from online publisher Sound Alliance, says that around sixty per cent of Junkee.com’s traffic comes from Facebook and specifically noted how the demographics of Junkee’s audience (18 to 35-year-olds) “don’t care about Twitter” (interview, 23.3.15), while more than ninety per cent are on Facebook.
Paula Matthewson, who blogs and plays in the online space as Dragonista, says: “Inhabit the places where your readers are, and truly engage with them” (interview 17.9.14). Interact with them on social media, answer their comments on the blog, reply to emails, thank them for their support. All these interactions build up an audience and their trust, but the next point is important as well …
It takes time
None of the participants are overnight successes and several of them say it takes a long time to get a readership/viewership/etc. Start early is one piece of advice. Nikki Parkinson runs fashion and beauty blog Styling You:
“Don’t be urgent about it. What I see now is, ‘Oh my God! I want to start a blog! I want to earn some money!’ And I just go, ‘Well, you actually have to build a readership’, and to build a readership you’ve actually got to really love what you do because the hours that you have to put in to build that community and build that readership are going to be huge” (interview 9.5.14).
According to Greg Jericho, and to slightly misquote Field of Dreams, if you build it they will come: “that’s the one thing I’ve found with blogging, is that if you are good enough, eventually you’ll get an audience. Now it takes ages, and you should never sort of think okay, I’ll post my first blog and here comes the readership” (interview, 18.7.14).
Kayte Murphy, owner of the highly successful blog WoogsWorld, finished off by saying: “And a lot of people think that it happens overnight, and it just doesn’t. I don’t know one person who’s bolted from the gates and had, you know it’s taken five and a half, six years, and you’ve got to do it because you love doing it, not because you want to be a blogger” (interview 21.7.14). Which leads quite nicely into the final point …
Love what you do
While lots of the interviewees talked about how much they love, love, love what they do, I can’t go past the passion of Mark Pesce, a pioneer in the online space, and someone who I felt very privileged to interview:
“I’m going to adapt the line from Joseph Campbell, which is ‘Follow your bliss’. So find a domain that you are completely obsessed by, that you just can’t stop thinking about, that you love, in whatever way that you love it, you love the contours, you love to work on it, you love to learn more about it, and use that as your entry point. And establish yourself there, and once you’ve established yourself there, the opportunities for you to participate in that in an economically meaningful way, will appear” (Mark Pesce, interview 17.7.14).
So there’s some ideas and advice from people who I really enjoyed chatting to. Maybe you won’t get a job with the ABC or Channel 9 or Fairfax or The Australian or Cosmopolitan magazine, or maybe you will, but there are certainly opportunities out there for Communication students.
Please don’t think that I’m advocating a Utopian view that states you will be successful if you take on this advice. It’s very hard to make money in the online space and there’s no magic formula that leads to success – lots of people are trying to figure it out. And you may also like to use your skills elsewhere – NGOs, government jobs, big/small business, community organisations, overseas, public service, etc., etc., etc. Those tips mentioned above translate into other jobs for Comm students as well.
But these people I interviewed have found their niche, they love what they do, and they’re successful.
And I’d like to thank them for sharing their passion with me.