Redefining the pitch: An interview with Yumi Wilson, Corporate Communications Manager at LinkedIn
There are professionals, then there are people who chart their own course. Yumi Wilson is one of those people. Raised on army bases, she found her way into the AP newsroom in Los Angeles in 1991, and never looked back. A former Fulbright Scholar, AP Reporter and tenured professor, Yumi knows a thing or two about personal and professional transformation. She was recently named one of the 12 Smartest Women of Color on Twitter and she currently works at LinkedIn as the corporate communications manager. I got a chance to pick her brain about LinkedIn, her career and where she thinks journalism is going in 2014 and beyond.
JJ: How did you get your start in journalism?
YW: It's funny, because I never thought I would be where I am today. I went to junior college in Fairfield, CA, at a place call Solano Community College. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was studying telecommunications and thought "I'll become a tv reporter." I never thought I would transfer to a four year school, as I was working full time and my job didn't end until December. I didn't really apply to universities to transfer, as I thought it was too expensive and probably not for me. I'm an army brat and grew up on army bases. My brother and my sister didn't go to college. I became the first in my family to do that.
Some of my professors from the junior college encouraged me to apply to USC though, and I got in. The professors and advisors at USC opened up my world. They helped me with my resume, find internships and gave me a job in the journalism school. I was constantly around journalists, professors and advisors. There I began my newspaper career, and by the time I graduated I was working fulltime for the Associated Press, in Los Angeles.
JJ: Wow! That's incredible.
YW: It's almost unheard of! Almost no one gets hired with the AP, especially at one of the biggest news bureaus in the world. It was unexpected and great. A few years later the Rodney King riots happened, and it shaped what I wanted to do next in my career. I met with the San Francisco Chronicle editors at a conference in LA, I interviewed with them and they eventually hired me. I moved up to San Francisco when I was 25, and worked for 11 years covering issues on families in need, people of color and other issues that personally resonated with me. I tried to create change with my stories and give a voice to the voiceless. Near the end of my newspaper career, I started teaching part-time. A full-time position opened up and they asked me if I was interested. I told them no the first time, but they offered it (the position) again and I decided to apply and eventually got the job.
I love the classroom, and inspiring young people to follow their own path. Thats what I find really important, and segues into what I'm doing now.
JJ: What are you up to now?
YW: Now I'm a tenured professor and working at LinkedIn. Many people asked me why I would leave a tenured position to even come to LinkedIn. For me, its always been about the opportunities presented and a chance for continued learning. I thought I knew everything and was comfortable in the classroom, but when I got to LinkedIn, I realized how little I actually knew. I thought, "Wow, this is what new college graduates and students need to know," and I knew none of it. This opportunity has schooled me on what I need to be doing as a teacher and educator. More importantly, it has me excited again about journalism, new media, and being on the cutting edge. When I go back to the classroom, I can speak with authority about social media and communications. I am able to provide insights about strategy and what non-traditional journalism groups are doing to inform the public. Journalism used to be a one way street. Big newspapers or TV stations used to speak down to the public and tell them what stories mattered
What I see happening now is a two-way street. People are saying, these stories are important to us, and other people are able to amplify those stories. There isn't simply a small group of gatekeepers anymore. Now people have a much larger voice.
JJ: Why is LinkedIn, as a media platform, such a powerful tool for journalists and media pros?
YW: I know a lot of people think of LinkedIn as where I put my "resume." Or, "I'm looking for a job, I'll go to LinkedIn." But it's so much more. If you spend 15 to 30 minutes on LinkedIn,you are actually investing in yourself. Studies have shown that people who come to Linkedin and use the network, are actually there to grow their knowledge and connect with other people. Fifteen minutes engaging with your peers or people you admire, and now you have just invested that back into yourself. When I go to newsrooms or conferences to speak, I often tell people that the last thing you want to do is look for a job, and reach out to someone influential, when you haven't spent time engaging or interacting with that decision maker. We have 2 million groups where you can cultivate relationships before you need something. LinkedIn gives you the ability to become an expert in your passions. If you love music, start writing about it and sharing that with groups. People will notice.
JJ: I wanted to touch on something you mentioned earlier. With journalism now being more of a two-way street, from your vantage point at LinkedIn, how do you see media and journalism changing in the 21st century?
YW: It has changed so much!. We used to go online and look for results. The reality is that you are rarely able to find the right contact information simply through Google. What's worse is that we don't have the way to introduce ourselves. With LinkedIn, you actually can find that contact without having to dig through the Internet.
What's really great is that the LinkedIn for Journalists program offers a free upgrade to our Executive subscription. This allows journalists not only to find the right person, but to InMail them directly. Journalists have discovered that they can send someone a direct message professionally, and explain who they are. That potential source can actually fact check the journalist, to make sure they are credible and authentic. This can be a much better choice than trying to connect with someone you don't know.
Other tools like our Alumni search, allow people to look for someone who has an affiliation from your university.
One of the best tools I think is the Advanced People Search. Using Boolean search strategies, you have an incredible breadth of search categories and specific criteria, targeting the exact sources you need. Many times journalists or researchers are looking for past employees for off-the-record or current employees to go on-the-record, and the Advanced People Search allows you to do both easily.
JJ: For someone maybe looking to break into the industry or a student trying to find that next internship or job opportunity, what are three tips you would have for how they can maximize their exposure on LinkedIn?
1. It all starts with the profile.
You need to maximize and make sure your profile is complete. That's one of the main factors in the algorithm that helps you rank near the top of search results.
Filling in your experience and education is crucial. Make sure to add all the positions you have had. When you add a second position to your profile, it increases the the likelihood of it being viewed by 12 times.
Oftentimes people undervalue their volunteer or cause-based work they do. The keywords that you add to those fields are searchable, and will increase the likelihood that a recruiter or others looking for an expert will be able to find you!
2. Maximize your headline.
Sometimes someone will say "Oh, I'm a student." You are so much more than that. You are a content strategist. A social media expert. Producer. Writer. You have 2 lines, and I often recommend using the entire thing.
3. Take advantage of the summary.
Journalists can be humble and modest, and not necessarily talk about their accomplishments and talk about the work they have done. But they need to!
Think about it like a cover letter. If you had 15 minutes with the publisher of the NY Times, what would you say so that they remembered you? Put that in your summary. From an SEO standpoint, the summary is also weighed heavily when people go to search for specific keywords. Putting those in your summary and headline can have a major impact.
JJ: 12 times!?
YW: Yes. When you think about your brand and your identity, you should add all the work you have done under experience. If you add a photo to your profile, it increases your abiity to show up in search by 11 times.
JJ: I had no idea about any of this! Wrapping up, how are you seeing your career grow in 2014, using LinkedIn as an educator, professor and journalist?
YW: My confidence level has grown. In social, we are constantly evaluating ourselves, and testing to see what works.
By consistently updating and amending my own profile, I am constantly evaluating what I have done, and where I am going. The profile is a living and breathing document, that tells you and reminds you what you still need to do. I feel much more organized, because I am thinking about my identity as a journalist, a professor and a communications manager. Others look to me to find advice and gain insight. Groups play a big part in that, because every time you start a discussion or contribute, people go and check your profile to see if you actually have that expertise.
It's been amazing to see people I used to work with endorse me, and talk about my skills. That has been affirming for me on my journey as well.
JJ: Yumi, thank you so much. You have given a bunch of resources and insight that i think people are going to love. How can people find you or reach out to you to find out more?
YW: If people are journalists, I moderate a group called, LinkedIn for Journalists. I have monthly webinars that teach journalists how to utilize LinkedIn to find sources and contact, as well as bolster their personal profiles.
I also just started a new group, called LinkedIn for Corporate Communications. That is for PR people, communications strategists, and in house news teams, who are looking to maximize and communicate their corporate message on LinkedIn. We have members from Bank of the West, Pinterest and Facebook, which is incredible.
Jonathan Jackson is a writer, thinker and digital media enthusiast. He just finished a resource guide for Millennials called Push: An Insider Guide to Building Your Brand, Managing Your Wallet, & Starting Your Career. You can find him on Twitter, Google+ and his website, where he blogs about life, success, and other things.