In 140 characters or less, how does a recent grad with no journalism experience land a six-figure job with one of the nation’s largest media companies? If you’re Gabi Gregg, here’s the answer: Build a loyal and engaged following on social media, catch the eye of MTV, and win a competition to become the cable network’s first Twitter jockey.
MTV announced in June that it was seeking its first “TJ” to “help amplify the voice of our audience as part of the global conversation,” says General Manager Stephen Friedman. The network, in partnership with ZYNC from American Express, would have 20 social media enthusiasts competing thumb to thumb in Twitter-based challenges for a one-year, $100,000 contract as part of Follow Me: The Search for the First MTV TJ. The public was asked to nominate two of the competitors, while MTV selected the first 18, including Gregg.
The Detroit native had graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2008 with a degree in international relations. But her true interests were fashion and writing. She applied to all kinds of positions—from magazines to part-time work at Starbucks—but she had the misfortune of entering the job market in the midst of the Great Recession. So Gregg put her time and energy into her passion, launching her plus-size style blog Young, Fat & Fabulous.
“I think MTV was looking for youth who were very involved online and had a unique voice and had followers who liked and trusted them. It wasn’t necessarily about who was the most popular,” Gregg, 24, says. “They were looking for people who really love social media, and I think that came across. MTV saw that I was very passionate about something, and that I engaged with my followers about this passion.”
The monthlong competition included challenges such as discovering a local band and interviewing celebrities. The judging utilized TweetLevel, a tool created by the public relations firm Edelman that measures—on a scale of 100, with higher numbers representing more importance—a person’s influence, popularity, engagement, and trust on Twitter. Those are factors Gregg knows you can’t fake.
“When you’re only using social media to promote yourself and that’s it, it’s very transparent,” she says. “People can see right through it when you’re only saying ‘Look what I did here.’ They don’t want to follow you, they don’t want to interact with you, and they don’t really trust you either because it comes off as sales pitchy as opposed to ‘Oh this person actually has something cool and valuable to offer me.’”
Five finalists advanced to the finale on Aug. 8, which aired live on TV and was simultaneously streamed on the Web. There was a series of elimination rounds before the MTV audience chose the winner by a text message vote. Gregg won every round, and she chalks her appeal up to her genuineness.
“My main strategy is just to be as real as possible,” Gregg says. “Showing people that you care what they have to say and that you’re engaging in a conversation is what’s most important about social media.”
Gregg’s first tweet after winning the job? “So much to say about how I feel right now, but keeping it to 140 characters or less I’ll say, #VMAs here I come! THANK U to #ZYNC, #MTV and most of all the fans whose votes got me here! I promise I won’t let you down!” So far she’s been taking her role as the eyes and the ears of fans seriously.
“I think that’s why MTV thought the idea of a Twitter jockey was so important, because they wanted to give a different perspective, one that’s not so corporate, and show a bit of the insider’s perspective of MTV—what goes on at the offices or the VMAs [Video Music Awards]—as opposed to promoting their TV shows or promoting a new video premiere,” Gregg says.
It’s also one of her favorite parts of the job: “When I’m going to meet somebody, I’m sharing that with my followers and I’m getting so much support and feedback and questions. Being able to relate that back to them is probably the most rewarding part.”
In her first few months on the job, Gregg amassed almost 25,000 followers on her official MTV Twitter handle, @MTVTJ. Over the course of one week in October she gave the behind the scenes scoop on everyone from the president (“President Obama said he believes gays are born gay. Lady Gaga would be proud.”) to Willow Smith (“Willow Smith came by MTV today (I died) and *gasp* actually acted her age! I love her.”).
She’s also learned how to take the genuineness of her personality, which has always been a hallmark of her social media presence, and merge it with the business goals of her employer in a way that’s still authentic and engaging. “I’ve learned how to cater my tweets to do both,” she says. “I would tell businesspeople that it is doable to have that personalized voice and still maintain a level of professionalism and a level of promotional value.”
She’s got one more message for professionals and entrepreneurs: If you aren’t using social media, why not?
“Getting immediate feedback, getting to engage with your consumers—there’s no other way to do that. Nothing is like having a direct link to the people who are buying your products. You can’t buy that anywhere. It’s priceless. So having the ability to do that and not utilizing it is just crazy,” Gregg says. “It’s free. It takes 20 minutes a day. And it will make a world of difference in your business.”