Social media networks have quickly proven themselves a huge boon to journalists and reporters. Sure, all professions benefit from networking and brand building on social, but the real-time pace is particularly powerful for the people who find and report the news.
So how exactly are journalists using social, and how do they want to be contacted by PR professionals on these platforms? We asked three reporters to give us the inside scoop:
- Kim Lachance Shandrow, a senior writer for Enterpreneur.com
- Micah Singleton, a reporter at The Verge
- Laura Schaefer, cofounder of WordChum.com and contributor to SkilledUp, Match.com, MoneyMix and several other outlets
Although each of these journalists has a slightly different approach to social, a few common threads stand out.
How Journalists Use Social
Journalists may be present across all platforms, but that doesn’t mean they want to be contacted wherever you can find them. Here are some basic expectations when it comes to professional outreach.
— Kim LachanceShandrow (@LaShandrow) March 9, 2015
Twitter is Tops
The first step in building a social connection with writers is to know where to find them. You’ll likely find profiles for reporters on all the major social sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, but that’s not where they tend to be the most active. For professional purposes, most journalists focus their time on Twitter. Our three pros are no exception, but they did each detail slightly different approaches to Tweeting.
“Personally, I only use Twitter for work,” Singleton said. “I’ll Tweet out some of my pieces, but not all of them. On the rare occasion, I’ll DM a potential source on Twitter if I can’t find their email otherwise, but that barely ever happens.”
Shaefer made a clear delineation in her social habits: “Twitter for work and Facebook for personal.”
But she was also willing to adapt: “There are definitely exceptions where I’ll post about looking for a specific kind of expertise on both.”
Facebook Sometimes Supplements
Lachance Shandrow is also on Twitter “all day, every day” and Tweets out all of her articles. But she is mindful of the need to choose more private forms of communication too, which is why she sometimes turns to Facebook.
“I used to reach out to potential sources on Twitter to request article interviews, but I don’t do that any more—I think it’s too public and kind of pushy,” she said. “Social sites other than Facebook are too public. I could tip off competitors as to what I’m about to cover, etc., and I don’t want to do that. It’s showing your cards.”
“Social sites other than Facebook are too public. I could tip off competitors as to what I’m about to cover, etc., and I don’t want to do that. It’s showing your cards.” —Kim Lachance Shandrow of Enterpreneur.com
What Public Relations Reps Shouldn’t Do on Social
If you want to immediately rub a reporter the wrong way, these gestures are a sure bet.
Don’t Call a Reporter the Wrong Name
Seasoned journalists have seen every kind of bad PR outreach. When you’re preparing to make contact, whatever social platform you’re using, start by getting the basics right. Singleton said he’d been called the wrong name and seen his name misspelled.
“It’s not hard; it’s in my email address,” he added.
Don’t Pitch Out of the Blue
Once you double-check the name and publication for a journalist, make sure your pitch is a fit for that writer’s beat.
“Bad PR outreach is pitching me out of the blue about a topic I’m not working on,” Schaefer said.
“Bad PR outreach is pitching me out of the blue about a topic I’m not working on.” —Laura Schaefer of WordChum.com
Singleton seconded the plea for reps to tailor their pitches.
“If I wrote about solar panels once back in 2013, I probably don’t cover it,” he said. “Look through my posting history. If you still don’t know, ask.”
Don’t Call a Reporter Out
Lachance Shandrow has seen public relations reps using any means necessary to get in contact, including cold calls at all hours, but she also pointed to more common behaviors on social that are off-putting. She said her worst experience with public relations was being called out on Twitter for not being responsive enough.
“‘I sent you an email…did you read it?’ Tweets are a bit rude,” she said. “They are too public.”
All these behaviors boil down to respect. If you want to get the attention of a busy journalist, then understand that they get a high volume of messages on social and on email. They might get dozens of messages on any given day, and they won’t give more than a glance to those unrelated to their beats or containing misinformation.
What Public Relations Reps Should Do on Social
Fortunately, avoiding these pitfalls doesn’t mean forgoing online pitching all together. Here are some tips for how writers want to be approached.
I’m looking for some thoughts on the difference between a development environment and a staging environment. #development
— Laura Schaefer (@teashopgirl) March 3, 2015
Research From the Start
Just as a blanket sweep often falls flat in your customer marketing, you’ll be best served by spending some time focusing on writers as individuals. Be observant of how different journalists interact with public relations reps on social:
- Have they built many friendly relationships with public relations pros?
- Are they regularly reaching out to reps for sources?
- Do they rarely talk shop on social with their public relations contacts?
As we’ve seen, there’s no single path to success in how to best connect with journalists.
For instance, even though she spends a large amount of time on Twitter, that’s actually not Lachance Shandrow’s preferred place to receive pitches.
“I prefer the private nature of email,” she said. “Maybe I’m old school, but I just think it’s more efficient and professional.”
Remember, high-profile publications might have some limits on how much they want to give away before an article goes live. That’s why Lachance Shandrow said she prefers the one-to-one messaging options over something like a public @mention on Twitter.
Be Succinct and Sincere
Honesty can go a long way, especially when you’re trying to create an ongoing work relationship.
“Overselling boring and/or bad products will make me not take you seriously when you have something really good,” Singleton said.
“Overselling boring and/or bad products will make me not take you seriously when you have something really good.” —Micah Singleton of The Verge
He also encouraged reps to be concise.
“Get to the point in your email,” he said. “I get hundreds of emails a day, so if I don’t know what you’re pitching by the fourth sentence, it’s on to the next one.”
While his advice centered on email, it’s equally pertinent to social, especially on Twitter, where there’s a character limit. A dozen DMs flooding the inbox is a deterrent.
Shaefer summed up the ideal approach: “My best advice is to read and respond to my Tweets. If you’re helpful, we’ll get along well!”
Any social media interaction should be a two-way street. Journalists aren’t just megaphones to amplify the messages of your clients. Make sure you’re offering something substantive in return. That could be regular access to breaking information or just friendly conversation.
Prove that you value journalists’ time and work, and you’ll be more likely to catch their attention (as well as the public’s).