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October 17, 2013

Should You Pitch Journalists on Twitter? Three Social Media Relations Tips—and Resources—for PR Pros

By Brian Pittman

In this era of increased competition for a shrinking news hole, it’s no longer enough to email a press release to a media list—or even to craft an exclusive email pitch for an A-list journalist—considering that reporters and bloggers now receive hundreds of emails from PR professionals every single day.

To stand out from the clutter, savvy communicators know they also need to incorporate social media into their media relations and pitching efforts. Here are a few quick tips, warnings and resources for doing just that, courtesy of PR University panelists past and present:

1. Use these tools to find, follow and friend journalists on social. Journalists are actively using social media in their reporting work—and expect you to be there, too. In fact, according to a Brunswick Research report titled “ Use of Social Media among Business Journalists,” two thirds of journalists have written a story that originated in social media. More specifically, journalists named Twitter, Blogs and Facebook as the top three most valuable social media sources in their reportage.

So where do you find them? Sandra Fathi, president and founder at Affect, suggested these quick-and-easy resources:

2. Regularly comment, like, share, retweet and mention. Fathi advised engaging with journalists on social before ever actually pitching them. Here are her rules of thumb for interacting with—and building long-term relationships with—journalists via social media:

  • Provide full disclosure (i.e., that you are a PR pro)
  • Seek opportunities for relevant engagement (this requires actively reading their posts)
  • Become a resource/thought leader (e.g., share opinions and positions on industry-shaping issues, as opposed to only speaking to client or company news)
  • Provide value over noise (e.g., share links to industry studies, etc., as opposed to sharing only posts related to your client or company)
  • Bring online offline (e.g., connect via social, but take pitches or even
  • Comment on (their) blogs
  • Like and share (their) content
  • Do regular Retweets (example 1 below) and mentions (example 2 below)

3. Query via DM—but pitch via social. “We regularly use social media in media outreach,” added Lauren Lawson-Zilai, director of PR at Goodwill Industries. But like Fathi, she recommended using social media as a relationship-building tool PRIOR to—or separate from—actually pitching.  She also suggested taking pitches “offline” (i.e., via email, phone, etc.—someplace where it’s not public).

She offered this example:“My team pitched Eve Tahmincioglu of MSNBC.com and todayshow.com. She is an influential career reporter and because Goodwill is the leading nonprofit provider of job training programs, it seems appropriate to develop a relationship with her,” said Lawson-Zilai.

“We began by following her on Twitter and retweeting some of her articles. We saw a ProfNet query that would be appropriate to Goodwill,” And then: “We sent her a direct message (DM) on Twitter to expect an email with more information on the inquiry. After following up via email, we sent her a DM to confirm receipt,” said Lawson-Zilai. “Our president and CEO, Jim Gibbons, was interviewed by phone along with one of our success stories, Janie Marsh, and we secured the placement.”

Exceptions vary, of course, depending on how well you know the target journalist—but taking pitches off social is becoming a fairly standard best practice. A primary reason, of course, is that a public pitch via social is visible to the target journalist’s followers—including competitors.

Peter Himler, founder of Flatiron Communications has gone so far as to say: “NO pitching via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+. Instead, follow and share (RT, Like, Pin, +) key reporters’ social musings to get on their radar,” he advised. Fathi puts it even more succinctly when she called out “inadvertently outing a reporter’s story” on platforms like Twitter as a cardinal sin of social media relations, alongside “blatant flattery” and “releasing confidential information.”

What do you think? Do you pitch journalists directly via Twitter? Do you have an example of a successful social media pitch? Do you have an example of one gone wrong? Do you have social media relations tips to share? Let us know here in the comments section—or email me directly. Who knows? Your comments could find their way into the next Idea Bank … 

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