Many public relations professionals worldwide dream of the day that they can successfully pitch their latest and greatest story with the world via ‘the little blue bird.’ And quite naturally so, after more than 20 billion tweets. The real-time social platform Twitter has firmly established itself as not only one of the largest online hubs of social activity, but also as a fairly ripe vehicle for media pitches, a realization that has PR professionals rejoicing. It can make your job much easier — if you do it right.
According to Twitter officials, there are more than 65 million tweets per day. If you hope for getting your message out, you have to distinguish yourself from the pack. To do this, try thinking like a journalist, rather than a press-starved PR person. This might sound a bit counter intuitive at first, but trust me, it’s crucial.
Think Like a Journalist
If you’re a PR professional looking to use social sites such as Twitter to engage journalists, it might be worth it to think like one. By understanding the journalist’s mindset, you gain a better idea of how and why they are using social media. If you can fit your pitches into that, you can better get the media on your side.
Become Familiar with Their Content and Style, and Get on Their Radar
Yes, I understand you’ve got that dynamite story you’ve just got to pitch. And I’m sure it’s wonderful.
But no one’s going to take you seriously if you don’t realize that journalists and bloggers are human beings. Just like traditional media (newspapers, radio, TV, etc.), you’ll have to get on their radar before you ever try to “pitch” anything. And by “get on their radar,” I mean “build relationships.” In many ways, Twitter (and other social media) mimic the real world.
The first step in establishing good relationships with journalists and bloggers is becoming familiar with their content. You need to become intimately familiar with the content they consistently post about, so that you can join their blog’s community of people who discuss what they post. Read their stuff, give your opinion, start and contribute to relevant, interesting discussions on a regular basis. This will help you to get on their radar.
You definitely want to cultivate a “relationship” with prominent journalists and bloggers (keep in mind that this means give-and-take; not only “reaching” them, but also providing value of your own that they may benefit from.
Find them, then follow them. Take note of those individuals and news organizations whom you believe may benefit from your tweets, and those whose tweets that you can learn from. And when they post good content, engage them.
How to Engage Them
You can follow someone on Twitter for ages, but it’s useless if they don’t know that you exist. So, you must engage them. An occasional thoughtful “@ mention” can do wonders.
Take a genuine interest in them as people, and show you have something to offer, and naturally they will take an interest in you and care about what you have to offer. After you’ve gotten on their radar, continue to stay in contact when they post new content, and hopefully by this point, they’re also following you and your content.
As a journalism major, I’ve learned that there are lots of ways to start conversations with news media via social networking sites. One such way is exploring the “unanswered.” In many breaking news stories, for example, there are lingering questions that have not been fully explored in the story, or sources who weren’t contacted, for whatever reason.
Many news sites also pose questions at the bottom of stories, inviting commentary. This is a perfect opportunity to contact the writers and create banter that establish report and a relationship. Take advantage and ask a thoughtful question, or share your informed opinion (respectfully).
Most good journalists are always looking for new contacts and sources of information, the key is getting on their radar. Through your social media profile and your contacts with these individuals and organizations, you’ve got to establish yourself as someone who consistently provides expertise, or an informed opinion. This will help build a mutually-beneficial relationship, as they will see that they have something to gain by keeping in contact with you as well.
Build Relationships When You Don’t Need a Favor
The trick is to get yourself established when you don’t need anything; that way, it’s not an uphill battle when you do. Just like building a 100% complete profile with lots of solid recommendations, answered Q&A, and more can take weeks or even months, the same thing goes for getting on the radar of news media and journalists using Twitter. In the beginning, a journalist may not respond to every one of your tweets, but if you keep posting good content and engaging him/her, most will.
Have Patience and Be Mindful
Like chess, strategic media relations can require a good deal of patience and tact. Realize that you are dealing with people.
Send them a thoughtful direct message occasionally, when you’ve got news of your own to share. But the key is to keep in mind the quantity of information coming their way on a daily basis.
You’ve got to be smart, or you will push the people you need away, with your lack of social media etiquette. Twitter, like every other social network out there, has an established site culture. You will have a hard time pitching your stories to journalists and bloggers if you don’t follow it.
The more that you do these things, the more success you will have with using Twitter for media relations.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Join the conversation below and share your thoughts.
You might be wondering, from reading the title, what exactly this has to do with public relations. It has everything to do with it. I’ll explain:
In recent weeks, I’ve noticed the strangest phenomenon at social networking website Twitter: It seems that there are more people there talking about “unfollowing” others than there are people who need to be unfollowed. This bothers me especially because a good number of people doing this are so-called “PR professionals.”
PR professionals don’t talk about “unfollowing” on Twitter.They just do it.
And let’s get this out of the way early: Unfollowing isn’t evil.
Let me be clear, Twitter is an amazing place, but stay long enough, and you’ll definitely run into a few “Tweople” that need to be unfollowed. Everyday, it seems, we’re beseiged with hundreds– perhaps thousands– of tweets, or mini-status messages from people we’re following. These messages range from extremely useful, to equally useless, depending on the individual reading them, and his or her purpose for being on the site to begin with. But it’s obvious that many people abuse the privilege of tweeting, and there are more than enough shameless self-promoters, mindless spammers, and simply clueless tweeters to prove that statement.
Don’t Call People Out.
There is no need, however, to publically announce when you unfolllow someone– or even worse– call out names with “@ mentions”. Trust me, I’ve seen it.
Both of these actions are the digital equivalent to shouting aimlessly (quite similar to flaming, if you think about it). Why do I say this? Because the noise that is created when you post:
“Ugh!!!! One of my followers is so #*%!$# annoying!! There are liek, 50 people I need to #unfollow! Especially @[insert username here]!!”
. . . is, to the rest of us, pretty much equivalent to the noise coming from the person that you just unfollowed. They’re both meaningless drivel that adds nothing of value to the community Twitter stream; in fact, they both take away. But unfollowing isn’t the rude part; it’s talking about it afterward that is.
The post-unfollow “gloat tweet” is not only rude, but also unprofessional.
Honestly, what’s the need to broadcast to the world that you don’t find someone’s tweets useful? And for public relations professionals, especially, it doesn’t do much to help clients or careers. Seems to me every tweet complaining about others is a wasted opportunity to provide real value to others.
If you spend any significant length of time on the site, you probably know that your taste in tweets may change over the course of a few months. When I first signed up last summer, for example, I primarily interested used the site to stay in touch with my friends. As I have built my career, however, I’ve found Twitter to be an incredibly useful tool for my career in PR. Quite naturally, I’ve done a fair bit of unfollowing from tweeters whose posts don’t match up to my reasons for being on the site.
. . . But I’m not tweeting about it every 5 seconds. And I’m certainly not making threats to unfollow others (which I’ve sadly seen as well.)
So we’ve talked about rudeness and selfishness. Now, onto professionalism.
Yes, employers check Twitter accounts. And so do clients.
If all you do on Twitter is complain about other folks, you’re instantly taking yourself out of the running for a good number of job and career opportunities, and all for the instant gratification of a 140-character status update. Both employers and your potential (current, too) clients will do their homework on you.
As much as people try to forget it, employers do conduct ‘social network background checks.’ Many will look up your Facebook profile, Google your name, and even look at your Twitter timeline (yes, I’m aware that you can change privacy settings and such, but trust me, there are ways around that). Sadly, having your profile set to “private” means very little in the year 2010.
Remember, you’re a professional. You need to think through the consequences of your actions, on the job, and off. How might a potential client feel to see your Twitter profile, for the very first time, to a timeline of complaints about other users and negativity in general?
Fellow PR pros: Your social media accounts need to be able to stand up to magnifying glasses of the highest scrutiny.
So if you’re going to unfollow someone, be a little bit more like Nike…
Because the whole “tweeting about it” thing is just a tad passé. Keep a positive vibe on your Twitter page.
How do you feel about “unfollowing” on Twitter? Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts and join the discussion.
I'm Robert - a Technology Underwriter at The Hartford Insurance Group, one of the nation's top 10 carriers. Having worked in the communications and risk management industries, I've become passionate about the fields of PR, tech and new media. Thanks for visiting my website!