An editor’s advice for pitching via social media

Reaching out to journalists via Twitter or LinkedIn requires finesse and an understanding of protocol. The author helps you find the path to making connections and landing coverage.

A decade ago, media professionals couldn’t have imagined the impact social media would have on the news cycle today.

In addition to being a real-time conduit for breaking news and trending topics, social networking tools provide valuable insights for PR reps who want to know more about a reporter and what types of stories he or she covers.

Social media offers a unique opportunity to reach journalists through Twitter and LinkedIn—sites they probably check more often than their inbox. Sure, you can pitch someone via a tweet, direct message or blog comment, but that doesn’t mean you always should.

There’s an art to connecting with journalists on social media: Do it well, and you’ll start a memorable conversation about your story idea. Do it poorly, and you risk not only stepping far beyond the boundaries of a professional relationship, but also ending up on a journalist’s or an entire publication’s blacklist.

Here are a few basic guidelines for pitching and engaging with reporters on social media channels:

Consider the nature of the network.

Every social media site is different and has its own set of unspoken rules and guidelines for using it.

Think about how you use your accounts on various social networks. You might participate in industry Twitter chats or group discussions on LinkedIn, but you’d probably be put off if someone tracked you down on Instagram and left a work-related comment on a picture of your weekend brunch.

Journalists don’t want to get bombarded with professional requests on their personal blog, YouTube channel or Facebook wall any more than you would. Jim Dougherty, founder of the leaderswest digital marketing journal, wrote a great piece for Cision about PR etiquette practices for each major social channel.

Gauge interest—don’t outright pitch.

If you’ve determined that a social channel is appropriate for pitching—and for most reporters, that’s only Twitter, LinkedIn and maybe Google Plus—the idea is not to copy and paste your email pitch into that medium (which would be difficult and time-consuming on Twitter, anyway).

The most effective social media pitches are those that simply gauge a reporter’s interest in the topic or client. For example, you could send a journalist a direct message saying something like, “Based on your work, you seem to cover employee productivity a lot. Are you looking for sources? I have a client who would be perfect!” or, “What are you working on these days? I’d love to be a resource for you if my clients are a good fit.”

You’re much more likely to get a quick response to these low-pressure, easy-to-answer questions. If you do, take the next step.

Move it over to email.

Inefficient as it sometimes is, email remains the primary mode of communication in the professional world.

Chances are good that the reporter you just tweeted at isn’t going to want to learn about your client and set up an interview through their DMs. So, once you’ve gotten his or her attention on social media, ask for an email address where you can send more information about your idea.

This means he or she will be looking for your message (especially if your subject line references the original network you used) and will be much more likely to respond because you’ve already started a conversation.

Build relationships first.

As Identity social media account director Nikki Little wrote in her recent Muck Rack article, social channels are now an accepted way to establish and strengthen relationships with journalists, and there are best practices for doing so.

In her piece, Little quoted Chain Store Age senior editor Dan Berthiaume, who advised against sending social media messages until you’ve established a relationship with the reporter. A great way to start is by sharing or commenting on journalists’ articles that are relevant to your clients’ expertise. If you tag them, they’ll most likely see it, and if you haven’t worked together before, this will put you on their radar.

Most important, follow and pay attention to what a reporter posts about his or her work or professional life. It could hold the clues you need to make a smart, effective and lasting impression when you do eventually reach out.

Fellow journalists, have more tips for PR pros who want to pitch via social media? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Nicole Fallon is the assistant editor of Business News Daily. Follow her on Twitter @nicolefallon90. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

Topics: PR

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