One of the most disruptive things to happen to the PR profession has been the mass adoption of social media.
Almost all journalists use Twitter, nearly everyone in the civilized world is on Facebook, 92 percent of journalists are purported to be on LinkedIn, and any number of journalists and influencers are using any social network at any given time. Social media offers access to anyone else on it (more or less), which means that every PR practitioner and communications aspirant can interact with journalists, bloggers or others who wield influence.
I want to examine conventional wisdom about how PR practitioners should use social media to communicate with journalists. In each instance I separate “pitches” from usual interaction, because there are some social networks where it is appropriate to interact but not to pitch.
One note about PR pitches: Although I explore the appropriateness of pitching via different social networks, I want to note that journalists prefer email and phone pitches by a large margin (according to this survey). Contrary even to that survey, there are many journalists who object to phone pitches as well. Email may be the most effective means to submit most PR pitches.
The ability to pitch on social media doesn’t mean that a social media pitch will be as effective as an email pitch. Sean Donnelly of Hypertext writes about why social media pitches aren’t perceived as favorably as email pitches:
The general sentiment from reporters was that they prefer not to be pitched via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social platforms at all. Rationale for this stance ranged from social media being too hard to keep track of, to journalists preferring their competition and other story sources not to see who they’re working with.
As a further point, social media PR pitches probably are happening much less frequently than the blogosphere might lead you to believe. One survey of PR professionals concluded that only 13 percent of PR practitioners are pitching on social media.
Twitter’s low entry barrier and high (journalist) adoption makes it a very appealing medium to interact with journalists and bloggers. Twitter timelines can give you a sense of a journalist’s interest and focus. Tweets can also direct you to a writer’s off-site content. The character limits makes it less likely that you’ll wear out your welcome with a time-constrained writer.
Should I socialize with journalists and bloggers on Twitter?
Yes. Twitter is the ideal platform where journalists aren’t isolated into social circles and where many are open to regular interaction.
Lori Russo of Stanton Communications writes that Twitter may be the most useful social network for researching a journalist’s beat and their interests:
Social channels, specifically Twitter, are rich with opportunities to learn about what individual reporters are covering, or which reporters are covering a specific topic.
The logical progression of this research can be interaction around a journalist’s shared content.
Should I pitch journalists and bloggers on Twitter?
If you must. One survey suggests that Twitter is overused for PR pitches, whereas LinkedIn may be a more appropriate social media platform to pitch on. We can also deduce that some journalists may be open to Twitter pitches.
Allie Gray Freeland of iAcquire writes that there are six things that you can do to make your Twitter pitch more successful:
- Make sure your Twitter profile is complete.
- Establish yourself as a subject expert.
- Create media lists through Twitter lists.
- Engage with the journalists on your Twitter media list.
- Once you’ve socially engaged with the journalist, pitch them.
- Follow up.
Let’s couch this assessment by saying that Google+ is in the midst of a split into separate products, so if this post is out of date upon publication, know that it was true at one point. Google+ mainstreamed the long-form social posting that LinkedIn has since adopted. This allows for elaboration that wouldn’t be as appropriate for Twitter or Facebook.
A lot of the available information on journalists and G+ is dated, so the success of engagement and pitches would depend upon the activity of a journalist or blogger on the network.
Should I socialize with journalists and bloggers on Google Plus?
Yes. Not as many people actively use G+ as use other networks, so engaging a journalist or blogger on Google Plus may be a way to get better access than on a network like Twitter.
Should I pitch journalists and bloggers on Google Plus?
Probably not. If a journalist or blogger is using Google Plus, odds are that it is tied to their personal Gmail account (which you can message directly from G+). It’s generally perceived as poor practice to pitch to personal account (which is why Facebook is off limits). Chances are good that you can dovetail your social media conversation into an email pitch.
As many as 92 percent of journalists may have LinkedIn accounts. This is great news, except that LinkedIn has poor engagement and time on site relative to other social networks. In other words, having a profile doesn’t mean that you use it.
So, the Google Plus rules apply: Make sure journalists and bloggers are active before engaging them on LinkedIn.
Should I socialize with journalists and bloggers on LinkedIn?
Yes (sort of). LinkedIn is a professional network. You can follow journalist feeds and comment on their posts, but there probably isn’t going to be as much opportunity for the off-topic or personal engagement that Twitter might provide.
Should I pitch journalists and bloggers on LinkedIn?
Yes. One survey suggests that LinkedIn would be the preferred social network to pitch on. It’s discreet, gives journalists an opportunity to vet you and is as direct as an email.
Most writers have a blog of some sort. They may write about their specialty or about off-topic stuff that they’re not able to write about professionally. Some publications (such as my hometown Cincinnati Enquirer) encourage their journalists to interact through Web content as well.
Tumblr is one of the fastest-growing social networks in the 18- to 24-year-old demographic and is a hybrid visual/blogging platform.
Blogs and Tumblr pages are popular way to self-publish. Journalists mightcontribute to one and possibly many of these pages.
Should I socialize with journalists and bloggers on their blogs or on Tumblr?
Sure. You’re consuming content that doesn’t benefit from a lot of distribution, and generally it’s content that the writers are quite passionate about.
Should I pitch journalists and bloggers on their blogs or on Tumblr?
No. Blogs and Tumblr pages are both public and (in all likelihood) personal, making pitches on either inappropriate.
Facebook is the social network. Everyone is there. Everyone spends a lot of time there. You’d probably think this would be a great place to interact with journalists. You would be wrong.
People don’t use Facebook for work. They use it because it is the richest peer network that they maintain. I post pictures of my kids there. My wife posts pictures of her travels there. We don’t take pitches or discuss work there.
In other words:
Facebook is for friends, and friends don’t pitch friends. — Zoe Fox, Mashable
As with personal email, you should avoid trying to infiltrate closed personal social networks to make inroads with journalists or influencers. That would probably be perceived as an invasion of privacy.
Should I socialize with journalists and bloggers on Facebook?
No. Unless you are personal friends.*
*Journalist must concur that you are personal friends.
Should I pitch journalists and bloggers on Facebook?
Instagram is an awesome visual media platform. It is growing, is easy to use and manage, looks phenomenal and is perfect for mobile use.
Should I socialize with journalists and bloggers on Instagram?
Sure. Instagram is a great network to get a feel for people’s priorities and interests. Instagram is also an open network, so it is a more appropriate place to interact personally with someone who doesn’t know you well (as opposed to Facebook).
Should I pitch journalists and bloggers on Instagram?
Nope. (See Facebook.)
There are many completely appropriate ways to interact with journalists on social media. There are many ways that you can sabotage a professional relationship using social media inappropriately, too. If you are in doubt:
- Don’t try to interact on private networks such as Facebook.
- Use social media to appropriately research and interact with journalists and influencers.
- Always be sensitive to privacy issues.
- Use email pitches whenever possible; use LinkedIn if you must pitch on social media.
Social media platforms are powerful, but don’t use them to replace something tried and true. Consider this one last thought:
“Five percent of participants prefer being pitched via social media, and 6 percent prefer the phone. The vast majority (89 percent) still want to be pitched via email.” — Blaise Lucey, March Communications
Jim Dougherty is a PRSA member whose areas of interest include statistics, technology and content marketing. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty, or read his blog, leaderswest. A version of this story originally ran on the Cision blog.