Pitching a journalist on social media? Read this first

Pitching a journalist on social media? Read this first

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

In addition to serving as a real-time resource 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 is interested in.

The evolving role of channels like Twitter and LinkedIn in professional communications also means that social media offers a unique opportunity to reach journalists through the sites they probably check more often than their inbox. But just because you can pitch someone via a tweet, direct message or blog comment, 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. But 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 — and sometimes even an entire publication's — blacklist.

Here are a few basic guidelines for successfully pitching and engaging with reporters on social channels.

Consider the nature of the network.

As any social media marketer will tell you, every 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 very put off if someone tracked you down on Instagram and left a work-related comment on a picture of your weekend brunch. Though they may not always seem like it, journalists really are human, too — and they don't want to get bombarded with professional requests on their personal blog, YouTube channel or Facebook inbox 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+, if they use it — the idea is not to copy and paste your email pitch into that medium (which would be rather 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, and if there is interest, you can…

Move it over to email.

Inefficient as it may sometimes be, email remains the primary mode of communication in the professional world. Chances are 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, 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 social network you used) and is much more likely to respond since you've already started a conversation.

Don't forget to 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 the media, and there are indeed best practices for doing so. In her piece, Little quoted Chain Store Age senior editor Dan Berthiaume, who said that social messages shouldn't be sent until a relationship has been established 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 importantly, 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? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Nicole Fallon is the assistant editor of Business News Daily, a resource for small business owners, entrepreneurs and job seekers. Follow her on Twitter @nicolefallon90.

Photo: Man using smartphone via Shutterstock

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