Ten years ago, before media databases and Google-able phone numbers, the hardest task of any PR campaign was tracking down journalists’ contact details. Whether you had access to the infamous News Media Yellow Book or tried to MacGyver your way to a phone number, it was both a time-consuming and headache-inducing process.
Now, the tricky part isn’t tracking down journalists’ latest newsroom extensions. It’s figuring out when and how to engage with them in a way that’s professional, effective, and personalized to each one—especially when it comes to social media.
If you’re still wrapping your head around how to interact with journalists online, here are three questions to help guide an outreach strategy and bullet points to help you engage with journalists on social media.
1. Who is using social media?
First, pull out your trusty (and most updated!) media list and, line-by-line, figure out who of your top journalists are using social media and which platforms they’re using. (P.S.: Meltwater’s database search function makes this a breeze.)
2. Are they using social media regularly?
For those that are using social media, are they posting daily? Several times a week? If so, you’re in business. If not, stick to email. You don’t want to risk your messages being overlooked because they simply aren’t seeing them.
3. How do they interact with PR professionals and/or brands (if at all)?
This might take a little digging into their feed, but here’s what you want to get a feel for: Are they asking for sources or quotes on their platforms? Are they responding to pitches directly? Are they interacting regularly with PR people and brands? Are they telling those people to direct message them or are they having public conversations? Or are they simply linking to their own stories and not engaging at all?
This will help shape how you approach engaging with each journalist on their most active platform—whether you’re casually nurturing a relationship through sharing and commenting on their content or plan to use Facebook or Twitter as your primary pitching platform.
Once you’ve got your short-list, here are our top do’s and don’ts for engaging with journalists on social media:
- Reach out through a personal account. Just like you prefer interacting with humans—instead of generic email addresses and branded Twitter accounts—so do journalists. It’s also easier to nurture an ongoing relationship when they can put a face to a name.
- Still include a hook! In the same way that you’d look for a compelling hook when sending an email, you want to give the same thoughtfulness to your tweet, Facebook post or Instagram DM. Have something interesting to say about something they just posted? That’s a great place to start.
- Ask for their outreach preferences. When they respond, direct message them and ask “I contacted you on Twitter; is that the best place to reach out to you?” That’ll help you figure out your most direct line to them moving forward.
- Stalk. Meaning, it’s not necessary to like every tweet, photo, or post. Rule of thumb: If it would creep you out, it’ll likely creep them out too.
- Join online journalist communities and/or events in the hopes of pitching your stuff. It’s absolutely fine (and encouraged!) to tune into a journalist-focused event (like the weekly #wjchat Twitter chat) to better understand them, how they work and what they’re paying attention to. But don’t show up and try to pitch your latest product or arrange for a coffee. It’ll feel inappropriate and out of context—and do way more harm than good.
- Go straight for the pitch. Unless it’s a crisis and you need to get in touch with them ASAP, follow them, say hello, and like and share the content you find most compelling and relevant before you start asking them to write stories about you. (If you were on the other side of that screen, you’d want them to do the same).
Wondering where to start?
Check out the mastheads of media outlets that you like, make note of the writers. When you find yourself enjoying an article, make a note of the byline. Check out other articles that the journalists you like may have penned and which other outlets they’re writing for. Look for them on Twitter and start following them. After a few rounds of this, you’ll amass a list of journalists that you’re tracking. If you want to quickly expand that list, use a media database.