11 Tips to Connect with Trusted Traditional Media on Twitter

Despite the proliferation of new media outlets—and the fact that nearly everyone with a smartphone is now potentially a citizen journalist—the bulk of voters still turn to trusted traditional sources, particularly local television stations to catch up on current events.

A USC/Los Angeles Times poll of 1,009 registered voters found that even with a welter of new media alternatives available, 58% of those surveyed said they watched their local TV daily, which gives local stations considerably more reach than the second-most-common news source: Local newspapers, in both their print and online versions. About 39% of those surveyed said they routinely turned to the local paper.

The poll found also that 52% of 18-to-29-year-olds got news via Facebook, making it the top source of news for the young, followed by local TV at 37%. (The survey did not determine what type of information teens and 20-somethings obtain via the social media giant, which could vary from the opinions of friends and family to stories from traditional media outlets—virtually all of which now aggressively pitch their work via Facebook, reports Los AngelesTimes.)

When asked to rate news organizations on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 reserved for their most trusted news sources, traditional sources—led by local television and newspapers, PBS and national newspapers—all received average ratings of 6 or above, the top scores across the entire voting population.

Couple those statistics with the fact that the public’s trust in paid media has declined recently while earned media’s credibility has grown, and the need for PR pros to maintain positive relationships with trusted media remains crucial. However, the nature of those relationships themselves has changed, as reporters now look to Twitter and other social media sources for both story ideas and expert opinions for their stories. The social media age hasn't changed this essential tenet of media relations though: To succeed with the media, you need to ask yourself what you're doing to make the journalist's job easier. With that in mind, here's 11 tips to boost your media relations efforts in the social media age:

  1. Go Where They are: Mediabistro reports that 55% of journalists use social channels like Twitter and Facebook to find stories from known sources and that 43% verify existing stories using these tools. The figures are even higher in the U.K., with 75% of journalists using social media to research news from known sources.

  2. No Cold Twit Pitching: Sandra Fathi, president of New York-based Affect, says a cold Twitter pitch may be even worse than a cold call. Twitter offers a venue for personal interactions with journalists, but pitching them on Twitter out the blue will likely not have the desired result. "Follow them for a while, retweet them and comment on some of their tweets before you try to push your client or agenda," says Fathi.

  3. Once and Done: Part of the reason journalists like Twitter is because it confines long-winded PR people to 140 characters. "Don’t clog up their Twitter feed with multiple tweets or direct messages for a single pitch—keep it to a single tweet," says Fathi.

  4. Keep it Professional: With Twitter, as with all social media, the lines between personal and professional are often blurred. "It can be OK to use your personal Twitter account to pitch journalists if you’re keeping it professional," says Fathi. "However, if the majority of your tweets are about embarrassing antics from nights of drunken debauchery, refrain from conducting professional business using that handle."

  5. Don't Accidentally Out a Journalist or a Client: Don't forget that Twitter is a public forum. If you tweet about a story you heard the reporter is working on, you may be revealing them to a competitor who can get the scoop and blow their story, says Fathi. Confidential information also has no place on Twitter. (Can you say Weinergate?) "If your company/client wants to keep something on the down low or under embargo, sending a reporter information via Twitter is step one in causing a crisis," says Fathi.

  6. Consider How Twitter has Changed the Newsroom: Reporters are now thinking about presenting their stories and headlines in the 140-character format as well. "When you have a story, its not just thinking bout the headline—it's thinking about what you're going to tweet," says Tom Simonite of MIT's Technology Review.

  7. Build Before you Pitch: Can you pitch reporters on Twitter? It depends, says Chris Metinko, media relations specialist at Business Wire. "If you just tweet your press release with an @ mention, forget about it. Be engaging and interesting—and build relationships first."

  8. Stay in Your Lane: Don't pitch off topic/beat; pitch to an actual reporter, not a site/publication handle, says Metinko.

  9. Be Genuine and Worth Knowing: "A reporter expects you to be full of crap as a PR person, so if you have a well-rounded profile that makes you a human you gain more trust," says Walter Neary, public relations director, Washington State at Comcast. Ask yourself: What would an outsider make of your social media presence? What would an outsider make of your brand's social media presence? "Clean up and round out your online presence, and be more than a caricature—be you," says Neary.

    PR News also asked its Facebook fans for a tried-and-true tip to share on communicating with journalists:

  10. Don't Assume Your Story is an Emergency: Unless you are head of crisis communication and there was just a nuclear meltdown, it isn't an emergency to the writer, says commenter Holly Kolman.

  11. Make it Relevant: Nobody except your client cares about the award your client just won if it's self-congratulatory. Make the story interesting to the reader. Why should they care? Make sure there's a good reason, says Kolman. 

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg

To learn more about media relations and how to measure your efforts on social networks, attend PR News’ Social Media Measurement Conference on October 2 in New York City. 

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