‘Who Needs Media Relations? I Can Reach My Audience via Social’ & Other Misperceptions

New Media Relations

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Social media continues to muddy media relations. Should PR pros spend more time using social to communicate directly with their audience or should they reverse course and invest more time in traditional media outreach? Should they devote more time to communicating with journalists on Twitter or confine their pitches to email? And what about Facebook? Is it safe for a PR practitioner to comment on a journalist's Facebook post?

Michael Smart, principal of MichaelSMARTPR and a longtime navigator of the uncharted social media waters flowing between PR pros and journalists, will tackle these questions in depth at PR News' Media Relations Conference on Dec. 11 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In the following Q&A Smart touches on some of the themes he'll be discussing on Dec. 11 in D.C.

PR News: What are the most common mistakes PR pros make on Twitter when using it for media relations—and what’s the reasoning behind those mistakes?

Michael Smart: The most common mistake is not using it at all, based on the presumption that their Twitter followings are too small and therefore “no one will care.” For media relations, think of Twitter as a one-to-one tool, like email, rather than the one-to-many approach you take when you use it to communicate with all your fans or followers. The second-most common mistake is tweeting at media from an institutional account, like “@acme,” instead of a personalized account, like “@MichaelAcme.” Influencers build online relationships with people, not institutions.

PR News: Would you recommend using social media platforms other than Twitter to communicate with journalists?

Smart: Twitter has the deepest adoption among journalists. You have to be careful using Facebook for this because many people, journalists included, think of Facebook as more for their personal lives. A clear indication that Facebook is an OK way to contact a journalist is if their page offers you the chance to “like” or “follow” them, rather than “add friend.” This means they have it set up for professional purposes. LinkedIn is gaining ground as a social network for exchanging ideas, not just resume connections. Check to see if your targeted influencers are active there. Finally, it remains to be seen if this will endure, but Periscope is showing signs of usefulness in getting noticed by local TV reporters.

PR News: What common expectations do brands have about using social media for media relations, and how do you manage those expectations?

Smart: The very reason we’re having this interview is because social media is still viewed as a silver bullet that will solve all PR problems. There used to be this view, “Who needs the media? I can reach my audience directly via social.” Now we see that it’s not that simple. But instead there can be this temptation, “Oh, traditional pitching isn’t working, just contact them via social.” Obviously that’s likewise an oversimplification. The best way to educate clients [and senior leaders] is to keep pounding the drumbeat that journalists respond to efforts to give them content their audiences want and to make their lives easier. The channel matters much less than the quality of the content and the value of your service to them.

Michael Smart will be the kickoff speaker at PR News' Media Relations Conference on Dec. 11 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The conference will feature presenters from Time Warner Cable, the Carlyle Group, Towson University, Zumba Fitness, Washington Post, Defense One, Ogilvy PR, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, Washington Life Magazine, Curbed DC, among other organizations.

Follow Michael Smart: @michaelsmartpr

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI