Social Media Shake-Up: Twitter Transforms PR/Journalist Relationship

Data, data and more data. Information overload is here, which could be one reason why journalists are turning toward social media platforms to hunt for and receive story ideas.

No question about it, social media is transforming the media relations landscape, as the above results show. This late 2010 study also found that roughly 25% of journalists visit a company’s Facebook page when researching a story—up 10% from 2009.

A recent survey of journalists from TEKGROUP tells the story: 40% of journalists indicate they would possibly (31%) or definitely (9%) prefer to receive news and information via Twitter; 25% of journalists visit a company’s Facebook page when researching a story (a 10% increase from the 2009 study); and 45% of respondents indicate they often (33%) or very often (11%) visit a corporate blog when researching a news story.

Journalists definitely are moving to more truncated forms of communication, says Brian Regan senior VP and GM of Access Communications. “The huge amount of information that a journalist has to scroll through is one reason they’re going to RSS feeds and their most favorite method, Twitter,” says Regan.

It’s true—just about every journalist now has a Twitter handle, and it’s up to the agency or organization to adapt to this new form of media outreach. “It’s changing the way we communicate initially to journalists,” says Regan.

Ah, but Twitter and other social media platforms are just vehicles that carry messages, so the old rules still apply, right? Nope—the approach is much different, says Regan. “You used to have the luxury of one long narrative in a pitch. Now it’s one sentence to capture the interest of the journalist,” he says.


Yet pitching via Twitter is a tactic that appears to be in the formative stages. Sharon Cohen-Hagar, director of media relations at Verizon, says that while reaching out to a variety of audiences including the media via Twitter and blogs is common practice within the her landline group, pitching is still done the old-fashioned way—by picking up the, uh, phone. “Right now we’re in more of a conversational mode, within social media” says Cohen-Hagar. Her staff all have individual Twitter presences, and reach out to the media in their own names.

The strategy is similar at Goodwill Industries International. While media relations manager Lauren Lawson follows journalists on Twitter and other social media channels, she and her team pitch in the traditional way.


Yet, opportunities to tweet a pitch shouldn’t be ignored, says Beth Gardiner, account supervisor at Access Communications. “You just need to know when to jump in with a pitch,” she says. “It all depends on how prolific on Twitter the journalist is.”

Which makes knowing a reporter’s digital preferences all the more important. Companies like Vocus and Cision make it a point to list journalist’s Twitter handles and pitch preferences in their databases.

You might figure a journalist would be OK with a pitch via Twitter if they ask for story help themselves via the platform. “A lot of top-tier journalists put out calls for story sources on Twitter,” says Gardiner. Meaning they shouldn’t have a problem with a pitch.


But such interaction requires subtlety, says Regan. Establishing that kind of rapport with a journalist requires that you “earn the price of admission” by doing your due diligence and actually know the etiquette of social media.

Regan and Gardiner offer the following tips on working your way into a journalist’s Twitter world:

1. First follow them closely on Twitter. “See what they tweet out, and align it with you already know and what they write about,” says Gardiner.

2. See if they have a blog. Much of what they write about can be different from platform to platform—print, online, blog, Twitter. “Their personal blogs might be much different,” says Regan.

3. Initially, retweet or respond to something that is not product or beat driven.

Communicators shouldn’t rely on journalists’ Twitter handles to foster good relations. “You can’t replace the value of face-to-face,” says Regan. Access hosts media mixers and brown-baggers with journalists to gain insight into how they are covering their beats.

“We’re also creating Flip videos featuring journalists explaining how social media is changing the way they cover the news,” says Regan.

Why the deep research? Staffs are up to 50% smaller than they were four or five years ago, says Regan. “Demands on journalists are much greater, and they are more reliant on agencies and organizations to help them with stories,” he says.


Which means that communicators must ensure their messages are broadcast across channels relevant to journalists, including Twitter. With that 40% open to news via Twitter, it’s essential that media relations optimize all of their social/digital communications channels, says Regan.

For example, two years ago Access created a Twitter destination, @financeworks, for one of its largest clients, Intuit. One of the first Twitter efforts in the enterprise space, the page lured journalists in through some narrowly defined parameters, says Regan. No marketing promotions, and only posts about online banking solutions data and research was allowed.

The result? About 1,200 current followers, many of them journalists and analysts. “It’s maintaining those parameters that has made that community a success,” says Regan.


Consistency in social media communications is also the mantra at Goodwill Industries, which disseminates its messages around job training, mentoring and citizenship efforts through Twitter and Facebook.

Meanwhile, at Verizon, Cohen-Hagar is in the process of making their online news center—once a repository for news releases—more interactive by adding a Twitter feed.

“All of our media relations people are focused on social media,” says Cohen-Hagar. “Everyone is interacting.”


Regan notes that social media has extended the evolution of media creation and consumption. Beginning with the short story form appearance in USA Today in the early 1980s, and continuing with blogs and now Twitter and Facebook posts, there’s been revolutionary change. “Forms of communication are getting shorter and shorter,” says Regan.

Which means that PR professionals need to think longer and harder about how they’ll respond to these changes. PRN


Brian Regan; [email protected]; Sharon Cohen-Hagar, [email protected]; Beth Gardiner, [email protected]; Lauren Lawson, [email protected].