The “Social” Side of Media Relations

I know, I know. Another PR firm blogging about why you need to be on social media. Well this post isn’t meant to tell you all the reasons a brand should be using social media, or why PR professionals need to be building their personal brands on Twitter (Not saying those aren’t good ideas!).

For public relations professionals, it’s the role that social media, particularly Twitter, plays in traditional media relations that is really invaluable and often overlooked. Social media has become an important part of what we do in our daily media relations practices.  Relationship-building and social atmospheres go hand-in-hand, so it’s only natural that “social” media is a perfect complement to a profession that focuses so heavily on building relationships.

Getting to Know Reporters

It’s no secret that one of the golden rules of good PR is knowing what reporters write about, and tailoring pitches to their beats or interests. By following journalists on Twitter, PR professionals can gain valuable insight into their interests and what they cover. Does that mean if Joe at the Post Tweets about the fabulous PB & J he had for lunch, you need to immediately get on the horn to tell him about your peanut butter client’s new crunchy option? No. However, reporters who use social media are linking to their stories on Twitter and talking about industries and topics that they cover, so following a reporter is a great way to get a better sense of who he is, what he’s thinking about, and what he’s likely to cover.

Monitoring for Opportunities to Respond (and responding when appropriate)

Journalists are paying attention to what target audiences are saying on social media too, for story ideas and to gauge “what’s hot,” as this PR Week article mentions. They also have a lot of eyes on their Twitter feeds, so they rely on their followers occasionally to help track down sources. “Need to talk to someone about xxxx.” “Email me your opinion on yyyy.”  These public requests happen all the time. Does that mean the reporter is opening a door to be bombarded with off-topic suggestions via Twitter? Negative. But sending an email referencing a Tweet, and offering a source, shows a reporter that you’re listening, and that you’re there to help.

Identifying Brand Advocates

People are talking about brands, issues, and other topics that are important to them.  That’s why we’re paying attention in the first place.  So leverage them!  Maybe that Facebook fan who responds to every post with enthusiasm about your client is open to giving the customer’s perspective to an editor. Or maybe that blogger who posts about how your client’s product changed his life is willing to help with a case study that could land your client a placement in a key publication.

Walking the Fine Facebook and Foursquare Line

There’s a fine line that can easily be crossed while using social media for media relations. “Running into” reporters after every Foursquare check-in, or requesting to be Facebook friends with every journalist you’ve ever worked with (or, worse, those you’ve never worked with) are two examples of crossing that line. Highly personal forums such as Facebook are helpful in media relations, but not necessarily from a pitching standpoint. The real benefit of Foursqaure and Facebook in media relations is in identifying story leads and reporting, as Mashable highlights here and hereHint: this is where the “why a brand should be using social media” comes into play.

Don’t Ditch the Traditional Pitch

I’m not advocating that PR pros stop using e-mail, phone and face-to-face tactics, and start relying on a branded Facebook page and the “@ reply” to get the job done. Rather, the role social media plays in traditional media relations is similar to its role in overall communications plans. That is—it’s unlikely that either a communications program or media relations efforts will thrive when its sole component is social media. In the toolkit of a PR pro, social media is a very important tool, but one of very many.

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