January 12, 2016

Four Social Media Tactics for Public Relations Professionals

shutterstock_339403310How do you use social media in public relations? I’m not asking how you write a social media strategy for your clients, or how you adapt social messaging across different platforms, or how you’ve run a social contest, or how you’ve leveraged Periscope at an event. I’m asking if you, as a PR professional, are using these amazing tools to “PR your PR”—to gather research and information, and to develop relationships with and pitch journalists.

On a personal level, everyone uses social media in different ways, whether it’s to overload friends with cute baby pictures, promote their businesses, pseudo-stalk acquaintances, alienate friends with opposing political viewpoints or just play CandyClan (or whatever’s popular for mobile games this month). My social media use blends personal and professional: Facebook (mostly personal), Instagram (voyeuristic), LinkedIn (professional) and Twitter (personal/professional mix) to keep my finger on the pulse of news and culture, and also strategically interact with journalists.

In the spirit of sharing content, here are four social media tactics that can enhance your effectiveness as a public relations professional. While some of these may seem obvious, they’re always worth reiterating—potentially putting a slight spin on what you’ve thought before, or reinforcing what a smart flack you are.

1. PR-ing your PR

Don’t be shy about sharing the hits that you secure for clients on your personal pages, as it helps showcase your efficacy, gets more eyeballs on the story for the media outlet and the journalist, and shows your client how personally involved you are in their account. More often than not, when you share and @mention your client and the reporter, they’ll end up following you as well as each other. Of course, there’s always a line to be wary of crossing—you don’t want to overdo it. Save the posts for meaningful hits, and don’t overload your personal Facebook timeline with work-related items (especially if you’re friends with many of your clients).

2. Research and information gathering

As a means of staying up-to-date on breaking news and cultural trends, there’s no better tool than social media. With Twitter in particular, I’m increasingly using it as a research tool for topics as well as the best people covering them for the media. Hashtag searching to determine the validity or saturation point of a topic is also a great way to find out how people may perceive a pitch you want to put out. By using keywords to search through hashtagged trending items, you can get a better sense of whether your idea has already been widely covered, if it’s just beginning to trend or if there’s an angle that no one has discussed yet.

Likewise in terms of research, because of the proliferation of journalists on Twitter and recent industry volatility, Twitter (and of course LinkedIn) can be an invaluable way to keep in touch with reporters who are moving to different publications or changing the focus of their beat. I’ve often used this method of confirming beat coverage to update and correct info from media database services.

3. Developing relationships with journalists

What about strengthening relationships with journalists you work with or establishing relationships with those you want to work with? Once again, I’m focusing mostly on Twitter, but you can adapt the general ideas to other outlets.

  • Research their stream of posts: Some journalists post on a more personal vs. professional level, not necessarily discussing/sharing their articles. It would be odd to interrupt their non-work conversation with off-topic material.
  • Distinguish between mentioning/retweeting/favoriting: There’s no need to constantly retweet someone’s posts to draw their attention. Be honest about what you find interesting, and favorite a witty post, while saving a retweet for something that will fit into your own feed where your followers will see it as well.
  • @mention them when posting hits (see #1): Don’t just use the material automatically generated by the “share” button on articles in which your clients have been quoted by a journalist. Along with writing up your own post and relevant hashtag, add in the reporter’s handle so he or she gets credit and sees your attributed appreciation.
  • Pre-follow, not just the moment you want to pitch: If you’re doing the appropriate research, you’ll take the time to learn about a journalist’s preferences and conversational style, rather than just pouncing and @mentioning out of nowhere when you’re trying to pitch something.
  • Likewise, if you’ve arranged a client interview with a journalist but haven’t connected with the journalist on social media, now’s the perfect time to do so, as it infers a promise to follow up and be a resource down the line.

4. Pitching journalists

When it comes to actually pitching reporters via social media, the same baseline rules apply regarding having the right match of an expert for commentary or a generally newsworthy story to tell. The fine line that comes into play is that, to a much greater degree, the action is taking place: a., in public view, and b., within a much more limited context than via email or by phone.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you pitch over social media:

  • If you’re connected to each other, send a private note first.
  • If you’re contacting someone for a pitch via social media because they didn’t get back to you by email and phone, take a moment—is this the best approach?
  • Don’t @mention multiple people in swaths—that’s like spamming and sending a form letter and negates any exclusivity.

Just as social media has become another channel for communications outreach related to marketing initiatives, so too has it become a means of interacting professionally, maybe especially so for the millennial generation. Remember: Be authentic. Your social interactions should be a digital version of how you’d interact with someone in person. The most important thing you can do is engage in genuine conversation.