According to a blog called Simple Zesty, there are 10 industries that will be revolutionized by social media – print media, politics, television, hospitality, sports, music, recruitment, advertising, PR, and shopping. With the availability of Web 2.0 tools such as YouTube, Twitter, etc. the power to create, publish and syndicate content no longer resides to only the news publication and journalists. Today, we have the capability to custom create and communicate our own editorial content to influence the way the online community digests and disseminates information in real time. Prior to Web 2.0 adoption, consumers had to wait to get information on the latest news and information from your print and broadcast news. Now, we, the masses, have become writers and content creators from all walks of life, spreading information in real time. People are becoming social journalists in their own right to publish photos and stories from their points of view. For instance, real time terrorism was captured on Twitter by the actual users trapped inside the hotel that was bombed by terrorists in 2008, which catapulted Twitter to new heights.
The revolution in Iran – some of the most riveting and thrilling reporting was done via Twitter by a university student in Tehran who goes by the moniker Tehran Bureau. So what does this say about the changing landscape of the news media? Will social media change the way journalists adopt, connect, engage, and disseminate information to the rest of the world? Will this change affect the way PR/Communications and marketing pros connect and communicate with the media? One reporter, Del Jones (http://twitter.com/jonesdel) of USA TODAYwhom I’ve been following closely on Twitter, is one clear example of someone who gets it and understands how to harness the power of social media to look at the emerging trends and ride the way with the rest of us. Through social media, he engages, connects and collaborates with his online community. He is someone who is authentic and transparent in his approach to social media (two key traits I admire most). In this blog Q&A, I ask Del about how he came to embrace social media and some key tips on ways for us PR professionals to approach reporters via social media platforms.
What prompted you to join the social media craze?
I’m sure my high school class would have voted me the least likely to succeed in social media (had they had any clue). I still don’t use Facebook or LinkedIn, although I’m registered on both. I was a complete Twitter skeptic, but I have a counter-intuitive streak in me. Twitter was growing and I needed to know why. So, when I had some time on my furlough (yes, three weeks of unpaid leave), I decided to devote 1-2 hours to figure it all out (ha ha). Months later, I’m still trying to figure the thing out, but I’m hooked to the point that my editor would probably fire me if I didn’t have so many followers (so please don’t unfollow me). I’ve also threatened to reveal personal information about him on Twitter if he fires me, so the social media craze is really all about having your own printing press should revenge become absolutely necessary.
How is Web 2.0 changing the media landscape? Is that a good thing or bad thing?
I’m a free market person, so if people find value in reading anything, then it’s good. The only thing I object to is the wholesale plagiarism that goes on. Blogs will cut and paste entire stories I’ve written, never bothering to link back to USA TODAY. If they want to help USA TODAY pay my salary, then maybe they can steal my intellectual property (yeah, I know intellectual in my is a stretch, but you know what I mean).
How should journalists approach Web 2.0 and how transparent can they be?
This is a touchy point. I push it far more than most journalists, most who will still seem to think they are above it all and won’t post anything that isn’t a link or some boring factoid. I’ve been called into the boss’ office for going too far. They didn’t like it when I started giving out free online subscriptions to USA TODAY to my special followers (the joke being that the dot-com site is free to all). I’ve always been a believer in the “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” model. When it comes to Twitter, it’s always easy to dial it back but I’ll continue to push the envelope. If I don’t tweet for a month, it will be because my 401K went down even more and I really need my job.
Many USA TODAY reporters are afraid of getting on Twitter. They have been made gun shy by the reader comments below our stories on the Web page, which are full of venom. I find the culture on Twitter to be the opposite of people who bend over backwards to be nice.
Are policies different for journalists than corporations?
From what I’ve read, USA TODAY is actually very liberal in its policies compared to most. It amazes me that media outlets that are built on the first amendment are the first to take it away from their reporters. Shame.
How does this change in terms of engagement for PR and marketing professionals when it comes to connecting and building relationships with the media?
It’s been very good for me. I get a few pitches on Twitter, which I ignore as I do pitches on email (unless, of course, I’m interested). However, it has allowed me to put forward a human face to PR people, who before Twitter, thought I lived in a dungeon. It’s nice not to always feel mean. I like to compare Twitter to the Lion’s Club Luncheon of old. Business types would show up. They all wanted to sell something to everyone, but nobody did any selling at the luncheon. Rather, they just got to know each other so that selling could be accomplished sometime down the road. Twitter greases the wheels.
Is social media/networking hindering or helping the media community?
Helping those who are good at employing it.
When it comes to pitching, what are your key recommendations for PR/marketing professionals?
Pitch away. There is no formula. Most pitches I don’t like and there are a few I like a lot. Then, there is a huge amount that I don’t like much but have something to it. I hang on to a lot of emails until I figure out an angle that I’m interested in pursuing. PR people sometimes get an email from me a year later after they send a pitch. I prefer email pitches because I have developed a system for saving the emails I want so that I can find them down the road. I rarely respond to them, however, because I don’t like to get into a long discussion about why I don’t like their story pitch. It’s a question I really can’t answer. It’s my gut instinct.
Jones makes a great point that social media is changing the way even journalists communicate and connect with people. From my point of view, I can’t say whether all journalists should adopt the social media tools to connect with people, but I do believe that just like with anything, only by listening to what people are saying can journalists really understand what we’re looking to hear and learn from them. Just like the “push” tactic of marketing and PR has changed the way we communicate with our audience, it too has changed the way journalists disseminate news to their audience. Vice versa…PR and marketing pros need to understand how social media is changing the news media landscape. We must embrace this shift and learn how to connect with them in new ways in order to reach and connect with them.
A few tips on how to connect and approach reporters and analysts on Twitter:
- Research your target audience – trade and business reporters as well as analysts
- Follow them on Twitter and their blogs consistently
- Engage – follow their content on Twitter and their blogs and comment if relevant
- Participate – keep an ongoing dialogue with them even if they don’t follow you.
- Provide feedback and input using traditional tactics – provide news that would be relevant to them and the stories they cover. Write compelling news pitches that could add value to their current or future stories and learn what they are working on so you can contribute.
- Link it – as Del mentioned, if you have a blog, look at their stories and write a post that references or links back to their blog or story and post it on Twitter
- NEVER blindly pitch a reporter on Twitter (unless you have a good relationship with them)
Another good read by Mashable: Social Journalism: Past, Present and the Future.
Do you agree? Let me know what you think.