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How to Use Twitter for Media Relations


Many public relations professionals worldwide dream of the day that they can successfully pitch their latest and greatest story with the world via ‘the little blue bird.’ And quite naturally so, after more than 20 billion tweets. The real-time social platform Twitter has firmly established itself as not only one of the largest online hubs of social activity, but also as a fairly ripe vehicle for media pitches, a realization that has PR professionals rejoicing. It can make your job much easier — if you do it right.

According to Twitter officials, there are more than 65 million tweets per day. If you hope for getting your message out, you have to distinguish yourself from the pack. To do this, try thinking like a journalist, rather than a press-starved PR person. This might sound a bit counter intuitive at first, but trust me, it’s crucial.

Think Like a Journalist

If you’re a PR professional looking to use social sites such as Twitter to engage journalists, it might be worth it to think like one. By understanding the journalist’s mindset, you gain a better idea of how and why they are using social media. If you can fit your pitches into that, you can better get the media on your side.

Become Familiar with Their Content and Style, and Get on Their Radar

Yes, I understand you’ve got that dynamite story you’ve just got to pitch. And I’m sure it’s wonderful.

But no one’s going to take you seriously if you don’t realize that journalists and bloggers are human beings. Just like traditional media (newspapers, radio, TV, etc.), you’ll have to get on their radar before you ever try to “pitch” anything. And by “get on their radar,” I mean “build relationships.” In many ways, Twitter (and other social media) mimic the real world.

The first step in establishing good relationships with journalists and bloggers is becoming familiar with their content. You need to become intimately familiar with the content they consistently post about, so that you can join their blog’s community of people who discuss what they post. Read their stuff, give your opinion, start and contribute to relevant, interesting discussions on a regular basis. This will help you to get on their radar.

You definitely want to cultivate a “relationship” with prominent journalists and bloggers (keep in mind that this means give-and-take; not only “reaching” them, but also providing value of your own that they may benefit from.)

Find them, then follow them. Take note of those individuals and news organizations whom you believe may benefit from your tweets, and those whose tweets that you can learn from. And when they post good content, engage them.

How to Engage Them

You can follow someone on Twitter for ages, but it’s useless if they don’t know that you exist. So, you must engage them. An occasional thoughtful “@ mention” can do wonders.

Take a genuine interest in them as people, and show you have something to offer, and naturally they will take an interest in you and care about what you have to offer. After you’ve gotten on their radar, continue to stay in contact when they post new content, and hopefully by this point, they’re also following you and your content.

As a journalism major, I’ve learned that there are lots of ways to start conversations with news media via social networking sites. One such way is exploring the “unanswered.” In many breaking news stories, for example, there are lingering questions that have not been fully explored in the story, or sources who weren’t contacted, for whatever reason.

Many news sites also pose questions at the bottom of stories, inviting commentary. This is a perfect opportunity to contact the writers and create banter that establish report and a relationship. Take advantage and ask a thoughtful question, or share your informed opinion (respectfully).

Post a thoughtful comment or two. And keep all self-promotion (i.e. your blog) to a bare minimum.

Most good journalists are always looking for new contacts and sources of information, the key is getting on their radar. Through your social media profile and your contacts with these individuals and organizations, you’ve got to establish yourself as someone who consistently provides expertise, or an informed opinion. This will help build a mutually-beneficial relationship, as they will see that they have something to gain by keeping in contact with you as well.

Build Relationships When You Don’t Need a Favor

The trick is to get yourself established when you don’t need anything; that way, it’s not an uphill battle when you do. Just like building a 100% complete profile with lots of solid recommendations, answered Q&A, and more can take weeks or even months, the same thing goes for getting on the radar of news media and journalists using Twitter. In the beginning, a journalist may not respond to every one of your tweets, but if you keep posting good content and engaging him/her, most will.

Have Patience and Be Mindful

As always, be mindful. An occasional message is one thing. A "daily" DM is a whole 'nother ball game.

Like chess, strategic media relations can require a good deal of patience and tact. Realize that you are dealing with people.

Send them a thoughtful direct message occasionally, when you’ve got news of your own to share. But the key is to keep in mind the quantity of information coming their way on a daily basis.

You’ve got to be smart, or you will push the people you need away, with your lack of social media etiquette. Twitter, like every other social network out there, has an established site culture. You will have a hard time pitching your stories to journalists and bloggers if you don’t follow it.

The more that you do these things, the more success you will have with using Twitter for media relations.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Join the conversation below and share your thoughts.

Join The Conversation

  • Robert A Burns II's picture
    Aug 13 Posted 6 years ago Robert A Burns II

    Gareth, thanks much for commenting! The question you ask is a very common one: should company tweeting be done from a single "corporate handle," or from multiple "personal accounts."

    I think you'll find that the answer varies, depending on whom you ask, and your main purpose.

    Someone asked this very question in the Linkedin "Answers" section a few months ago. Several PR pros, marketers and consultants, including myself, weighed in varying responses. 

    Here's what I said:

    "My personal opinion is that each person should have their own separate profile, with their handle being their first name, followed by the company name (e.g. @Robert_XYZCompany). This allows them to tweet on behalf of the company, but shows transparency, and also gives them a bit of leeway in what they post." (Read what the others said at:

    I've seen this done many times, and it allows the user to show affiliation with the corporate image, but also an avenue to directly respond in a more personal manner than simply XYZ Company's twitter stream. Lastly, it allows you to do more responding. (People only want to see a certain amount of "@ mentions" before they tune out from your timeline).

    Gareth, in your case: I would definitely make sure the agency stream continued in the same manner. But you might consider starting their own feeds, if they can also provide good content.

    Thanks again for commenting!

  • Robert A Burns II's picture
    Aug 13 Posted 6 years ago Robert A Burns II

    Lysa, you've got it! I cannot help but agree with you. Now, if we could only get the 54792383542384 million other PR "tweeps" to see the light, so to speak... :) Thanks for posting your thoughts.

  • Robert A Burns II's picture
    Aug 13 Posted 6 years ago Robert A Burns II

    Brandon - thanks for the Cision plug. I wish I knew how to trackback to a particular comment; on my website, where this article originally appeared, I had a reader ask specifically about how to use Cision with Twitter.

    I also like your analogy of walking into a bar asking everyone you see to marry you. Haha! Thanks for posting.

  • Robert A Burns II's picture
    Aug 13 Posted 6 years ago Robert A Burns II

    Hey Peter! Thanks for commenting. You do have a point, poorly-worded, premature DMs definitely have the potential to backfire... but then again, so do @ mentions. In many ways, that is the fine line that we walk, as PR professionals. We depend on reporters to get our messages out, so we cannot be afraid to reach out to them. 

    I definitely agree with "treading lightly," but I definitely still encourage the use of DMs. Part of the reason I send them is because I am respectful of my followers and avoid my timeline having a million "@ mentions," with no real substance. I believe the art of the DM is in how you do it. I exchange DMs with people when I first meet them on Twitter, and rarely have issues, because I am simply being friendly.

    "This is ONLY possible if you have a reasonably close relationship with the journalist, otherwise it could backfire."

    I would only say something "backfired" if you were dependent on that journalist to publish your story that day. But if you're simply establishing a relationship before you need it, nothing will backfire. To each his own, I suppose.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Peter.

  • Robert A Burns II's picture
    Aug 13 Posted 6 years ago Robert A Burns II

    Kelli, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. A "two-way pitch"... That's a great way to put it! Hope you keep reading. Have a great weekend.

  • Aug 13 Posted 6 years ago Gareth Davies (not verified)

    Great article Robert - the @ mentions piece is a particular point that that I have been making to my agency for some time - and like Elizabeth I too need to do more of it. One question I have from this is around finding the balance of reaching out from an agency's profile or from an individual's profile. At my agency we have a single Twitter feed and everyone can log in and browse and respond to posts via retweets or message any of the journalists we follow. But should this be done from an individuals feeds?

  • Aug 12 Posted 6 years ago Lysa Fitzhugh (not verified)

    Robert - Excellent read and layout of this intermingling. New mediums meeting old professions (ahem, journalism and PR) and the dynamics are far reaching and still somewhat untapped -- but the professions remain the same. Journalism is about getting accurate information quickly and telling the story to the public. For journalists and PR folks alike, it's about connecting and feeding off each other for the best possible outcome and engaging each other as well as the public. Hence, the newest of communication tools must be used with the same premise which built both professions. 

    Lysa Fitzhugh

  • Robert A Burns II's picture
    Aug 12 Posted 6 years ago Robert A Burns II

    Thanks Elizabeth. You definitely learn more as you go; I remember when I first got on Twitter, I never seemed to @ mention -- ever. I don't know why. But as I used the site more, I learned that it's one of the only ways you can alert others to your prescence, and so I began to do it more. Now I see it as a very valuable tool for true engagement, and I'm glad you do too.

    As I tweeted more, I realized the power of "mentions". For some reason, getting an "@ mention from a follower seems to give Twitter users a small rush, much like a Facebook notification.

    I try to greet all of my new followers with very prompt, personalized @ mentions, and it makes a world of difference.

  • Robert A Burns II's picture
    Aug 12 Posted 6 years ago Robert A Burns II

    Steve, thanks for the comment! What you guys did at your agency was an excellent idea, and I'm sure streamlined the process of sharing info with the media. I must agree, I do think it's important to contact via traditional methods as well, although I am becoming aware of some purely virtual firms and agencies these days. I don't have experience with these, but I am starting to hear of them.

    "But our goal is to make it easier for them to collect the information."

    ^ I think this is the key. Any agency that does this for the media is on the right track. Thanks again for commenting!

  • BrandonAndersen's picture
    Aug 12 Posted 6 years ago BrandonAndersen

    I completely agree Robert.  Your key to getting your story placed is building a good relationship with members of the media and not blindly mass e-mailing them with irrelevant pitches and press releases.  Media databases such as CisionPoint help PR pros target their contacts by beat, topic, etc., but they also have journalist’s Twitter handles and latest tweets built into the application to help PR pros find the right contact and build a connection with them.  It also helps you understand what is top of mind for the journalist now.  

    In the end, pitching is a little like dating.  You don’t walk into a bar and ask everyone in the bar to marry you, hoping you get a taker (untargeted e-mail pitching).  Instead, you develop relationships with the people who you have something in common with, and build trust with them. 

    ~Brandon Andersen

  • Aug 12 Posted 6 years ago Peter Himler (not verified) Robert, These are all excellent points for building relationships/trust with journalists/influencers, and yes, this is still a vital discipline in public relations. However, I would temper your suggestion to send the "occasional direct message" (DM) to a journalist. This is ONLY possible if you have a reasonably close relationship with the journalist, otherwise it could backfire. (Also, remember, the journalist must follow you to receive a DM.) The same goes for making story suggestions to reporters via their Facebook wall. This too, for many recipients, crosses the line and will invariably cause a rift. Did I say it was not possible to communicate or share news/info this way? No. But tread lightly if you endeavor to do so. Peter Himler Flatiron Communications LLC Blog: Twitter: PeterHimler
  • Aug 12 Posted 6 years ago Kelli (not verified)

    As a former journalist turned PR pro I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read the post. Relationships are crucial. Creating those relationships before you need something is probably even more crucial. The same holds true on the opposite side. Journalists have already started using social media to seek out contacts. The goal of every PR person should be to have their client/company etc become the subject matter expert in their area. A PR pro who responds thoughtfully and in a timely fashion online is more likely to do the same offline, which means the media will be more likely to seek out that pro as a contact. Social media is like a "two-way pitch" exchange between the media and the PR world. 

  • Aug 11 Posted 6 years ago M. Elizabeth Wi... (not verified)

    Such a good point about the @ mentions -- I often forget to do that, and I really need to become a better @ mention user.  I know I try to keep on top of who follows and unfollows me, but sometimes I'll get no new followers for a week, then 10 in one day. An @ mention can be the difference between me following back and forgetting about them.

  • Aug 11 Posted 6 years ago Steve Morin (not verified)

    Very good points! What we did as an advertising agency is we built a Wordpress newsroom just for the our local contacts in the media. We have always maintained good relationships with our media contacts but as social media has become woven into everyone's being, we figured building a seperate newsroom just for our journalistic friends would be ideal. It allows them to subscribe to the rss feed. It gives them access to everything that is going on with our clients, and since most of them are tweeting we follow them and they follow us. So whenever a new post or news item goes into our newsroom, all of our media contacts are immediately notified in some way, shape or manner. We also contact them via the traditional means as well. But our goal is to make it easier for them to collect the information. We are not pushing it on them but they are nonetheless seeing it. We can track our newsroom via Analytics so we know how it is coming along.

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