Email is still considered the best medium for pitching to journalists, but that’s not to say that social media - and Twitter in particular - should be ruled out altogether.
The problem is that Twitter is a fast-flowing platform, where a gentle approach can mean messages get lost, while a direct approach is often taken as spam.
That said, there are ways in which you can use Twitter to reach journalists effectively.
1. Know your target journalists
Before you start reaching out, you need to identify who, precisely, you want to reach out to. This starts by reading widely in your niche, following salient blogs and social media influencers.
I find it helpful to list all my favorite journalists in a spreadsheet, along with their Twitter (and other social media) handles, blog URL and email address.
Now make sure you follow all your targets on Twitter, saving them in a dedicated Twitter list that you can refer back to.
You can continue expanding your list of journalists by browsing their Twitter lists, or you can use tools like BuzzSumo to identify relevant influencers and bloggers by keyword. You can even follow them directly via BuzzSumo, and save them to your list, assuming you’ve connected your Twitter account. BuzzSumo also lets you tweet them directly - though I don’t recommend doing that at this early stage.
Now find out what your target journalists are interested in. You can check the hashtag #Journorequest to get some insight into what journalists are looking for, or even better - use relevant keywords alongside the tag, to narrow down the opportunities to make contact.
2. Get your house in order
Before you start to draw attention to yourself, make sure your Twitter bio stands out. Ask yourself, if a journalist were to land on my Twitter bio, would they be interested in me? If the answer is no, then time to optimize.
Your business Twitter bio needs to get to the point of who you are as a brand. This goes beyond your products and services - focus on your vision and your values. These speak more to journalists than the items you’re trying to sell.
Look at the last 20 or so posts in your feed. Are you sharing content that’s relevant to your niche? Do you have the right mix of your own content and others’ content?
The 5:3:2 rule helps marketers get this balance right - for every 10 of your Twitter posts, 5 should be sharing other people’s content, 3 should be your own content, and 2 should be fun items that humanize your brand.
These visual content types really stand out in a Twitter feed - and remember, just because they’re fun, it doesn’t mean they can’t be on-point.
3. Read, like and share content
Now that you’re following a growing list of journalists, you can start to build a relationship with them.
This isn’t about spamming them with your content, DMing them on a daily basis, and stalking them with constant mentions. Instead, take a step back and read their content. Set aside 30 minutes each day to read what your journalists are writing and sharing online, then use this as a basis to plan how you might be able to develop a relationship with them.
Then move on to liking and retweeting their content.
A word of warning - your retweet will go completely unnoticed if hundreds of others are doing the same, so where possible, add a comment to your retweet, preferably with a unique angle. And be sure to include the appropriate hashtags and the journalist’s Twitter handle. This way, they’re more likely to see your comment.
Try spotting opportunities to join the conversation. Journalists sometimes ask open questions via Twitter, expecting the community to respond with ideas. Jump on these chances to share ideas, and establish yourself as a valid voice in the community.
Again, when responding, make sure to use the appropriate hashtag and handles, so that your Tweet doesn’t get lost in the ether.
4. Pitch to journalists with care
While it’s not totally inappropriate to pitch directly via Twitter, I would advise that it be accompanied by an email, both for courtesy and to avoid your message getting lost in the traffic. I’d also advise pitching via direct message, not on their Twitter stream.
Journalists receive around 50 to 100 press releases every week. That’s a lot of content to get through. If you’re going to pitch to them directly, then your proposal really needs to stand out.
Find a unique angle - a particular hook - to grab the attention of your target journalists. You don’t need to pitch a finished asset - in fact, according to research by the Harvard Business Review, 70% of publishers are open to being pitched a set of ideas with the potential for collaboration.
Make sure your pitch is personalized specifically for each journalist. A blanket pitch that you’ve sent to dozens of others will be deleted pretty much immediately. Show that you enjoy their work, and point out, specifically, what they’d gain from working with you as a brand.
5. Follow up…. Once only
There’s nothing wrong with following up on a direct message - in fact, I’d encourage it - but following up twice can be seen as intrusive, and any more than that is moving into spam territory.
Don’t damage your relationship for good. Instead, continue to build the relationship by staying engaged with their content. Just because you haven’t connected this time, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future.
Twitter remains a top medium through which to connect with journalists online, but because it’s such a fast flowing communication tool, you need to take the right approach if you’re going to get your message in front of the relevant decision makers, and have it taken seriously.
For successful outreach, take it slowly. Build up relationships over time by following the right people, getting involved in the conversation, sharing and liking content.
It’s through a 'slowly, slowly' approach that you’ll be able to position yourself as a voice in the Twitter community for your niche, so that when the time comes to reach out directly, you’ll be considered legitimate by your favorite journalists, and be more likely to get a response.