When time is ticking, and the sword of Damocles hangs over your beaded brow, formality tends to go out the window. The speed of news and current affairs is unrelenting, and the need to connect with a journalist or news outlet – in that moment – tends to overwhelm, sometimes leaving little room for nuance in making the connection.
It’s worth considering, even in the heat of the moment, that journalists, producers and media-types in general are regular people too, especially in how they use social media as a communications tool. How do you use these tools in a meaningful way that yield results? As opposed to, say, getting yourself blocked on Twitter or relegated to the darkest recesses of Facebook?
We asked media gatekeepers two basic questions:
• What social media tool(s) do you use most to communicate for work and your personal life?
• What methods for pitching journalists should PR and marketing professionals avoid?
Here’s what they told us.
News radio host, news radio producer and TV news reporter
Social tools: “I do use Facebook Messenger a lot to communicate with colleagues, as well as in my personal life. Twitter I use mostly for information, sometimes to chat with journalist colleagues. Instagram is pretty much just personal for me; Snapchat sometimes for personal use. And Reddit is the love of my life.”
How not to reach me: “I really don’t like getting pitched on Facebook Messenger, even though sometimes I use it to track down regular humans for stories. I try to only use that as a last resort though. It feels invasive. Email is still the best for pitching, or Twitter if necessary. It’s more of a hangout for journalists, so it wouldn’t be as surprising there to get a work-related inquiry. Any other social media, like Instagram or whatever, I’d be very weirded out to get a pitch.”
Nationally-published news writer and social media expert
Social tools: “For work I use Twitter and Slack the most. Twitter for when I’m ‘live-tweeting’ or covering hard news and/or trying to crowdsource interview subjects or gain public insight into something that I’m reporting on. Slack so we can avoid email wherever possible. My Instagram is for my personal life; it’s mostly for fun. Facebook is a bit of a mix. I don’t use my real name, but I certainly have reached out to interview subjects, or requested interviews over the platform via Messenger. I also share a lot of what I’ve published via Facebook.”
How not to reach me: “I would avoid pitching via Facebook; pitching over Twitter isn’t so bad as long as it’s short: like, in a DM saying something along the lines of « Hey, I think I have a story for you, what’s the best way to send you more info – email? » That kind of thing. But don’t send the pages over Twitter; it’s for 140 characters or less.”
News broadcaster and nationally-syndicated political columnist
News broadcaster and nationally-syndicated political columnist
Social tools: “Mostly Twitter, as it is the most immediate social network, and the default preferred social network of media and political commentary. Facebook, a bit for audience and business development. Instagram is useless for my personal brand, but excellent for lifestyle brands.”
How not to reach me: “I ignore almost all pitches on social media, particularly by DM or private message. It is invasive and unprofessional, as even a few seconds of effort can lead one to my proper contact info. It’s a social space, use email like grown-ups!”
Broadcaster / top 40 radio host and blogger
Social tools: “Facebook for work and personal life.”
How not to reach me: “Direct Twitter or direct Facebook messages… I get too many messages on Facebook especially, and sometimes they get lost. Also, if they are not my ‘friend,’ it can end up in that filtered messages folder and I’ll never see it. Honestly, the best way is still email.”
News radio producer
Social tools: “Twitter is only good for companies, journalists, and politicians. Normal people really don’t use it and the reach is actually very small, it just doesn’t seem that way. Facebook, in contrast, is gold for reach but you absolutely NEED to understand how the content algorithm works and how it decides who will see what you’re posting. Not knowing that will absolutely ruin any work you are doing.”
How not to reach me: “I don’t mind any form of contact but how you reach out is key because I give most emails and social media contacts maybe five seconds to get my interest. Also, Twitter and Facebook messages are fine but not if more official contact info is easily available (like a business email)… then it just seems lazy. Also worth remembering: Facebook messages not from friends are sometimes filtered out as spam.”
Producer, rock radio show
Social tools: “For the show, I stick with the big three: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Each one has its own pros and cons, and although the message being put out might be the same at its core, it’s necessary to adjust them according to platform. Facebook is great for memes, live videos, and sharing content which I want to have a longer shelf life. It’s also not limited in terms of character count — that said, brevity is gold in the age of short attention spans. Twitter and Instagram are great for content which you expect to have a short self-life since the content is bumped down rather quickly. The latter platforms are also great for immediacy. Obviously Twitter is limited by its 140 character count while Instagram, as tacky as it may be, is great for transmitting messages with emojis. Insofar as demographics, Twitter is somewhere in the middle, and Facebook is all over the map.”
How not to reach me: “Personally speaking, I absolutely cringe when I see coworkers, fellow colleagues, and working professional send an “@whoever” tweet to contact someone. I find it lazy, and makes it seem as though they want the other person to do all the work. Before attempting to reach someone via social media, I’d always recommend trying to find an email or phone number first. Can’t find a specific email? Assuming the contact works at a larger company, chances are they use a fairly generic email structure, e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org. If all else fails, the best way to reach someone is through a direct message (not visible to the public) to the contact’s company; it’s professional and the chances of it being seen are much higher. Last comment: Brevity is crucial. Don’t waste anyone’s time. Don’t forget the 5 ‘W’s.’ Be polite. Stand out. Don’t contact someone in a way you wouldn’t want to be contacted.”
Show producer, regional morning TV – news, current affairs, lifestyle
Social tools: “Twitter is what I use for work. It’s fast, effective, good chance for a response. I can also see when someone was last online so it works well as a communications tool. Personal life, I use mostly Facebook and Instagram.”
How not to reach me: “I don’t like when someone reaches out to me on Facebook. There’s no promise I’ll get the pitch and I see my Facebook as my personal space.”
News radio producer and broadcaster
Social tools: “For work: I use Twitter and Facebook every day. For personal: Facebook and Instagram.”
How not to reach me: “My email address is IN my Twitter account profile, so I would prefer that… a quick search of my name would pull that up. I generally prefer email pitches. Phone calls are okay but they are annoying, especially since I am only at my desk for like two hours of the regular working day. And while I leave voicemails when I’m trying to reach people, I really dislike receiving them myself, especially when I have an email pitch. I’m okay with someone reaching out on Facebook or Twitter only to say ‘where can I send a pitch to you formally?’ So it’s a weird thing. I use Twitter and Facebook to chase ordinary people as guests, but when someone is trying to reach me I really prefer the old fashioned email route. Facebook is only okay when dealing with smaller bookings or community stuff.”
Columnist, political pundit for national broadcasts
Social tools: “For work, it’s Twitter hands down. Fast paced, political and news-centric it just makes the most sense for my purposes. I think Facebook serves a purpose as well especially if you don’t like Twitter’s many limitations but personally I don’t really care what my friend’s aunt thinks about Trump’s policy reversal on NATO.”
How not to reach me: “For pitching purposes, I think contacting through Twitter or Facebook is OK (if you have open privacy settings, but my DMs aren’t set to open because of all the crazies out there), but email always best.”
Their answers, while not shocking, are certainly illuminating. Make some effort to find an email address. Failing that, stick to the following playbook and you’ll stay in everyone’s good graces.
Christopher Paré is the director of communications at Human Society International/Canada and a contributing writer to TNKR Media.
@chris_pare | email@example.com