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Do journalists use social media to research stories?

Certainly within the PR industry there is significant rumination going on at the moment – PR professionals are desperately trying to anticipate the...

Certainly within the PR industry there is significant rumination going on at the moment – PR professionals are desperately trying to anticipate the platforms that journalists might be trialling, hoping to stay one step ahead so that they are ready and waiting should a journalist come looking for them, and yet still trying to cover all bases by email broadcasting news in the more traditional way.

I met a PR professional at an event a few weeks ago who confidently told me “Journalists always prefer me to tweet them now (rather than phone or email) – I never email anybody any more”. But how true really is this? Can we rely on our audience using Twitter alone to source their news stories, or do we need to try and spread our efforts between maintaining social media alongside more traditional communication methods?

Many of the journalists I work with share a Twitter feed with their colleagues – between a team of them they will manage an account on behalf of their publication, as opposed to having a more conventional ‘personal’ profile for engaging with the Twitter community and researching their stories. To what extent has social media changed the way in which the media work?

Research published last month from Text 100 is particularly insightful. 72 journalists from a mixture of sectors were interviewed about the use of social media in their professional lives. The goal was to understand how these new channels affect the way journalists do their jobs and whether this has an impact on the way PR professionals should engage with them.

All of the participants interviewed are full-time professional journalists working across a range of different media, including print, web and broadcast. So this is quite a broad spectrum snapshot, but I hope we will still find it useful.

Here are some of the top line conclusions from the Text 100 report:

  • On average, a journalist will use 2.6 different social media channels every time they research a story
  • Over 40 per cent of journalists use a Facebook account to manage their professional relationships whilst also is the least preferred initial method of contact
  • 86 per cent of journalists use a Twitter account for work
  • 85 per cent of journalists welcome PR approaches through their Twitter profiles (I’d like to know what the other 1 per cent of journalists use their ‘work’ Twitter profiles for if not for researching stories…)
  • LinkedIn is regularly used to search for industry experts and spokespeople for interviews, also 84 per cent of journalists are happy to be approached about a story over LinkedIn
  • Journalists still rely heavily on traditional email news circulation and telephone approaches from PR’s
  • Wikipedia is cited as a useful resource for background information on a story

When researching a news story, journalists prefer using the following channels (in the following order):

  1. News releases (used by 72 per cent of the journalists questions)
  2. Company websites (used by 71 per cent)
  3. Official corporate blogs (used by 63 per cent)

In fact, only 53% of journalists will look at an official corporate Twitter feed when researching a story… could this be a direct representation of how many corporates have an official Twitter feed – or perhaps those who are using to actively provide useful information to their followers? It would be interesting to compare this to an analysis of corporate Twitter users.

Essentially there are two different things to consider if you’re trying to communicate with journalists using social media. Are your target publications/journalists actively using social media channels? And then secondly, whether you are using those channels in an engaging, informative way so that you become a trusted source of information. If you’ve put time into considering both of these questions, then you might find this research helps you in your corporate communications.

Interestingly, I’d love to know whether construction industry journalists working on trade titles follow these same patterns, or whether our industry sector is different for some reason.

The PR industry hails the interactive, content-rich ‘social media news release’ (SMNR for the geeks) as the future of news across B2B and B2C sectors, but obviously the success of the SMNR depends solely on uptake of social media channels by journalists. We already incorporate many social ‘friendly’ elements into our client’s news releases, but I wouldn’t say that we’ve found the demand for a true SMNR within the construction industry just yet.

A true SMNR will be hosted in a dedicated ‘media centre’ to offer journalists a one-stop information source about a news item, or company.

An SMNR will also ideally incorporate the following information:

  • Re-tweet friendly headlines & easily identifiable, tweet friendly facts/figures (perhaps the top three would be boxed out in an eyecatching way in a ‘copy & paste friendly’ format)
  • A YouTube hosted video showcasing, giving content choices to the publications
  •  Access to a bank of high-resolution images which are easy for journalists to download and share
  • Easy access to supplementary information, such as company profiles, employee biographies etc

I’d say that we’re just about sat on the brink of change, and it’s important to keep your ear to the ground so that you continue to communicate with journalists in their preferred style. What are your personal experiences of communicating with journalists? Do you know whether your PR agency is active on Twitter to build and maintain their journalist relationships?

We’re undertaking some research of our own to follow up on this, so watch this space for more blog posts soon.