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Ah, Twitter: Land of snarky comments, pithy observations, celebrity smack downs, breaking news, and, if you’re a savvy enough public relations professional, pitching opportunities. Twitter is a social media platform that sometimes gets a bad reputation as confusing, overwhelming, and just another social network to manage – which, there is some truth to – but, if you learn how to use it properly and to your advantage, it’s a useful tool. That’s because thousands of journalists use Twitter every day to post breaking news stories, comment and share news items, ask for sources for their articles, praise colleagues’ work, or have conversations with each other.

As an account executive, or someone in any PR role, that’s where you can start to build relationships with reporters, sometimes more easily than emailing or calling them, because you’re meeting them where they are and working with their daily routine. If you’ve never pitched on Twitter before, you could be missing out. But, don’t go crazy right out of the gate, as there are some do and don’ts to consider, if you want to be successful. Here are some of my top tips:

First thing’s first: Look professional before you start trying to make professional connections.

Twitter isn’t LinkedIn, so you have a little more freedom to present yourself casually, but there is a fine line. Upload a recent profile picture that shows some personality – for example, you doing one of your favorite hobbies or a fun pose. However, make sure your face is clear and recognizable and the picture is welcoming. No one wants to interact with someone that they can’t see, is scowling, or worse, is sporting “duck face” – it will make you seem untrustworthy, especially to a reporter. Additionally, ensure that your description has the right balance of professionalism and flare by designating the industries you’re knowledgeable about (i.e., your clients’ industries) and including a personal touch.

Twitter profileI’ve included my Twitter profile as an example. I’m a huge Golden State Warriors fan, so I decided to use a picture in which I’m wearing a jersey and have the #GoDubs hashtag included in my bio. I’ve also listed work-related information and some other interests through more hashtags.

Do your research and build Twitter lists.

After you have your profile updated and looking good, you’ll need to do some research on which reporters you want to connect with on Twitter. There are a lot, and to make it less overwhelming, you’ll want to focus your outreach. Some reporters also aren’t on Twitter or don’t like to be pitched on Twitter, so you’ll want to find that out as well.

If you have a media leaderboard for your clients – that is, a list of reporters that are important to your clients and that you’ve designated write frequently about your clients’ industries – then you’re in good shape. If not, you’ll definitely want to create that first.

Next, you can use a service like Gorkana or Cision, if you have access to it, to find the Twitter handles of the reporters on your leaderboard. Many times you can also search for them on Twitter or on Google, as you’ll be able to tell if they are the right person by reading their bios.

Once you start following them, I recommend adding them to a general “media targets” list or, if you want to focus your outreach even more, you can create lists for each client. To create and manage lists, click on “Lists” on your profile page. Click on the cog icon on a reporter’s profile page next to the follow button to add him or her to a list. This allows you to keep them and all their updates in their own feed separate from your more general feed, which will help you see their statuses and interact with them more easily.

Build relationships early and maintain them through regular interaction.

Now that you have a rockin’ profile and a list of reporters you want to connect with, it’s time to start interacting, but don’t pitch right away! Ideally, every PR pro should strive to have established reporter relationships – it makes media relations much easier. Twitter is a great way for you to start building those relationships, especially if your clients don’t have amazing news to share or big product announcement, before you pitch them directly. Since so many reporters are active on Twitter on a daily basis, it makes it easy to interact with them by favoriting, replying to, and mentioning their work without interrupting their routine via email or a phone call.

Spend a half hour each day perusing your Twitter lists to see what reporters are up to. If they share an interesting article or update, then feel free to favorite it, retweet it, or reply with a comment. Keep it casual, yet professional and respectful. Overall, it’s probably best to keep negative comments to yourself and you most certainly don’t want to call a reporter out for a mistake in an article in a public forum.

The other trick here is to not overdo it. Don’t go through your list and start favoriting every update – that’s a little creepy. You will also want to provide insightful feedback or value. Oftentimes, I try to make a bold statement about something they wrote or shared in order to strike up a conversation. Extra points if you can add in some humor – they love that.

Once you start to build rapport with reporters, don’t stop there. Continue interacting with them on a regular basis so your name becomes familiar.

Go for it!

Reporters have started interacting with you and you’ve built up some good rapport – awesome! By now, since you’ve been keeping an eye on what they write and share, you should have a really good understanding of the types of things that interest them on a professional and personal level. Use that to your advantage by referencing that in your pitches.

If you’re going to pitch by phone or email, use the rapport you’ve established on Twitter to help them remember you. For example, “It was great chatting with you on Twitter about X. Based on our conversation, I’d like to see if you’re interested in learning more about X.” Don’t wait too long after you’ve had the conversation on Twitter to pitch them, though, or else you might lose the opportunity. Timeliness is imperative.

Sometimes, reporters will make it even easier for you by directly asking for sources for a story on Twitter (see an example below).

Twitter pitching

If your client has something interesting to say about the topic at hand, don’t be afraid to tweet at them or in this case email them directly. You could simply say, “Per your tweet about X, I’d like to offer you some commentary from X.” However, make sure that you or your client have something truly compelling to say that matches what they’re looking for. Otherwise, you could start to tarnish the relationship you’ve worked so hard to build.

If you’re going to pitch reporters directly on Twitter, there are a few other things to keep in mind. I usually would not include a client’s name in your tweet. Keep it vague, but related to topic, and ask them to either direct message (DM) or email you if they would like more info. Then, you can talk about the specific client.

It’s also important not to send out mass tweets to multiple reporters. Again, Twitter is public and reporters do not like to see someone pitching several of their colleagues with the same story.

Those are some of my tips for using Twitter for media relations. What have been some of your biggest successes or learnings from using Twitter? Share them in the comments below.