A Reporter’s Perspective on Interacting with the Media Using Social Networks

17 February 2011

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Media&SocialNetworksMedia coverage is still considered an important component of measuring a communications strategy. With more and more journalists using social networks to get story ideas, companies need to adjust their strategy to get coverage.

With this in mind, I thought a discussion with a reporter would help shed some light on the topic. So during this week’s #irchat, Matt Hartley (@thehhartley) a technology reporter with the Financial Post agreed to be questioned about where he gets story ideas, the best way to pitch a story to him and what companies can do to help him do his job better.

To make it easier to read I have put the post together into a Q&A format. So I will attribute all questions to #irchat (meaning the question came from someone who participated in the session). You can click here to read the complete transcript.

The best PR-journalist relationships are based on respect, and an understanding that both sides have a job to do – Matt Hartley.

Q1a: If you want to do a story on a company (acquisition or other relevant event), where do you go for information first? Website? Social Networks?

  • Usually the first thing I do is visit the company’s website to see what I can learn.
  • If I’m trying to get a hold of someone, I’ll sometimes reach out through social networks.
  • If I’m trying to gauge public sentiment towards a company, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages are a good starting point.

Q1b: I would think that social media is only good for determining sentiment of social media users, not all potential stakeholders?

  • Of course. Again, it’s a starting point. It also depends on the brand.
  • If your brand is tied deeply into the social media communications, maybe Twitter sentiment means more than if you sell chairs.
  • It would be a bad idea to say that Twitter sentiment = what everyone thinks about a brand.

Q2: Do you usually find what you’re looking for on website? If not, what is second step?

  • We never find everything we’re looking for solely from a Website.
  • Next step is usually to get in touch with a company, or news archives. Social networks = part of the research process.

Q3: What kinds of things are of interest to you on Twitter & Facebook? Do you take comments, likes etc. into bigger picture?

  • It depends on the company and the story.
  • Twitter accounts are interesting, because it shows you what the company wants to promote.
  • Twitter and Facebook are very good for determining what the public’s sentiment is towards a company.
  • Social networks help us determine what the conversation is around a brand or company. That can lead to stories.

Q4: How do you verify or ensure that Twitter accounts and Facebook Pages are authentic? Need to be linked to/from website?

  • We do our best not to quote anything that we haven’t verified with the company. Even “fake” Twitter accounts.
  • Usually it’s relatively easy to tell, but it’s still important to contact the company.

Q5: Do you find corporate blogs useful?

  • ‘Useful’ is a relative term. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Good corporate blogs can be very helpful.
  • Bad corporate blogs are usually just a waste of time.
  • A corporate blog can be useful if a CEO is sharing strategy ideas, thoughts on an industry or announcing news.
  • But if it’s just stuff about how Company X is happy to partner with Company Y, that’s boring.

Q6: What do you consider a bad corporate blog? What what kind of information do you want to see on a company’s blog?

  • Get beyond platitudes. Call out your competitors. Thump your chest a little bit.
  • Basically, a good corporate blog is one that is interesting. But being candid certainly makes things more fun.

Q7: How does a smaller company get on your radar?

  • Email is usually best. But we look for companies with a good story to tell, with a solid strategy.
  • Numbers are always really helpful. If you can say you signed up a million users in a month, that’s wicked.
  • But I like to think that if you have a good product or service, a good strategy and lots of buzz, we’ll find you.

Q8: What is the best way for a co to pitch a story to you over social networks?

  • Social networks aren’t always a great way to pitch a story.
  • Twitter is a good place to make contact with me, ask me to try a product, get my email.

Q9: Do you recommend using social networks to pitch a story?

  • Don’t bother with Facebook, I use it mostly for personal stuff. Not really for business.
  • One way to use social networks to get to me is to find me when I’m tweeting from a conference or something.

Q10: So pitch by email or phone and use social media to provide valuable tools such as research, presentations &/or videos?

  • Yes, that’s usually the best way. We get dozens of pitches a day – it’s best to keep them in one place. Email first.
  • But for goodness sake, don’t send me your 18MB powerpoint without asking. You’ll clog my inbox and make me cranky.

Q11: Do you get companies DMing you with story ideas as a reporter on twitter?

  • Yes, we do, and that’s cool, because Twitter can be very useful for finding out about cool people doing cool things.
  • However, my email is at the bottom of all my stories, so I raise a Spockian eyebrow when people say they can’t find it.

Q12: How do you sift through the many emails you get? What catches your eye?

  • Lots of stories catch our eye. Can be a good success story, a comeback story, a good Canadian story etc.
  • One way we sift through pitches are people who understand our publication.
  • We are a Canadian business publication. We’re not TechCrunch or Mashable. We have our own focus.
  • For example, we don’t tend to do a lot of product reviews. So asking me to review something is usually a waste of time.

Q13: What can companies do to help you do your job?

  • Media contacts that are easy to find is key. But being available is just as important.
  • Nothing worse than a contact who is easy to reach when things are going well and hides when something goes wrong.
  • Respect what I’m doing. When something goes bad and I call you, realize I’m doing my job.
  • Also, it drives me nuts if you decline to comment, and then call me the next day to say you didn’t like the story.
  • Good reporters will tell you what the story is about. It’s about good communication.
  • The best PR people I know will take my call even when all hell is breaking loose.
  • Even if they only tell me things on background or OTR, it helps me plan my coverage.
  • If I have to spend 30 minutes on deadline calling everyone in your organization to get a quote, that’s a waste of time.
  • If you need 30 minutes to get your stuff together, tell me that, and get back to me. I can use that time other ways.
  • It takes mere seconds to tell me via BlackBerry that a statement will be ready in 20 minutes.
  • And truth be told, my first contact is almost always email, unless I know you’re in your office.

Q14: What about having a backgrounder, logo assets and product shots available for download from the site?

  • Having those things available is good, especially in certain circumstances. Usually we’ll want to shoot our own stuff though.

Q15: Do you try and get in touch with lawyers and advisors acting on these deals or just write based on company information and public sentiment?

  • We have lots of contacts, and we’ll talk to whoever can help us get the best information.
  • That being said, bankers and lawyers are often the best contacts for business reporters – they know ‘stuff’.

Q16: Can you outline a few things companies shouldn’t do when dealing with the media?

  • Newspapers still have deadlines. So it’s inconvenient when you call us between 4 pm and 6 pm to pitch us.
  • I try and be courteous to just about everyone who calls me, but if you call me on deadline, I can’t promise to be nice.
  • Don’t tell your client that just because they talk to me that they’re going to land on the cover of the Financial Post.
  • All news isn’t front page worthy, so also need to understand that news happens. We plan out feature stories, but those can be derailed by news.
  • We may have been planning to run a story on your company, but if something huge happens, you’re getting pushed back.

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