A Reporter’s Perspective on Interacting with the Media Using Social Networks
17 February 2011
Media 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.