If you’re in public relations and doing the yeoman’s work at an agency – calling and emailing target reporters repeatedly until you finally connect with them – then you’re always on the lookout for a better way to build working relationships with the media.
I’ve had a few interactions on Twitter recently that have caused me to ask whether tweeting, in some situations, is a better tactic for contacting reporters than emailing or even the phone.
I regularly pitch personal finance topics. Although many reporters cover this beat, a lot of PR practitioners are angling for their attention. I rarely get a reply to an email when trying to get to know a new reporter, at least not without consistent follow-up. Actually securing interest in the spokesperson I’m pitching and getting an interview is even more difficult. I don’t fault the reporter; they get hundreds of emails a day and can’t reply to everybody.
It often takes more than a good email pitch to get noticed. I worked with one national personal finance reporter who stopped replying to emails after I had some initial success. At one point, she apologized and said she gets hundreds of messages and couldn’t reply to each one. Instead of continuing the email onslaught, I followed her on Twitter. When I had a topic to pitch, I crammed it into 140 characters and sent it her way. I got a reply the same day.
Just recently I had a similarly successful Twitter conversation. I tweeted a nationally known author to pass along an article I thought would be interesting to him. He replied within the hour. Imagine if I had tried email – I’d still be waiting for a reply.
Customer service via Twitter – where it’s offered – is also one of the best-kept social media secrets. I traveled to London this past summer and discovered on the day of my departure that my wife and I weren’t seated together. I was in the middle of a workday and didn’t have time to spend an hour on the phone with the airline, so I tweeted their customer service account and asked them to fix it. We had adjacent seats within 30 minutes. (Thanks, @DeltaAssist!).
I’ve thought about the reasons people and companies pay closer attention to their Twitter feed than emails and calls. I came up with two major ones.
First, it’s a volume and curiosity issue, especially for individuals. I don’t stop what I’m doing every time a new email pops up in my Outlook inbox. It’s likely spam anyway. There’s no excitement when I get an email. I get hundreds of those a day. When I’m mentioned on Twitter, however, I’m immediately curious. I generally only get a few of those each week, and they’re never spam.
Second, mentions on Twitter have an audience. I know that other people can see what’s being said when I’m mentioned. There’s a public conversation going on that involves me. There is a sense of urgency that applies to these mentions that does not apply to, say, a voicemail message of which only I’m aware. The audience factor is especially important for companies that value and want to protect their online reputation.
What remains to be seen is whether Twitter will continue to be an effective way to get noticed. I used to respond to Facebook messages within hours. Now it sometimes takes me days or weeks to reply – it’s just like email. The same thing will happen to Twitter if more people use it in place of email. I joked with somebody last week about a Twitter “busy” signal next time I contact my airline – an auto @reply that says they’ll get back to me within 24 hours. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I think it will.
Ironically, this blog post is likely counterproductive if I want to continue using Twitter the way I have been. The more people use it in place of email or the phone, the less effective it will be. I’d ask you not to tweet this article to your 100k followers, but the director of social media at Cookerly PR would object. You can also mention me (@mattcochran) in your tweet, but keep in mind that if I start getting too many messages through @replies, I may stop replying as quickly.