Pitching interactive features

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Into uncharted territory

Planning a social media strategy for a media  relations campaign can seem like such an epic task, it’s easy to forget what a simple phenomenon social media really is: an evolving mesh of tools for information sharing propelled by people, for whom nothing comes more naturally than describing their interests and surroundings. That explains the rise of social news features on media Web sites.

Rarely is sharing information more crucial for a community than during a natural disaster, and at a glance, the Houston Chronicle’s Web site was doing a superb job of it during Hurricane Ike a couple of months ago. The site offered reports of storm damage from blogs and Twitter; sought out reader questions about the storm and safety measures; created a Google Maps mashup embedded with damage reports from citizen journalists; and offered a collection of user-submitted videos. In fact, options for citizen journalists submitting questions and reports about the storm outnumbered more traditional news reports linked from the site’s front page.

All over the world, journalists are learning to crowdsource their work. They are harnessing the energy of people whose energy for describing their surroundings is bringing community news resources to depths of detail never though possible.

What does this mean for media research and outreach? One possibility is an imperative to begin pitching social news features. While “social coverage” of a major news event may be well planned by a newsroom staff, interactive Web site features are less likely to appear beside routine product reviews or other spaces where brands and companies are likely to be mentioned. Despite an increased focus on the Web, for some news organizations, interactive features remain afterthoughts, like so many graphics and maps ordered in late-afternoon news meetings and hastily produced for the next day’s print edition.

That mentality is changing as traditional media adapts. Nonetheless, here an old public relations adage applies: the best way to build rapport with some journalists is to help them do their jobs. Rather than simply pitching a story topic, you always have the option to suggest a specific type of social news feature—an interactive map, a video sharing feature, a Q&A session, anything you can think of that enables people to engage with the topic. In the process, you’re increasing your chance of having your campaign included in a piece prominently displayed on the Web site. Hurricane season is over, but the tide of social news is just beginning to rise.

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