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Will Twitter be the platform that unites journalists and PR pros?

Media relations professionals and journalists can enjoy an authentic and mutually beneficial interaction on Twitter – but will they?

The media relations industry is (pardon the  pun, but I need to get it out of my system) all atwitter (*collective groan* See? I warned you!) about the micro-blogging site that has attracted hundreds of media and PR industry professionals.

Cision conducted a quick study of the increase in popularity of Twitter in the media by tracking the mentions of Twitter in 50 of the top print and online media outlets across the country since 2007. Not surprisingly, Twitter mentions were more than 5 times more frequent in 2008 than in 2007. And if the first 19 days of January are any indication (184 mentions of Twitter), the first six months of 2009 will garner more than twice as many mentions than the last six months of 2008.

So Twitter is popular, we know that. Many users see it as a great resource for developing relationships through networking, discovering new content being shared by users, sharing ideas and questions with other like-minded people, and more.  Personally, I find the key value of Twitter is the opportunity to participate in an authentic community that develops organically through shared ideas and thoughts.

It’s been suggested that what has been missing in the relationship between some PR professionals and the media is just that kind of authenticity and sense of community. While many media relations people develop great relationships with journalists and engage in their industries in a way that benefits them, the organizations they represent, and the media, there are also those PR people who employ the ‘spray & pray’ mentality and send out dozens and dozens of the same pitch to unvetted lists of contacts and hope for a hit. Those few people have created a tense relationship between some journalists and PR.

Could Twitter be the platform that breaks down those walls? Last month, John Byrne, executive editor and editor in chief of BusinessWeek.com, wrote a post called The Twittering Gang at BusinessWeek. In the post, Byrne encourages readers to join “the hot micro-blogging site that allows users to blog in 140 characters or less.” He also lists the Twitter handles of over 30 BusinessWeek journalists.

Sounds Utopian, right? Not according to Byrne’s BW colleague Stephen Baker. Baker followed up Byrne’s post later that week with his own post entitled Freak out: Twitter infested by PR. Baker “wouldn’t be surprised if half of [his followers on Twitter] worked in PR.”

To add to that, PRNewser announced this week that we will be adding journalist Twitter handles to Cision’s database later this year. Many Twitter users were excited to read the news. Edelman Digital SVP Steve Rubel discussed the news on his Micro Persuasion blog. Behind the excitement, though, is trepidation. What about Baker’s claim that Twitter might be overrun by PR people? Rubel hopes that when the Twitter handles are available that “it won’t encourage us to pollute Twitter with DM pitches. Rather, we’ll use the info to be smarter.” Some Twitter users shared a similar sentiment: one tweet read, “PR people will either get a better reputation or re-affirm their stereotype.

Personally, I believe that the fact that there is no way to push a message to a bunch of journalists at once will prevent some of the bad practices on Twitter that we currently see with email. PR people will have to intentionally send a personal message to each journalist individually. This encourages PR people to know who they are pitching and engage in a meaningful way.

What do you think? Will Twitter be the platform that encourages positive relationships between journalists and media relations professionals?

Maybe Twitter won’t be that platform. But I believe that the fundamentals of social media will encourage more meaningful interactions between the media and PR no matter what the platform.

Regardless of how you feel about Twitter, the best practices of working with journalists as a media relations professional remain the same: provide valuable and useful information, know the journalist – what they write and how (if) they want to be contacted, and follow through in an authentic way.

About Heidi Sullivan

One of PRWeek’s 40 under 40 in 2012, Heidi Sullivan is Senior Vice President of Digital Content for Cision and a self-proclaimed social media metrics nerd. She leads the company’s digital and broadcast content teams, the global research team for Cision’s media database, Cision’s social media community team and the company’s content marketing strategy. You can find her on Twitter @hksully.

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