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The big five: a social media using PR pro dishes on using the different platforms

There are a slew of social media platforms floating around, from Badoo to Ning, both of which were recently ranked in EbizMBA.com’s top 15 most popular social media platforms. But in my opinion, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google + and the recently-popular Pinterest (which was actually not listed in the top 15) are the big five, the social media sites getting the most buzz and interest.  Since each platform is different and has its own strengths, inVocus spoke with Kelli Hartsock, a freelance PR professional and corporate brands assistant account executive at the Chicago-based MSL Group. Hartsock has a talent at multi-social-media-tasking and was willing to share how she uses the big five to connect with journalists and promote clients.

Q: How long have you been using each platform?

Kelli Hartsock (KH): I began using Facebook in 2007, LinkedIn in 2008, Twitter in 2009, Google+ in 2011 and only began using Pinterest early this year as a tool to develop relationships with the media and other PR professionals.

Q: Which social media platform is your favorite? Why?

KH: Twitter is the social platform that I have not only found most useful, but the one I utilize most often. Twitter is a remarkable marketing/PR tool, as it allows PR professionals to acquire minute-by-minute news topics worldwide, as well as research and engage with journalists on a personal level. Twitter can instantaneously give you the insight to journalist’s reporting beats, personal interests and real-time interaction. This is opposed to the traditional way of reaching out to a reporter by the (sometimes) awkward cold-calling or blind-siding emails. Surprisingly, reporters and most industry professionals are more than willing to engage with PR professionals via a public sector, rather than via email or phone.

Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest are great to connect as well, but I’ve found that people are more guarded with those profiles, as they use them for more personal and professional networking, such as job searches, rather than engaging with PR professionals. Twitter however, is very open and engaging, which seems to be due to the fact that you can only share 140 characters worth of information, instead of a board of photos, a list of past work experience or paragraph-length sentences on a wall.

Q: How do you use each platform to connect and engage with journalists? How successful have you been?

KH: It’s interesting to compare Facebook to Google+ or LinkedIn, and Twitter to Pinterest, as each serve their own unique purpose when engaging with journalists. Typically my search begins on Twitter. As stated previously, most journalists are more open with their Twitter profiles, so it’s a great jumping-off point to gather information about current stories and interests.

From Twitter, I conduct a Google search, which of course, turns up their Google+ account first. If a journalist’s Google+ account is public, then I’ll read through their newsfeed to note whether they utilize the account on a more personal or professional level. If they use Google+ on a slated professional level, I’ll proceed to gather additional information about their reporting topics and add them to my “Media” circle.

After Google+ plus is researched, I then decide whether or not to proceed researching their Facebook and Pinterest pages. If a journalist has a private Google+ account, it’s a safe bet their Facebook and Pinterest pages are somewhat private as well. However, if their Google+ page is open, I research Facebook. Whether their account is private or public, I very rarely add them as a “friend before engaging with them via phone or email. I do this out of respect, because in the beginning stages of building a relationship, you’re trying to do just that, build a relationship, not stalk them; sort of like dating.

As Pinterest is the newest of social media platforms, it’s more challenging to garner professional information about journalists, as the site is more a hub of personal interest and hobbies. However, it would make sense if I was attempting to engage with a fashion journalist or home and design specialist, because then I could garner more information about their particular style of fashion or home décor. Overall though, trying to garner professional interest or beat topics for journalists covering say, personal finance or corporate branding accounts, is more difficult.

Finally, once I’ve gathered information about a journalist’s reporting topics and personal interests, I make my way to LinkedIn. LinkedIn I primarily utilize to garner contact information, journalism experience and to compare “connections,” to see if there is an existing relationship I can utilize when reaching out to the journalist. I am more comfortable with adding a journalist as a connection on this site because LinkedIn’s primary purpose is to connect people on a professional level.

I personally have been extremely successful with utilizing social media as a means to research and connect with journalists. For example, I researched an entertainment reporter for TIME Magazine and went through the above process: researched his Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn accounts. I decided to reach out to this reporter via Twitter to see if I could garner a quick response about a story I was pitching at the time. He immediately responded with a DM (direct message) and asked that I send him as much information as I could about the topic at hand. After that, we connected via email, which lead to a feature on my client and their research, which was posted on TIME’s website, and featured in the “Must Read” section of the site – which highlights the most popular and engaging articles of the day – and was then tweeted three times throughout the day on the TIME Twitter page. I’ve also been able to garner several posts on publications’ Facebook pages, secure multiple retweets and mentions for clients as well as develop relationships with journalists solely through social media. I have a relationship with one particular journalist that strictly lives through Twitter. He reaches out to me via mention or DM knowing which clients I’m working with and asks for quotes and information.

Social media is an outstanding resource for PR and marketing pros, and it is by far the best way to get inside information and research without all of the extra legwork a typical Internet search returns.

Q: How do you juggle all five? I myself find it hard to really concentrate on more than two.

KH: It can be difficult to utilize all five social media platforms on a daily basis; obviously I have my favorite, which is Twitter. But as a PR pro, our job is to build relationships and find out as much information as possible about journalists and the publications they write for, because we want to give them the best information as possible to shape a story. Once one develops a process of continuously checking social platforms throughout the day, it becomes routine. As I mentioned in the above, I have a step-by-step process set in place when researching journalists and publications; the challenging part for me isn’t necessarily the process or even the research of each site, it’s taking a deeper dive to ensure that all the individual profiles within these platforms are as up-to-date as possible and providing the information necessary to help build quality relationships.

Q: Overall, what has been the greatest benefit from social media?

KH: The greatest overall benefit of social media is that is has provided PR professionals with real-time engagement and insight into journalists and publications. PR pros now have it so easy when conducting research on journalists through social media. A PR pro can almost instantly research and pull the last five articles a journalist wrote, their current reporting beat, contact information and personal interests to start a conversation and pitch stories. The PR pros that simply pitch a reporter without checking social media, in my opinion are lazy and aren’t trying to develop quality relationships.

Social media is singlehandedly the best tool PR professionals can utilize when doing research on any journalist, publication or topic. I have the upmost respect to my superiors and past PR professionals, as they didn’t have it nearly as easy when it comes to real-time engagement, research and relationship building. Hats off to our PR ancestors and their deep-diving research techniques!

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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