I recently published a post on LinkedIn that charted my career path from Archaeology major to Chief Blogger. Along the way, I spent the vast majority of my 18 years as a member of Dell’s Communications organization. What really helped me forge a path was infusing so much of my Comms work with my passion for hardware, software and web technology. Thinking that way made the transition to digital communications a natural one. Especially these days, if you want to stand out as a member of the Communications team in your organization, applying a bit of technology can go a long way.
A few caveats:
1) Before you embark on sharing company-related content or engaging customers (or reporters) online, make sure you are aligned with your company’s social media policy and training guidelines. Many companies these days have a training or certification process that you’ll need to go through. Make sure you take care of compliance issues first.
2) Don’t think of traditional comms and social or digital communications as two opposing things. Like I’ve said before, they are complementary.
3) Just start somewhere. I’m not suggesting you have to become a technologist to be successful. You don’t have to become an expert in all things digital. Pick even a couple of things you can start doing to connect with reporters or make more informed contenet for your customers.
Whether you spend your days maintaining relationships with reporters on the corporate side at some of big media outlets, or if you maintain connections for a specific part of your company’s business, the good news is there’s never been more ways to build those relationships. There will always be a place for ongoing phone calls (or emails) with reporters. That doesn’t go away, nor should it. In my view, digital tools offer multiple ways to increase touch points with reporters.
Where are the best places to interact with reporters online? Twitter and the comment section of their blogs in my opinion. In my experience, starting on Twitter will lead you to their blog posts. My advice, check their tweets. Most reporters these days have to care about personal branding. And that means when they publish someting, they’ll tend to promote it via Twitter, LinkedIn or elsewhere. Read the links they share to get a sense for what interest them. Pay attention to the context they provide in their tweets. Share the articles they publish when it makes sense. @ reply them when you have some perspective to add, or questions to ask. If you have more to say about a post they wrote, take the extra step to comment on their blog posts. And be thoughtful when you do comment. Add to the conversation instead of trying to force your agenda down their throats.
So, what if you are starting from scratch? If you don’t have a Twitter account, create one. Then follow all the reporters you need to stay connected to. Even though it’s a painstakingly manual process, spend time to create Twitter lists for all (or at least the main reporters you interact with). Though it’s the most manual process, I still recommend taking the time to do it for all the reasons in the paragraph above. You can start small, then add reporters to your list over time. Once you’ve created your list, bookmark it in your browser.
Another option is following reporter lists maintained by top tier media outlets (see point #3 in a previous post). To find these lists, all you have to do is find the outlet on Twitter, like the Washington Post for example. Then click Lists. Scroll through the page and you’ll see general lists like Post people, and beat-specific lists like Video / Photo/ Design, Post World, Post Business and op-ed writers at Post Voices. Then click the Subscribe button. If you’re ready to go deeper, looking at a service like Muckrack.com might make sense. Beyond basic Twitter lists by outlet, they can help you keep track of interactions with reporters over time, campaigns, organize your reporter lists in ways that work for you, etc.
Beyond connecting with individuals, some tools can help you keep up trending stories. If you’re in the tech space, bookmark Techmeme.com now. I’ve mentioned it several times before, but still feel it’s one of the best tools to see what tech stories are moving the needle in the blogosphere. See screenshot below. Newest stories appear on the right hand side, and Top News shows the most impactful articles, with the main story featured with an accompanying image. The More section shows related stories from other outlets. The Tweets section underneath highlights significant tweets related to that topic. Just spending a few minutes looking at a trending story and related conversations around it gives a good sense for the context and the sentiment around that topic.
Mediagazer.com works the same way. Like the name implies, stories there are focused on the media industry, and that includes a lot of articles about the changing state of journalism. If you care about that, bookmark it as well. And speaking of the changing state of journalism, Nieman Journalism Lab is my favorite site to keep up with. The For Immediate Release podcast is a great source for how social (or digital) and traditional PR mix. Shel Holtz is one of the best in my book at understand where tech and PR intersect. Besides Shel, other individuals who are great on this topic are Mathew Ingram, Jeff Jarvis, Josh Bernoff, Richard Binhammer and Scott Monty.
If you like to keep up with a list of media outlets, but want more efficient process than visiting each one manually, RSS feeds are a useful tool. I’ve blogged about Feedly, which is a great reader especially if you read a lot of articles on a tablet. If simplicity is key, I highly recommend Digg Reader. It’s great for tracking a handful of media outlets, and it makes it easy to add sources.
If you are in communications and have yet to jump into the digital side of things, take steps to change that. There’s much to be gained once you start somewhere. They key is to incorporate some of these activities in your daily routine. Doing it right will lead to more engagement with reporters about the stories they write, which results in better relationships. And regardless of how technology changes the landscape, building those relationships will always be essential to PR and Communications.