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Recap: Twitter for Media Relations

This post is cross-posted from the Alliance for Biking & Walking blog, and is authored by Mary Lauran Hall, the Alliance’s Communications Director.

Twitter is useful for fueling engagement with your supporters and getting the word out about your issues. But it can also be a helpful tool in another communications arena: media relations.

On a recent webinar with the League of American Bicyclists, we shared tips on how biking and walking advocates can use Twitter to connect with reporters and get active transportation issue in the news. This was the fourth session in a series of social media webinars we’re doing together. For background, check out Twitter 101Facebook 101; and Vine, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr 101.

Check out the recording below, and keep reading for some key takeaways and insights.



A blasphemous idea is taking hold in media relations work: press releases are terrible. SeeChris Cassidy’s excellent Prezi for more on this, but the gist is that reporters get so many press releases that may or may not be relevant to their work that the mechanism has become all but useless.

So what’s a communications person to do?

Forget the properly formatted press release blasted out to a thousand media contacts. Instead, focus on relationships. Twitter can help.

Before you even need to blast something out, get to know the reporters who cover the issues you work on. This involves good old-fashioned press tracking, good ol’ email, and Twitter.

I use Talkwalker to track press mentions of the Alliance and Advocacy Advance, then compile them in a spreadsheet that looks like this:


Note that I keep track not only of the article, but also of the author, their email, and their Twitter handle. When a reporter writes a story about our issues, I add their Twitter handle to the Alliance’s private media list – a list I maintain within the Alliance Twitter account. This list is close to the front of my Tweetdeck and I look at it often to see what reporters are talking about and connect when stuff in our wheelhouse comes up.

When you’re pitching something, it’s ideal to have an existing relationship with the person you’re approaching. Be a known quantity to the reporters who cover issues your organization cares about. Introduce yourself – maybe on Twitter! Make plans to grab coffee and ask more about what they’re interested in. Liz had a great suggestion, gleaned from a reporter for an alt-weekly in DC: offer to take a journalist out for a bike ride or walk in a particularly problematic area.

It can help, too, to make it clear to a reporter that you’re sharing their articles. When a story comes up about your organization or your issues, tweet it to your followers and include their handle in the message. This shows the journalist that you’re paying attention and that their work is resonating.

Chris also suggests having a separate press list where you track contact with individual reporters:


Creating press lists is something I end up doing last minute when we have something to release, but it’s certainly smarter to track systematically.

Then, when you do need to release something, consider writing a blog post instead of a press release. Use real-person-speak to write it, not stuffy press release language and odd formatting. Write about the issue the way you would explain it to a friend.

Share the blog post with reporters in your network on Twitter. And do use email – just not a giant, faceless blast. Use language from your blog post to assemble a short email explaining the issue, then customize that message for each of the reporters you want to reach out to. Include a reference or two to their latest work so that they know you’re listening.

This isn’t to say that press releases don’t have a place. Sometimes you need to send out a big, un-personalized email to a lot of press contacts. But those moments should be few and far between. Unless you have a huge report, individualized outreach will probably serve you much better. And even when you do send a big release, breaking out of the press release format is never a bad thing.

What are your tips for using Twitter in media relations? Share them in the comments.

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