One of the big updates Twitter made this month allows users to receive direct messages from any of their followers—even if they don’t follow back. On first glance, this is good news for reporters who want to contact sources and terrible news for Justin Bieber. But what about PR? Is it a great new way to get journalists to notice your pitches or another media relations no-no?
We should note that the “receive DMs from any follower” setting is optional and that it’s not available to everyone yet—for example, we can use it on our company feed but not our personal feed. Yet some big-name journalists took to it immediately:
I’m going to treat Direct Messages like they’re anonymous tips — so if you send me something sensitive or secretive, I won’t I.D. you.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) October 15, 2013
The natural conclusion is that if journalists enable their DM option then it’s fair game for PR. And direct messages are, in a way, harder to ignore than emails.
Here are our first thoughts on the issue:
1. Follow and interact first
You have to follow to DM, and as PR professionals you already know to follow the journalists you want to contact on Twitter to figure out what they cover and how. But interaction is good too: retweet them and respond to them without being too much like the guy who begs to be someone’s friend. A little ego stroking never hurt anyone as long as it doesn’t go over the top, but outright flattery reeks of desperation.
Oh, and don’t just favorite their tweets—share their stuff and @ them independently as well. Just be honest when you do it rather than RT’ing every article they write.
2. Be transparent
In an email context, the journalist will immediately know who you are and what you want based on your title/signature and the format of the message. That’s not so obvious on Twitter, so if you send a DM you should in some way let them know that you’re pitching them, even if you list your profession in your bio. Also: if you interact as mentioned above then they’ll probably already know who you are.
3. Don’t share press releases
This isn’t a traditional pitch, and it doesn’t quite work like the anonymous tip box either.
It’s really all about sharing tips and valuable research/content vs. sharing press releases that are only useful to yourself and your client. Traditional pitches should go into our inboxes or our anonymous boxes, and anything that comes in as a DM should be immediately interesting in a “have you seen this?” sort of way. If the journo is intrigued then he/she will follow up with you.
4. Include your contact info
Conversations via DM don’t really work unless they’re quick notes between people who know each other, so if you want a reporter to follow up you should include contact information. You’ll probably want to write a longer description of your pitch anyway.
5. Try to play off their previous tweets
Again, this is PR 101, but writing something like “loved your coverage of X and wanted to show you this” is better than just dropping a link and asking someone to cover it.
6. Be very, very conservative with your DMs
Peter Himler told Bulldog Reporter that PR should never pitch via social. We generally agree with him, but again this is a different kind of pitch. If you’re going to try it, do your research and make sure that the journalist will be interested in whatever you send, because we can guarantee one thing: a stream of spammy pitches and “did you get a chance to look at my stuff” messages will get you blocked faster than you can change your profile picture.
As this trend develops we’ll have a clearer idea of how PR can make the most of it. For now, a couple of questions: Have you pitched any journalists with direct messages? How did they respond? (And yes, you can post your experiences in our anonymous tip box.)