IMterview with VentureBeat’s Thomas: Communicating with Reporters on Twitter

Owen Thomas, executive editor of VentureBeat, is known to be very open on Twitter. Recently, he gave a not-so-great shout out to The OutCast Agency on his feed (all has since been forgiven). We contacted Thomas to find out how he thinks publicists can better use Twitter to communicate with him and other reporters. Conducted via instant message yesterday, our IMterview (Thomas’ term) is after the jump.

2:48 PM me: Hey Owen. So thx for doing this. You told me via e-mail that you’re “surprised by how uncomfortable many PR people are with the open exchange of a conversational venue like Twitter.”
What’s been your experience w/ PR people and Twitter?

2:49 PM Owen: Some really like it!
For natural communicators, it’s a natural medium.
But for those trained in the art of the press release, it’s foreign territory.

2:50 PM me: So is that something that’s restricted to older publicists? Or is there discomfort among younger publicists as well?

2:51 PM Owen: Gosh, I don’t think it’s age.
It has more to do with how you conceive of the job.
2:52 PM The more strategic you are as a PR practitioner, I would guess, the more you embrace new tools like Twitter.
Because you start from the business goal, right? And then you work backwards from that to figure out who you want to reach and how.
2:53 PM If you’re not strategic, then you have some kind of standard playbook that reads like this:
* Pick a launch date (always on a Tuesday)
* Get key press to agree to an embargo, no matter how much eye-rolling it induces
* Draft a press release
2:54 PM * Fight endlessly with the SVP of marketing over the wording of a sentence buried five paragraphs deep that no one anywhere will ever read
* Send out press release
* Get questions unaddressed in press release, website, or any other rational place where they should have been answered
2:55 PM * Don’t actually answer the questions but instead offer to schedule an interview with the CEO two days from now, even though the journalist’s deadline is in two hours
I’d rather exchange 140-character tweets with a smart publicist, thank you very much.

me: Ha. So how should a publicist be using Twitter?

Owen: Be funny, be human, be informed.
2:56 PM Read all of those social-media-marketing how-tos and do the exact opposite whenever humanly possible.
Common sense! Try common sense.
2:57 PM Really, anyone who is in the business of public relations who can’t just get on Twitter and start using it needs to get a different job in a different field.

2:58 PM me: So you’re willing to have a conversation with a publicist via Twitter? Are other reporters that you know as open?

Owen: Sure, what’s the worst that can happen?
2:59 PM You always have the option of taking it offline. But it’s not like I don’t know the publicist is talking to other reporters at the same time anyway — and saying the same exact thing. Twitter just takes that reality and makes it more explicit and efficient.
And I get credit as the person who asked the question.

3:00 PM me: True. So how can publicists reach you on Twitter?

3:04 PM Owen: @owenthomas
3:05 PM Just don’t DM me, unless we have an established relationship. For some reason, direct messages feel way too intimate and personal.

3:07 PM me: Noted. So final question: For the publicists out there that are a little nervous about Twitter, what are some of the baby steps they can take for building their tweet-savvy?

3:08 PM Owen: Start out just retweeting stories you find interesting and replying to friends and colleagues. Don’t engage with reporters until you feel comfortable with the medium.
I know that goes against my diktat that good PR people should feel fine diving in, but I realize some people don’t want to just cannonball into the pool.