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How to engage journalists on social media

Journalists are often influencers on social platforms, and their roles fall into five distinct categories that are worth understanding and targeting.

5 min read

Social Media

Journalist and photographer


Communications professionals know journalists are busy, but just how busy are they? Some report receiving up to 100 pitches per day, and that’s just via email. What about the countless pitches they field via telephone or social media? The role of journalists is changing, and as social media continues to directly impact their work, many have become key online influencers. In today’s post-silo world of communication, it’s important for all communicators to understand the role journalists play in the online conversation, and to know exactly how to cut through the clutter to insert your brand or client into the dialogue.

The key to working with influencers is to understand their habits and interests. According to the 2016 Global Social Journalism Study conducted by Cision, journalists in the United States fall into five distinct categories based on their social media habits and views of PR professionals: Architects, Promoters, Hunters, Observers and Skeptics.

Understanding these categories and how to work with various types of journalists is critical to connecting with this increasingly influential online audience, and through identifying the right journalists on social media, I’ve been able to build valuable relationships by learning their true behaviors and preferences.

Architects are the fearless trailblazers of social media, with 83% working in online journalism and claiming they could not carry out their work without social media. Fifty-eight percent of Architects are 45 or younger, and this is the only group that does not include journalists over the age of 65. Architects have the most positive attitude toward social media, are the most likely to say social media has had a positive impact on journalism and regularly use user-generated content in their work.

Your takeaway: Architects are also very open to PR professionals, with 63% claiming PR sources and press releases improve the quality of their work, so get connected!

In the US, the majority of journalists are considered promoters. Ninety-seven percent use social media to publish and promote their own content, repost content of those they follow, interact with their audience, network and monitor social chatter and industry trends. Over half of Promoters are under age 45 and call themselves online journalists. Promoters are the only type of social suspect to cite press releases as their main source of information and are the most receptive to PR professionals. Nearly 80% of Promoters spend at least an hour a day using social media for work, and 52% are more likely to use social media to communicate with PR pros than any other communication method.

Your takeaway: Use their social savvy to your advantage by engaging in discussion and sharing their content online to start building a relationship.

In terms of activity, Hunters fall somewhere in the middle. More active than Skeptics and Observers but less active than Promoters and Architects, nearly half of Hunters rate their competence with social media as ‘high’ or ‘exceptional.’ Although 79% of Hunters say they have a good relationship with PR professionals, only 34% agree that they are a reliable source of stories. They prefer to get their information from experts, industry representatives and professional contacts. Sixty-eight percent think social media is undermining traditional journalistic values, viewing it as a necessity rather than a choice.

Your takeaway: When reaching out to Hunters, play up the experts and industry leaders you’re offering to give your pitch an added layer of credibility.

Observers are likely to minimize their visible presence on social media and the least likely to regularly use user-generated content in their work. Over 40% are print journalists, while half regularly write features. On a daily basis, they use social media to read posts of people they follow and monitor discussions about their own content. Although 61% of Observers rate their social media competence as reasonable, only 27% say social media has had a positive impact on journalism.

Your takeaway: Pitch Observers traditionally, but continue to engage with their social posts to stay on their radar.

Skeptics represent the least active social media users and the most likely to doubt its benefit. Forty percent of Skeptics are print journalists, 72% are under age 45 and half use social media less than daily. They have decidedly negative views about the impact of social media, and half rate their social media competence as low or non-existent. Skeptics prefer to be contacted via traditional outreach methods like email or telephone, but are the least likely to see PR professionals as a reliable source of information, so be clear on the experts and industry leaders you’re offering. It should be noted, though, that the number of Skeptics has steadily declined over the past few years as more journalists are embracing social media’s role in their work.

Your takeaway: We’re running out of Skeptics, which serves as increasing proof that there is no more “print only” communication. Embrace online outreach strategies to align your efforts with the disruption that’s occurring in our industry.

Knowing Your Audience
Although journalists can be categorized as Architects, Promoters, Hunters, Observers and Skeptics in the post-silo world, they don’t go around wearing labels. The way to really know what type of social suspect they are is to get to know them, understand and respect their preferences, and build a relationship over time. So while Architects and Promoters are open to receiving pitches through social media and Observers and Skeptics prefer a more traditional approach, taking time to build relationships with journalists in your industry will maximize your coverage.

Stacey Miller is the Director, communications at Cision. During her 10 years with the company, she has pioneered data-based storytelling, influencer marketing, employee advocacy and social selling programs through both traditional and social media. An internationally sought keynote speaker, her writing has appeared in Forbes, CIO and VentureBeat.