How to target Journalists with your research through Twitter

Posted on 5 September 2011 in Making your research accessible by

A number of studies have shown that journalists are increasingly relying on social media to source information. A widely cited study: the fourth annual Digital Journalism Study reveals that large proportions of journalists now use digital and social media, such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, to source and verify their stories. The study polled 478 journalists from 15 countries and nearly half of respondents (47 percent) cited Twitter as the top source of new stories.

As Twitter has emerged as such an important place for journalists to source stories it struck me that more thinking needs to be done on how we can use this channel to bring research to the attention of journalists.

Here are some practical steps I have developed on engaging with the media through Twitter, these tips have come from web-based research and from work we have been conducting on social media engagement. I would very much welcome examples and insights on how these have worked in practice.

1. See who and what is out there…

This sounds obvious but in order to think about engaging with journalists you need to be able to know which of those on Twitter might be interested in your topic. Twitter has asearch and advanced searchfunction. A search for say “health journalist” on Twitter returns a list of people in the right hand column of the results page (which you can expand). This blog, WheretoStalkJournalistson, has some useful advice. Many journalists also have helpful lists of other journalists doing similar work, which you can add to your own list of those you want to target. This leads nicely onto the next tip…

2. Make a Twitter list of the journalists you want to engage with…

Twitterlists are a great way of organising people around subject matter, and can be a great way of tracking what conversations are taking place in a particular field, and ensure you are well placed to provide relevant contributions. We have started to create a list for the R4D (DFID-Research portal) Twitter account of developmentjournalists, which might help you get started

3. Use tools like hootsuite and tweetdeck for surveillance…

Tools like hootsuite and tweedeck give you the ability to manage numerous search terms on an ongoing basis; so for instance, if you wanted to keep track of mentions of the term “climate change research” these tools allow you to constantly monitor usage of it on Twitter. You could also apply this search to a specific Twitter list, so if a journalist mentioned one of your keyword terms that could signify an opportunity to engage with them. You can also view trending topics and get real time notifications whenever your tweets are re-tweeted or marked as favourites – useful tools when you are trying to build ‘theme-based’ relationships.

These tools make sure you can keep track of those things that are ‘trending’ relevant to you and your research. Making sure you don’t miss opportunities to engage around issues relating to your own work.

4. Build ‘real’ relationships based on active engagement…

We all understand that establishing mutual trust and credibility is the foundation for most good working relationships, and this thinking is no different when it comes to building relationships on Twitter. Twitter and peoples other social networks are often linked to through their profile on Twitter and offer an excellent place to learn about their interests and expertise. Use this kind of information as a basis for developing some kind of engagement strategy and make sure you engage with journalists around subjects that spark their attention.

Relationships on Twitter do take time to develop, so don’t be tempted to start @mention journalists with a host of unsolicited pitches.   To lay the groundwork for a relationship, first identify yourself as someone who’s interested, comment on their tweets, blogs and other work, and make sure you tweet their work too.  Don’t be afraid of offering constructive criticism or conflicting ideas (in fact this can be an excellent way of creating a more focused conversation) but don’t become burdensome – if the conversation is not going anywhere don’t push it! Once you have engaged with key people, keep the relationship alive over time by engaging with them whenever possible.

5. Make the most of tweet aggregators…

There are a range of tools available on the web that aggregate tweets by journalists.

One that you might want to take a look at is muck rack because of the ability to post press releases to the journalists that follow.

MuckRack is an aggregator site, streamingTwitter accounts from top journalists and bloggers (the Associated Press, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, Hufifngton Post, NPR, Reuters, The Washington Post, and more) to provide an “inside the newsroom” feel for media junkies.  The idea behind their new press release service is to put your content – your press release – in front of all those journalists, while capitalizing on the brevity of the Twitter tweet.

Submitting a press release to Muck Rack is a pretty straight forward process.  You don’t need a personal Twitter account either.  Just type a 130-character message in Muck Rack’sonlineform and hit submit.  This will most likely be your press release title or a good lead-in, plus the URL to the full press release.

Paper.Li,theTweetedTimes &Flipboard:  Are a another fleet of social content aggregation services which are turning Twitter lists, Facebook posts and RSS feeds into up-to-the-minute glossy digital news magazines.   Here’s an example – this is theR4D Daily, powered by Paper.li, which aggregates all the information from our clients Twitter account and provides an excellent summary of the days tweets. Why not use it to promote your own particular research theme, making sure it contains information about your own work

6. Make sure your brand and your profile is appealing

If you are using Twitter, and other social media channels to publicise your research, let’s face it, if your brand and profile is not appealing then journalists are unlikely to follow an initial lead. Take a look at your social media platforms and ask yourself whether you would buy what you see and read. If not, spend some time, and money (if need be) to buildyourbrand.

7. Remember Twitter is not the only place to promote your research: ProfNet Connect, Linkedin, and HARO

Sites like, LinkedIn, ProfNetConnect and HARO (Help a Reporter Out) are free communities with tens of thousands of journalists that are constantly seeking news sources. These sites attract experts and facilitate interaction and are great places to showcase your research. For a fairer geographical representation of journalists you might be better sticking to LinkedIn as the other two examples here do seem to have a North American bias.   Nevertheless, building a credible presence on all these networks can provide valuable visibility to people seeking information relating to your research area. HARO, for instance, is a website that helps sources and reporters connect. It started out as a Facebook group, but soon grew too big for the social networking site — according to founder Peter Shankman, more than 50,000 journalists use the site.

8. Make time for Twitter – set alerts up when key terms are mentioned!

Engaging journalists through Twitter can be time consuming. At CommsConsult we manage a number of Twitter accounts for different clients, and we tend to spend about 1 hour on each account, each day. Many of these accounts have thousands of followers, with a number of different target audiences. Nevertheless, expect to spend at least half on an hour on twitter a day if you are going to have any success in engaging journalists in your research. To save yourself time you can track conversations from your list of journalists by using tools, such as ListiMonkey, which alerts you to people in your lists using key words and phrases you have set to monitor.

9. Remember Twitter is only a tool and success rests with how you present your research…

You won’t get your research out, even if you build a good profile for what you are doing on twitter, unless you make sure the research itself is freely available on the web and disseminated clearly. Twitter should not be viewed as a standalone tool for research communications!

Many Journalists are unfamiliar with using research to frame their stories, and we have an important job in ensuring research is more accessible for them.  What’s more if you are trying to encourage journalists in the global South to use your research then be aware that access can be a major issue, with many freelance journalists unable to afford to pay for research papers housed in journals that are not open access. There are real benefits of making your research accessible, so if your research is not open access why not write a blog or news feature for the web which outlines your research clearly. And remember! The media are unlikely to want to simply carry a research message. Frame your research so that it can be placed within a wider debate. This type of story is far more popular with journalists than a summary describing the research and summarising the findings in a popular.

Twitter can’t do all of the work for you – it can carry your research but it’s how you make the research stand out and the relationships you can foster which are really important!