01.28.2013 | Renee Gastineau
By now most people in marketing know that one the best tools for reading journalists’ minds is Twitter. The immediacy and brevity of Twitter almost seems to be designed for reporters who traditionally have been trained to think in sound bites, quotes and headlines. Now, with help of analytics, we are able to track how to leverage these conversations and better measure the multiplier effects of having an article go viral.
One of the analytics tools I’ve come across recently has some promising applications for PR and marketing pros. Muck Rack is a database of thousands of journalists who use social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Quora, Google+, and LinkedIn to find sources for their articles and also promote their work. (See an earlier blog post about page view journalism.)
At the beginning of a campaign to promote the Guide to Online Schools annual rankings for our client SR Education Group, I signed up for a trial of a product called Muck Rack Pro, which allowed me to search and create alerts for specific key words, phrases, publications, reporting beats and hashtags.
(Note: The trial was really more like a refundable offer than the risk-free trial they tout on the website. I had to give them a credit card number for the $99 monthly fee. I need to remember to cancel the service by the end of month in order to get a full refund under the terms of the “risk free” trial.)
Using the search term #HigherEd I was able to:
Validate my press list. The search pulled up most of the journalists who were on my press list. It also allowed me to see how active they were in Twitter recently. Some had not Tweeted about higher education issues and online schools in the last two months, indicating that they had changed beats or were less influential that I originally thought.
Expand my press list. Muck Rack directed me to additional reporters, bloggers and other influencers discussing #HigherEd, many of whom are freelancers or assistant editors who did not appear in our traditional media databases.
Eavesdrop on reporters “conversations” and tailor pitches. There are robust discussions occurring among national news media about the value of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS), the affordability of higher education for students, and the general financial health of our nation’s traditional four-year colleges and universities. Using this information, we were able to tailor our pitches to the news trends of the day and suggest future strategies based on reporters’ interests.
Measure the multiplier effect of coverage. I pasted a link to a piece of original coverage we placed in the Seattle Times into the Muck Rack Share counter and learned that the article had been shared 65 times via Facebook and Twitter. This helps validate the importance of pitching to respected journalists and news organizations, and demonstrates the viral effect that a positive article can have for a client.
Follow up with questions in real time. I created alerts that allowed me to pull any mention of the client’s brand name from our target Twitter feeds into my email box so I could respond to questions and repost articles as they were published.
My experience with Muck Rack also led to some unexpected observations and insights. The first is the pressure reporters and journalist feel because of the rapid changes in the news business. In addition to using Twitter to promote their stories, reporters and editors are also using the tool to debate the job changes, layoffs and shuttering of newspapers in this volatile industry.
It also opened my eyes to the potential for and dangers of groupthink in journalism. We often measure the multiplier effect of news cycles. An article that is placed in a newspaper for example can generate multiple placements as broadcast and wire services pick up the story and repost, rebroadcast or build upon an angle. There is a danger to this trend, however.
After a month of watching tweets and re-tweets on Muck Rack and scanning their daily newsletter, I noticed a growing trend of journalists citing or interviewing other journalists and media outlets as original sources. One exaggerated example is multiple news outlets, including CBS News, interviewing Oprah and reporting about her interview with Lance Armstrong, before her interview with Armstrong even aired and we heard his confession to drug use and blood doping while competing in the Tour de France. But there were many other examples as well, across industries.
Is there a danger of losing thoughtful discussion about important issues as reporters use each other as sources? What impact do immediate publishing tools like Twitter have on our ability as news consumers to rank and decipher what are the important issues of our time? How do we as PR professionals change our pitches to ensure our clients have greater credibility as resources than the journalists that position themselves as industry experts? These are a few of the questions that we are challenged with as digital media and traditional media continue to converge and change.