Journalists’ favourite source: social media or public relations?

12 Sep 2016 12:00 am by Leela Bozonelis

Almost half of respondents to the 2016 'Global Social Journalism Study' – conducted by PR software provider Cision and Canterbury Christ Church University – claimed they could no longer work effectively without social media, with 78% of journalists saying they are more engaged with their audience because of it.

The study revealed the effects of the growing impact of social media on journalism, as well as the changing nature of relationships between journalists and communications and public relations professionals.  The analysis surveyed journalists from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Finland, Germany, France, and Sweden. While respondents in the UK are still most likely to source information from PR professionals and press releases, it is important to keep relationships strong with new generations and evolutions of journalists.

One size does not fit all

Journalists were quizzed on their perspectives on social media, including how their understanding and usage of it has evolved.   The study places journalists into five main groups: Architects; Promoters; Hunters; Observers and Sceptics.  Each group relates to social media in a different way, influenced by the journalists' location, publication type and age.

Architects show the greatest interest in and use of social media – 83 per cent of Architects work for online publications, perhaps unsurprisingly.  Architects are the only group that does not include anyone over the age of 65, with more than half younger than 45.  The group overwhelmingly responded that social media is positive for journalism.

The majority of respondents – 97% – fell into the Promoter category and felt that social media is vital for publishing and promoting content.  The Promoter group also use social media to interact with their audience, network with other industry professionals and monitoring the media landscape.

Not all agree on the power of social

Journalists falling into the Hunters category are more likely to rely on industry contact and experts than social media. While more than half spend two hours or longer on social media every day, more than two thirds feel social media is undermining traditional journalistic values.

The social media presence of those in the Observer group is minimal, and journalists in this category generally use social media only to gain information but 61 per cent use it on less than a daily basis.  The Sceptic group is the least engaged with social media – half rate their social media competence as low or non-existent. They are also the least likely to view Public Relations professionals as a reliable source.

Personal communication still wins

The study reminds Public Relations of the continued importance of communicating with each journalist as an individual, taking into account their specific preferences. While pitching an idea via social media to a journalist in the Promoter group may elicit a positive response – they were the only group to name PR professionals as their main source of information – the outcome may not be the same if the journalist is a Sceptic.

Many journalists understand the value of publishing and promoting their content on social media. They value the engagement with their audience on these platforms. More than 78 per cent feel as if they are better connecting with their readers due to the interactive functionality of social. Engaging in those conversations will start a positive connection with the journalist.

Understanding how journalists are interacting with social media will help PR professionals build trusting relationships with journalists and be a trusted source of information for their stories. Younger journalists are more likely to view your contact through social media in a positive way.  Perhaps influenced by the pressures and time restraints of online journalism, reaching out in this way to a journalist who falls into one of the social media-friendly groups may even seem like a help, rather than a hindrance.

Despite the impact of social media, the results of the 2016 study confirm what every good PR professional already knows:  Good communication means providing the right journalist with the right information in the right way.

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