A local PR pro asked me to blog my thoughts about engaging with reporters and editors using social media, such as Facebook or Linked In, sometimes called the Facebook for grown-ups. I just had coffee with another local PR pro recently specifically to discuss social media. And the subject is of constant interest among my faculty colleagues here and across the country.
Specifically to the question about connecting with reporters via social media, I think it's a great idea. In fact, it might soon rise to the level of basic expectation. A recent study reported in Brandweek indicates that social media is being embraced by baby boomers. Blogworks recently referred to a study that says there will be over 100 million people using social media on their mobile devices by 2013.
Soon, social media may be a de facto way of doing business and personal communication. If you don't get that you'll sound like some old fogey who expresses awe at a new thingie called a 'fax machine.'
There are already groups on Linked In like Help A Reporter Out (HARO) designed for this very purpose. It's kind of a migration of ProfNet type technology from a listserv to a social media platform.
I would caution PR pros about "friending" reporters in the social media environment. You have to think in terms of having a genuine relationship with reporters and editors, and not spam them. If PR pros build networks or lists of friends and use them to blast email releases and pitches, you are not being a friend, you're being an annoyance. Don't use social media like an online database. If you do you'll violate unwritten (and increasingly written) rules about social media and likely shoot your own foot.
Instead use social media to gain a better understanding of what reporters are working on, care about, prefer in terms of information sources and formats and so forth. In turn, they can learn more about you and the organizations you represent. Used wisely, social media can enhance relationships and make your job easier.
Some local media are employing social media to create online communities of their own. TV 13 offers a place to be a "member" and share comments (something they call blogging, inappropriately). Meanwhile, the news section of TV 8's Web site has their Twitter feed front and center. You can get 'tweets' every time TV 8 posts a new story on your computer or mobile device. Other news outlets will try to engage their audiences in these and other ways in the near future. Right now they are doing it as marketing. But there's no reason social media won't become an extension of news gathering.
But the important thing for PR people, as always, is that we demonstrate a level of professionalism in an environment where anyone on the street can contact a reporter with an idea. We need to have long-term relationships, based on trust, helpfulness, and an understanding of what news is.