Social media finds way into various beats

The social media craze has exploded so rapidly that many press outlets are still developing their strategies for covering it.

The social media craze has exploded so rapidly that many press outlets are still developing their strategies for covering it.

And while it might seem that everyone is using Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, or any of a host of other Internet-based networking tools, few publications have a reporter covering the phenomenon full time, says Tom Foremski, a former Financial Times reporter who now runs the influential blog Silicon Valley Watcher.

“It's still a bit early to assign a special social media beat journalist, so the tech writers are generating many of the stories,” he adds.

However, social networking can fit into one of a number of existing beats, says Jesse Odell, partner at San Francisco-based PR firm Launch Squad.

“You're seeing social media merging into other beats that were already there, such as wireless, marketing, and business software in general,” he explains. “So much of the coverage you see now is in the context of covering those beats.”

As well as covering social networking in their news or feature segments, some media outlets are using the tools to bolster their own coverage, as well. CNN, for instance, is using Twitter on some of its programs, notes Mike Hollywood, director of new media at Cone.

“In many ways, it's the blogosphere that's doing a lot of the coverage of social media, not only creating the news, but also covering a lot of social media online,” he explains. “The traditional media is leaving a lot of the coverage to them.”

Odell adds that it can be challenging to get reporters to look beyond the major social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook.

“They are always going to cast a large shadow,” he says. “Reporters are starting to ask questions like, ‘Where's the money, the business model, and the impact?' PR people need to look at who is being impacted by social media and then create a powerful story behind it.”

Foremski adds that he and his colleagues also want to write about aspects of a Web site other than the number of its users.

“We're doing a lot about the cultural impact and how social networking sites are being used in different countries,” he says.

PR pros are often pitching social networking-themed stories beyond the technology desk, emphasizing that the technology is embraced by businesses and social causes, as well as tech aficionados, says Heidi Johnson, cofounder and principal at Virtual PR Director, which works with start-up technology companies.

“You can expand your pitches well beyond technology reporters,” she says. “It can be the education beat reporter or the retail reporter – as long as you can show how this is impacting the way people shop or learn, you going to get interest.”

Pitching… Social Media

  • Social media is such a phenomenon that PR pros will no longer get traction by simply focusing on user numbers. Therefore, they should look for new angles, like new business models
  • There are plenty of industries and categories being impacted by social media, so look to pitch well beyond the technology reporter
  • Social media is a news category where the blogosphere is driving coverage, so target key sites like TechCrunch and Silicon Valley Watcher

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