Reporters: Hashtags Are Overrated, Not Used In Newsroom

By Robert Krueger, Director of Public Relations and Social Media, Urban Land Institute

media_relationsHashtags, a tool frequently used by public relations and marketing professionals to boost online visibility, are deemed useless in the news gathering process. That was the consensus of a panel made up of mainstream media professionals at an event hosted by the Loudoun/Fairfax committee of the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC).

Chuck Carroll, reporter for CBS Radio, emphasized that hashtags “do nothing” for him when searching for potential stories in social media. While he and the other panelists agreed that Twitter is the most used social media platform for working journalists, to his knowledge, hashtag research it is not a standard practice in his company’s newsroom. Panelists Janet Terry, producer for WUSA-TV, and Vandana Sinha, assistant managing editor/print at the Washington Business Journal, agreed that they do not consciously look at hashtags. Sinha added she does not see any of her professional colleagues using hashtags in their own social media posts, so it should not be surprising that they are not used in professional newsrooms.

In addition to setting the record straight on the misconception of hashtag value, the panelists also offered insights on how to cut through the clutter and get them to see your pitch. In the digital era, email pitching is still the go-to method, but panelists said that their favorite method for pitching is social media.

However, just as public relations professionals can make the mistake of blast emailing an entire database list of reporters, the same can be done in the social media world. Panelists noted that they can see when someone @ pitches multiple reporters with the same message. What “blast tweeting” like this does is make it more likely one of their competitors can pick up on a story before them.

Panelists also addressed the question of whether the news release is dead in the new digital era. All three media professionals stated that the news release is still alive and the most preferred and detailed way of communicating news to working reporters.

Terry said that news releases are extremely important for her company’s assignment desk. Her assignment editors prefer to receive news releases since they provide an adequate level of detail, are easy to categorize and usually list a media contact. Sinha told the audience that she will keep news releases and other pitches in an email folder, which she will often reference up to a year from receiving it. Carroll even said that PR Newswire is his go-to source for slow news days. He stated that he will scour PR Newswire news releases when he does not find a compelling story idea via email or social media.

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