There is rarely an author who comes through our door who doesn’t have a wish list of media outlets where they would love to see their ideas covered. And while it is our job to get those dream hits, the truth is that the journey toward generating interest has radically changed (like everything else in our lives) by the big disruptor of our time, the Internet. Before the online space went mainstream, media attention generally started small and local, and with careful care, feeding and a devoted appetite for using one piece of coverage as leverage to interest other, larger outlets, gathered the momentum needed to hit some of those dream targets and, in some cases, achieve breakout success. That concept still works, but there is an important new detour that warrants effort.
Today’s journey toward mass exposure almost always includes an early stop online. Every day, we pitch journalists knowing full well that while we are chatting with them or they are reading our email pitch, they have switched to their search engine and typed in your name. Here is where the seismic shift created by the ease of accessing information shows up in full color. Does what pops up have anything to do with the current topic you are promoting? Does the first page of search results include your expertise in the area where you are hoping to emerge as an expert? Here’s why it should. Reporters are looking for you. A 2010 Cision/George Washington University study shows that 89% of journalists researching stories look to blogs, 65% turn to social networking sites and 52% specifically use Twitter as a resource.
The message seems clear: create a compelling online presence and media attention will follow. Except that often, it flat out doesn’t. The internet provides an endless canvas for content and a full complement of social media tools where anyone with a keyboard and internet access can make themselves known, but it has also created a filtering system that can easily be described as ruthless. No amount of tweeting, posting and updating will hide the fact that the information that rises to the top may be littered with inaccuracies, be misleading or include confusing or conflicting reports about who you are, what you know and what you do. And when that happens, the overtaxed journalist quickly moves on to someone or something that clearly meets his needs.
What to do? I contend that nearly everyone would benefit by focusing on a handful of key components in their online presence rather than fixating on the current mantra of “frequency.” Yes, it helps if your last blog post was not written in 2010 and your Twitter account has not been dormant for 14 months. But at least some effort should be spent making sure that what is being discovered by hungry journalists is up to date, accurate and inviting. Here’s a check list of where to begin.
Create compelling content
There is no substitute for great content that is timely and compelling. I devoted an entire blog post to it earlier this month, but the overall mission should be to write well about what you know, what is happening in your industry right now, and with an eye toward adding to the media conversation on any given topic. Don’t parrot conventional wisdom. Have an opinion and be able to defend it.
Make your bios match your message
Don’t overlook making a quick and easy tweak of your online profile bios to reflect whatever it is you are currently promoting or to reflect your expertise in a subject that is currently getting a lot of media attention. Journalists on the prowl, either for breaking news or a story they have been slaving over for weeks, almost always look at your bio first to determine if you’re a credible source.
Pay attention to keywords and tagging
Before you post online, take a minute or so to research keywords that are trending on that topic, on your specific subject area or in your professional community. Be certain if you are using visual elements that you tag both people and places. These actions will increase the traffic to your material and boost the chances that a journalist will discover you during their research.
Bypass the contact form
A generic contact form is a key turn off to roaming journalists. If they are interested, they generally want to be in touch now. The easy access and availability of so many experts means that reporters simply move on rather than fill out something online and sit back and wait for a response. If you must have a blind box for business requests, create a second button on your press page linking to your publicist’s information or list a phone number that an actual human will answer.
Listen to and follow journalists
Spend part of your time online to educate yourself on what journalists in your space are writing about. Read their material, retweet and comment on it when you are genuinely interested. Follow them on Twitter and listen to their streams. Be authentic in your interactions and communicate when you can be of value.
Too many people leap onto the public stage with their content, photos, video, podcasts and innermost thoughts without due consideration to the whole picture. That picture you are busily creating is your platform and building a good one requires a bit of forethought, a touch of strategy and a realistic execution plan so that whatever time you can devote to creating a presence is well spent.