Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Futility To Utility With Twitter

By Lon S. Cohen

At about 4:30 on a Friday afternoon I was getting ready to leave work when I got a call from our National office. It was our Media Relations Manager. (He’s sitting at a desk in California so I forgave him for missing the fact that I was mentally out the door already.) He told me a reporter from Newsday, one of my local market newspapers, had left him a message wanting information about ALS. The Media Relations Manager provided me with the reporter’s name and phone number. I thanked him and hung up. Cut and dry, right? Turns out, not so much.

Let me interrupt here to explain a little about what I do for a living. I’m a freelance writer (obviously or you wouldn’t be reading this) but my day job is Director of Communications for The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter, a nonprofit that raises awareness, provides comprehensive patient services and funds medical research for ALS. Among my many duties in this role I manage all our website, Social Networking, media relations and PR for our Chapter.

After hanging up with the Media Relations Manager I immediately called the reporter. It became obvious that I had written down the wrong phone number. After confirming that the number I had was actually the same as the one that the Media Relations Manager had, I was a bit dismayed. The opportunity to speak with a reporter doesn’t come along everyday and I didn’t want to miss it. I tried to Google the reporter’s name along with the name of the newspaper but no luck. I couldn’t find him. I was upset, thinking I might miss his deadline and he’d go somewhere else for the information or even worse, get the information wrong.

On Monday I got an email from the Media Relations Manager asking me if I hooked up with the reporter. In the email was the proper spelling of the reporter’s name, explaining why I couldn’t find him online. As an aside, I’m big on email. First you have a record of your correspondences if any inconsistencies show up later. Second, it mitigates the telephone game effect where people jot down names and numbers wrong because they hear something incorrectly.

Anyhow, I now had the correct name and immediately Googled him, finding a bunch of articles he’d written for the newspaper. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any direct contact information for him. But, at least I had a name. It turns out, that’s all I needed.

I went about a few other tasks to let the back of my mind work on the problem while the front of my mind answered emails, checked stats and made to-do lists. Then it struck me. I knew another reporter from that same newspaper and had communicated with her quite often. Technically it was every single day since we followed each other on Twitter.

I sent my Twitter connection a DM asking if she knew the reporter I was looking for. I was amazed at the serendipity of her response. Below I’ve pasted our DM exchange. (I changed the reporter’s name and some other information she shared with me for privacy.)

@obilon: Hi. Do you know a Newsday contributor named John Doe? He called me for comment for @ALSofGNY but call back # was wrong. Thx.

@e2_newsday: yep(…) used to work here. lemme try to dig up an email address...

@obilon: Thanks.

@e2_newsday: hi, don't have his # but his ed happened to be talking to him and John says he'll call you back. hope that works.

Minutes later, my phone rang and I was interviewed by the reporter for a story about a local artist who was still creating even though he had advanced ALS.

@obilon: Thanks for the help. He called me after you let him know I was looking for him. The power of Social Networking!

I can’t say enough about the importance of that connection. When I first hooked up with @e2_newsday on Twitter, I thought of all sorts of ways we could help each other professionally. But never did I think I would use that connection to find another reporter when time was of the essence and I had nothing but a name.

This was a huge lesson and not just for me. I conveyed this story to the Media Relations Manager and our CEO about just how I got the information over to the reporter and made the connection. I believe in Social Media as a major part of my Communication Strategy for my organization. But this episode reinforced for my superiors the utility of Social Networking in getting business done.

This also got me thinking. We sometimes use the terms Social Media and Social Networking interchangeably. But you can parse out the Social from Media and Networking. Social Media might be called a strategy and an outlet while Social Networking is a tool and a utility. A good Web 2.0 website can do one of these very well. LinkedIn is a good tool for Social Networking. YouTube is a really good Social Media website. But Twitter (and I’d put Facebook in there as well) is a great Web 2.0 website because it’s great at both Social Media and Social Networking.


Anonymous said...

i don't understand your distinction of social media and social networking. could you explicate, expound, and tell?

ObilonKenobi said...

I'll try to address that in a future post. Thanks.