This post is part 2 in a series, Social Media for Journalists.
There’s one thing I expect to see on every journalist’s LinkedIn page:
Journalism is one of the few professions where hitting LinkedIn’s 500+ connection threshold should be part of the job description. That’s because, as with professionals in a handful of other fields (h.r., real estate sales), journalists live or die by the breadth of their network.
This doesn’t mean that a journalist with fewer than 500 connections should stay off of LinkedIn: a journalist without a LinkedIn profile is an even more anachronistic creature. Rather, it means that you should focus on building your LinkedIn network so that you can use it in the following ways:
- Finding experts: If you have a decent-sized LinkedIn network, you can use it to quickly find and contact experts in just about any field. Just type in the name of the field you need an expert in, or a few keywords that describe the subject matter you’re writing about.
- Identifying inside sources: Sometimes you need not just an expert, but someone with an inside scoop. That’s where your massive LinkedIn network will really pay off: you’re looking for 2nd degree connections (people you know) or 3rd degree connections (people who know someone you know). Identify the organization (business, government agency, nonprofit) where you need a source, and search for people who have that organization in their current job description (i.e., work there currently); you can even filter results to show you people at a certain level (e.g. by adding “Vice-President” to your list of keywords). If you find a 3rd degree connection who looks potentially useful, contact them directly or ask your common contact for an introduction.
- Broadening your reach: You may have all the sources you need for a story, but they’re all local, and you’re writing for a national outlet. LinkedIn can help you identify experts or sources in other cities: just search for the kind of expert you need (e.g. using the keyword “oncology”) and then narrow your results to a specific city.
- Cutting corners: Yes, you should do all your homework from scratch, ideally using established, trusted sources. And I know that with newspapers and broadcast outlets just rolling in cash, you’ve got all the time in the world to do that kind of research on each story. But imagine a hypothetical situation in which you have to work under time and resource constraints: it can be incredibly helpful to crowdsource the job of doing an initial background scan. Asking a LinkedIn question like “how are smartphones replacing medical pagers?” or “what are your tips for companies involved in acquisitions?” can jump-start your research and point you in a useful direction.
- Finding new outlets: You don’t have to rely on MediaBistro to plot your way into a new media outlet. Once you’ve identified a publication you’d like to write for, or a broadcaster you’d like to contribute to, search for that outlet in LinkedIn. You’ll be able to see any 3rd degree connections you have at those outlets; if the person who connects you to that person is someone you know well enough to ask for a favor, your best bet is to send a personal email or call them to ask them to introduce you to the person at your target outlet.
Normally, I advise people to follow LinkedIn’s recommended practice of connecting only to people you know well, because unless you know people well enough to ask for an introduction to a 3rd degree connection, it’s not helpful to have them affect your search results. But in the case of journalists, a wide net is worthwhile because you want your LinkedIn searches to turn up as many results as possible, and anyone who is at least a 3rd-degree connection will turn up in searches with a full name and job title.
Most of the time, you won’t need to ask for an introduction from your common connnection: you’ll be able to use the name and title that turn up in search to track down contact information via Google, and will likely get a response simply by identifying yourself as media. And in those cases where a personal introduction can help you approach a key contact, the person who has connected with you on LinkedIn even without knowing you well is probably someone who has connected with you because they are trying to build their media relationships…and will therefore be happy to make that introduction.
Convinced? Then get to work on building out that LinkedIn contact list. You LinkedIn menu — under contacts/add connections — is a good place to start, since it will let you import your contact list from Gmail, Outlook or other contact management systems and show you who is already in LinkedIn.
If you’re already using LinkedIn as part of your research and reporting, I’d love to hear how. Leave your comments below, or tweet me!