how to use twitter to get earned media

How To Use Twitter To Get Earned Media

Gene Stilp used Twitter to get earned media
Gene Stilp 2012 candidate for congress

How To Use Twitter To Get Earned Media

According to the It Score, one of the most important variables for winning a political race is getting journalists, reporters, and bloggers to write about you.  

Getting more articles about you circulating around traditional and digital media will help voters become more familiar with who you are which will increase your chances of winning on election day.

The art of getting individuals to write about you without paying them is commonly called earned media.

There are a number of ways to get earned media.  In this article we will share a few tricks we have learned on how to get earned media by using Twitter.

What Kinds Of Stories Get Earned Media?

Earned media can occur from several different types of stories.  The best stories are generally ones that are timely or unique.  

Timely News Example

Currently the government is shutdown due to a gridlock in congress.  If you’re a candidate running for office and you feel your current congressman was responsible for the government shutdown you may write a blog post presenting your opinion on why you feel they are responsible.  

It is likely that if you follow the advice below…excerpts (or perhaps your entire blog post) may be included by your local journalists, reporters, and or bloggers when they report on the government shutdown.  You may even be called on to provide a quote.

If you want to be effective at this type of earned media strategy you will need to be diligent in tracking current events.

Unique Story Example
The PoliticIt bus.

During the 2012 election PoliticIt drove a bus to 48 states and met with over 200 political campaigns.  

One of the candidates we met was Gene Stilp.  Gene is a master of getting earned media.  He accomplishes this by staying on top of current events and doing things that are considered out of the ordinary.

Gene and his giant pig.

One unique thing Gene used to get media attention during the election was utilizing massive campaign props that aligned with his platform…like a giant inflatable pig that represented political corruption.  Gene would inflate his pig at nearly every event and would consequently get immediate media attention.  

Why Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging social network where users can only post updates in 140 characters or less.  This translates into Twitter essentially be a social network of story headlines.  

A lot of people use Twitter to find information and breaking news.  This makes it a natural hot spot for journalists, reporters, and bloggers.  

How many journalist are using Twitter?  Oriella PR Network surveyed more than 500 journalists in 14 countries and found that 59% of journalists use Twitter.
The high usage of Twitter by journalists makes it an ideal social network for gaining earned media.  Let’s check out a few tricks that we’ve found for getting earned media through Twitter.

Define Your Campaign Platform

The first step in this process is clearly outlining your campaign platform.  What are you focusing your campaign on?  For example…are you going to focus on education reform, alternative energy, or the deficit (or maybe all of them)?  
Defining your campaign platform is important because you are going to have to find members of the media who frequently write about these issues.

Identify Media Professionals


The next step to getting earned media through Twitter is identifying journalists, bloggers, and reporters who would likely write about you. 

Finding local media and bloggers can be difficult.  Luckily, PoliticIt has already created a national directory of political state news, and blogging sources.  

PoliticIt News Directory

Go to the directory and find your state.  Click on the news sources you’re interested in.  If we’re missing a news source or if there is a Twitter user you feel we should include in the PoliticIt directory than be sure to add a comment informing us of the information we should include.

Finding Journalists

When looking for journalists you want to find individuals who regularly write or report about the issues you’re concerned about.  

This is going to take some work on your part.  Your going to need to go through each news source and read several articles.  

When you find an article that aligns with what you’re trying to do then add the name of the writer/reporter to a list.  

We have included a working Excel document that can help you keep track of your earned media efforts.  It can be downloaded here.

After you add their name to the list you’re going to need to find their Twitter handle by using Google.  

Let’s go through an example of how to do this with the Excel document.  We will use Utah news sources in this example, and we’ll pretend that we’re trying to promote a opinion piece on the government shutdown.

Step 1:

Open up the PoliticIt News Directory and find Utah.

Step 2:

Select a news source and open it up.  In this example we will target the Salt Lake Tribune.

Step 3:

Find an article that aligns with the opinion piece.  The first article on the homepage of the Salt Lake Tribune is about the low popularity of congress right now.  This looks like a good one.


Step 4:
Find the name of the author of this article and add him or her to the Excel document.

Step 5:

Find the journalist on Twitter by using Google.  Once you find the journalist’s Twitter handle add it to the Excel spreadsheet.  


After you have completed step 5 you’re going to want to do this for every news source contained in the PoliticIt Directory (if you want to achieve maximum buzz).

Create A Quality Story

The next step in this process is to ensure that you create quality content that news reporters are interested in.  

Quality content is material that will help or add value to stories that the media professional is producing.

If you contact a reporter and force upon them content that doesn’t make their lives easier then you’ll never be successful at getting earned media.  You’re goal is to be an asset not a pest.  

You never want to send spam to journalists.  Sending spam…even if it’s just one time…could ruin your relationship.

You want to be a source of information for stories, not just another person clogging up their Twitter feed and making their life more complicated.

If you’re a new candidate with very little name recognition it is probably best to target bloggers initially.  

Mainstream journalists watch the content produced by bloggers (especially viral content).  Sometimes you can use the blogging community as an introduction to mainstream media, but don’t forget your bloggers once you hit the mainstream.  Bloggers are important too.


Once you’re confident in the quality of your story you can proceed to start contacting the individuals on your list.  Below we’ve included some of the best ways to contact journalists.

Follow Them

Following a journalist on Twitter is a great way to start your initial contact.  It tells them that you’re interested in receiving news updates from them.  

In addition to the positive first interaction there is a 15% chance or higher that they’ll follow you back.  If they follow you back then they will see the content you’re sharing which will increase the chance you’ll get earned media.

After you follow the media professional don’t forget to log the action in your Earned Media Workbook.  

Add a 1 next to their name in the “Followed” column.  When they follow back add a 1 in the “Followed Back” column.  If they don’t follow you back add a 0 in the “Followed Back” column.

Twitter Lists

Add the media professional to a Twitter list.  Adding them to a Twitter list will allow you to track their tweets and it will also notify them that you’ve added them to a list (which will make them feel good).  

If you need help creating Twitter lists there is a great article here that will guide you through the process.

You should probably keep your list private so that your competitors can’t see your media contacts.

Direct Message

If the media professional follows you back then you’ll be able to send them a direct message (DM).  

DM’s are private messages on Twitter.  Sending a simple DM to a journalist is a good way to inform them about the quality content you’re attempting to get earned media for.  

Your first DM should never be an attempt to push your quality content.  The media contact will likely view that as spam and will unfollow you.  

Instead start off by commenting on an article they recently wrote, and follow up with a question regarding the stories they’re interested in writing.  

This will get them to start talking about their writing and eventually they’ll ask you about yourself.  Once this happens feel free to briefly describe yourself and introduce your quality content.

Remember…you want to create a relationship with the media professional.  You want to help the journalist improve the content of their articles by becoming a source.  It’s not about you…it’s about helping them.

After you direct message the media professional don’t forget to log the action in your Earned Media Workbook.

Add a 1 next to their name in the “DM” column.  When they direct message back add a 1 in the “D Response” column.  If they don’t direct message you back add a 0 in the “D Response” column.  

You can also log the exact direct message that you used in the “D Message Content” column.  

We recommend that you do this because keeping track of your messaging over time will allow you to see what works and what doesn’t.

For more advice on direct messaging see the following post…10 Social Media SEO Tricks Every Political Campaign Should Know About.

Mention Them

Mentioning people on Twitter is accomplished by adding an @ tag in front of their username.  For example if we wanted to mention Thomas Burr it would look something like the screenshot below:

If you mention a person at the beginning of your tweet then the only people who will see your tweet in their Twitter feed will be individuals that follow both you and the person you mentioned.  

For example…if I were to tweet the example on the right then only followers of both Thomas Burr and myself would see the tweet in their Twitter feed.

Another method is to add the mention at the end of the tweet.  Adding the mention at the end of the tweet will make it visible to all of your followers on Twitter.

Whenever you mention someone they’ll receive a notification on Twitter.  Most people check their notifications so this ensures that your quality content is being exposed to the media professional.

Mentions are also public conversations so everyone can see them.  When someone doesn’t respond to a mention it looks really bad for that person.  

The social stigma of ignoring someone ensures that you’ll likely get a response of some type from the media professional.

After you mention the media target don’t forget to log the action in your Earned Media Workbook.  

Add a 1 next to their name in the “Mention” column.  When they mention you back add a 1 in the “M Response” column.  If they don’t mention you back add a 0 in the “M Response” column.  

You can also log the exact direct message that you used in the “M Message Content” column.  

We recommend that you do this because keeping track of your messaging over time will allow you to see what works and what doesn’t.

Follow Smart

Sometimes you’ll contact a journalist who won’t follow you back, or respond to your mentions.  

When you have this happen the next step is to apply the above steps to the individuals the journalist follows.  

If you can get the individuals that the journalist follows to tweet your content then there is a chance that the journalist will come in contact with your story…potentially resulting in earned media.

Some of our clients and friends will create a dream list of media professionals they would like to connect with.  For example…celebrities like Oprah.  


Oprah receives way too many mentions everyday to be able to respond to all of them.  It is also likely that she doesn’t even manage her own social media accounts.  

Instead of trying to mention Oprah on Twitter you’re probably better off learning who Oprah’s friends are offline and developing relationships with them on Twitter.  

Getting Oprah’s friends (who aren’t getting a lot of mentions) familiar with what you’re doing may result in them talking about you to Oprah.

Creating a dream list is an extremely important step for obtaining earned media because one mention from someone on your dream list will likely result in a lot of media attention.

I’ve personally seen a lot of companies and politicians “make it” just because they’ve been able to connect to someone on their dream list. 

Don’t be afraid to contact someone from your dream list either.  You’d be surprised how nice people are.

Track Results

Tracking your results is an important way to improve your success rate at getting earned media.

You should use the Earned Media Workbook to accomplish this. 

Whenever a journalist that you’ve contacted produces an article on you be sure to log it in the Earned Media Workbook. Just add a 1 in the applicable earned media columns.

The second tab in the Earned Media Workbook is labeled “Success Pipeline”.  In this tab you can easily track your overall success at getting earned media.

Formula’s have been programmed into the Earned Media Workbook to automatically calculate your success rates based upon inputs from the “List” tab.

Use this tab to measure your overall success.  Your goal should be to constantly increase your earned media success rate.  

Refine Methods

After you’ve began documenting your earned media attempts it’s important to start improving your success rate.

There are a number of basic questions you’ll need to consider when a reporter doesn’t write about you.  

Was your content “quality content”?

What DM did you use?

What mention did you use?

Did you follow them first?

Did you add them to list before contacting them?

The trick of refining your earned media attempts lies in testing.  

The way you can test what is going wrong with your earned media attempts is by holding all, but one variable constant.

What we mean by this is if you think it was a “quality content” issue use all of the same messaging and following tactics, but change the content that was shared.  

By holding all the variables constant except the content, you’ll be able to find out if it was indeed a content issue.

Be Consistent – Wax On Wax Off

Karate Kid (1984)

Add this earned media process to your daily routine.  It’s easy.  

Dedicate 5 minutes per day to obtaining earned media through Twitter…or just do it throughout the day as you read local news articles.

It may seem like hard work at first, but over time it will become easy and natural for you.  

Soon you will have a powerful network of partnerships with media professionals.  You’ll produce quality content, and they’ll share it through their publishing channels.  Everyone wins.

You’ll be surprised with the results…and your return on investment will be exponential.  

It Score

The final step is tracking your It Score by using PoliticIt Campaign.  As you begin to get more earned media you should see a steady increase in your It Score.  


Have you used Twitter to get earned media in the past?  Please comment below and tell us about your experiences with using Twitter.
(Photo Credit: Flickr via See-ming Lee)

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  1. Very nice article Josh. Lots of great practical tips and very clearly explained and illustrated. I love the huge inflatable pink pig – crude buteffective.

  2. Thanks Greg! Gene is one of the most interesting individuals I’ve ever met. I had the chance to sit down with him and his staff over lunch one day and got to listen to some of his crazy stories. When he was younger he was trying to raise awareness for a protest he was participating in. So he planned on getting arrested….he arranged a friend to bail him out prior to the protest. When he got arrested he used his phone call to order pizza for the guards and prisoners. It got picked up by all of the local media and drew a lot of attention to the protest. Pure genius.

    In addition to the giant pigs he also had a few giant pink pig buses, and other crazy props. Really interesting.

  3. Hi Josh: Holy mother of god–what a great article. My only question is what would be more effective, a Twitter list or a good-old fashion e-mail list?

    I will add it to my website as a link.

    Many thanks, Len.

  4. Thanks Leonard. We appreciate those links!

    From all of the evidence I’ve seen…email is certainly a better tool for driving sales relative to social networks.

    I think email lists and Twitter lists are completely different tools though.

    Twitter lists, in the context of this article, are used to generate an impression with the journalist (when you add them to the list they receive a notification) and are used to organize various journalists, reporters, and bloggers (for the purpose of monitoring).

    The impression is all about creating a relationship with the reporter. The relationship is important because it increases your chances of getting earned media.

    The monitoring is all about staying on top of what they are reporting. Monitoring is important because it gives you the chance to understand and engage with them (improving your relationship), and it gives you the chance to piggy back off of trending news that they’re reporting on…which in turn helps you produce quality content that has a higher chance of getting earned media.

    Monitoring also helps you understand the journalist which will allow you to become an asset to them by helping you produce content that makes their life easier.

    When I think of email lists in the context of this article I’m thinking of newsletters, and personal emails to the journalist. It’s probably a good strategy to get connected with the journalist as much as possible…so getting them to subscribe to a newsletter would be a huge win. I see this as a latter step because you will want to create and maintain a relationship first or your email newsletter would likely get ignored.

    I don’t think a solid Twitter earned media strategy is mutually exclusive with an email strategy. I think both should be done at the same time if possible.

    Something to consider though…getting earned media through email is something that has been done for a long time. This means that journalists are spammed with a lot of content in their email. This makes it less likely that they’ll respond (unless you have a good relationship).

    On the flip side…getting earned media through Twitter is a fairly new concept which means there will be less noise and consequently a higher chance the journalist will see your content.

    Also…mentions are completely public conversations. We’ve found that if you mention someone on Twitter you get a fairly high response rate because other people are watching. Someone looks really rude if they ignore one of your mentions (assuming it’s a quality content and not spam).

    DM’s are a little less effective because of all of the auto-response programs that have been written. These auto-response programs create a lot of spammy noise and cause some Twitter users to not even use DMs. However…Twitter users that use DMs regularly seem to do it religiously, and will appreciate you reaching out to them.

    Personally…I’ve found Twitter to be a more effective strategy for getting earned media (especially when there is no relationship). If I have a great working relationship email seems to work, but with some of my relationships it doesn’t just because of all of the noise.

    Regardless of the strategy undertaken…metrics should be gathered, and resources should be allocated according to the most effective strategy for your organization. Some organizations may find better responses from emails…some from Twitter. It is important to find ways to test different methods prior to allocating resources. Once a method proves successful then it should be scaled.

    Does that makes sense?

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