You've seen it in both the local and national press: small business owners interviewed and quoted as part of larger stories on topics related to business, finance, or their specific industry (i.e., food preparation, automotive sales, or retail). These quotes amount to valuable free press for those businesses, who get to establish themselves as leaders in their field -- people whom reporters and others will seek out for information in the future, and who get their business name out to potential customers. But how do you, as a business owner, make yourself more attractive and available to journalists?
Social media and the web can be an incredible resource for any business owner trying to become a source and land some free press. Below are three things you should be doing right now to increase your chances of landing interview placements on blogs and in newspapers.
The number one thing you can do to make yourself a more attractive target for journalists in need of a source is to blog. Blogging allows you to get your ideas out there, demonstrate your breadth of knowledge and familiarity with your industry, build credibility, and become more visible. Use your blog as an editorial platform to share your thoughts, opinions, and expertise about the things that are happening in your industry, and about any issues that affect small business owners or consumers.
In order to maximize your visibility, write guest posts for more popular blogs within your business niche, and make sure that you have properly optimized your company or personal blog to best be indexed by search engines. Like the rest of us, journalists working on stories use the web to research and one of the most likely ways they'll find your blog is through search engines.
Of course, making your blog discoverable is only half the job; you also need to make it easy for readers to contact you. Some writers prefer to do interviews via email or instant message, some use Skype or phone, and others prefer face-to-face meetings. You should cater to as many of these options as you feel comfortable with, but always make it easy for journalists to reach out to you.
Though it is more difficult to demonstrate your expertise in a subject when you have just 140 characters to work with, Twitter is nonetheless an excellent platform for establishing your authority. Writers prefer to quote expert sources, because readers are more likely to trust the words of someone who possesses the credentials to speak authoritatively on a topic. Twitter is a great place to start building that authority by connecting with your peers and sharing information, news, and links in your area of expertise.
You can also use Twitter as a way to connect directly with reporters. Follow and retweet the journalists who cover your industry, and engage them in conversation as a way to get on their radar. Further, writers will often talk via Twitter about the stories they're working on -- many even tweet out regular calls for thoughts, opinions, quotes, and interviewees. By keeping tuned into the reporters that cover your business, you'll increase your chances of being tapped as a source in a story.
3. Help a Reporter Out
Probably the best way to make yourself visible to journalists is to Help a Reporter Out. Help a Reporter Out -- or HARO, as it is known -- is a mailing list that connects journalists to willing sources. Founded initially as a Facebook group, the daily email list allows reporters to put out calls for the types of people they need to connect with for stories they're working on. For example, if a reporter is working on a story about small business owners implementing innovative marketing strategies to cope with the down economy, they'll send out some information on HARO about the types of business owners they'd like to interview. On the receiving end, eligible sources will then contact those reporters directly to tell their story and set up an interview.
As someone who has used HARO as a journalist, one tip I would give to potential sources is to read the reporter's query carefully. Journalists are generally very busy people, often operating under strict deadlines, and they don't appreciate their time being taken up by people who aren't a good fit for the story they're working on. It's in your best interest to make sure all your interactions with journalists are positive, so it's a good idea to make sure you can offer the type of expertise and knowledge about the subject that the writer is seeking, and not be seen as someone who is wasting valuable time.
HARO is a zero risk way to get connected with journalists who are actively seeking your input and help for media stories, and one of the best methods you can use to become a source and score some free press coverage.