Twitter may get all the press right now, but if you write about business or need experts in any number of areas – medicine, careers, government – you can’t beat LinkedIn, the business online network with more than 40 million members, for finding story sources.
Here are some of my favorite ways to use LinkedIn to find sources:
1. Use LinkedIn as a contact manager. If you meet someone in person or online you think might make a good source, invite them to connect on LinkedIn. When you’re writing a story, look through your LinkedIn connections for potential sources and email them through the network to ask if they’re available for an interview. In LinkedIn’s Contacts section you can email one message to multiple recipients, so you can send the same interview request to several potential sources at once. Another feature of the Contacts section lets you sort connections by geography or industry, so you can send a group email to potential sources in a certain city or with a specific job title. If you use Microsoft Outlook, you can use LinkedIn’s Outlook Toolbar to manage your LinkedIn contacts in Outlook.
2. Ask a question in the Answers section. When I was a newspaper reporter, if I needed “man on the street” comments for a story I’d go to a local shopping center, sports arena or other place where I was bound to run into a lot of regular Joes. Today, I post a question on LinkedIn’s Answers section. If you use the Answers section to solicit quotes, word your question so it’s easy to understand and doesn’t elicit simple “Yes” or “No” answers. Always identify yourself as a reporter so people know whatever they say may be published. It’s a good idea to follow up with anyone who responds by email or telephone to verify they’re who they say they are, get additional information or comments and to make sure they understand you’re going to quote them.
3. Use the Advanced Answers Search. Another way to find sources is to use LinkedIn’s Advanced Answers Search feature, which uses keyword searches to dig deep into the backlog of Answers material to find what people have written about a particular subject. If a keyword search turns up one or more discussion threads on the topic you’re researching, scroll through the answers to determine whether any LinkedIn members in the discussions could be potential sources. If they are and you subscribe to one of LinkedIn’s premium service levels, send the prospective source an InMail requesting an interview. If you can’t send free InMails, check out the person’s LinkedIn profile for an email address, or track down their company Website and search for an email address for them there or contact the PR department and ask them to set up an interview.
4. Use the Companies profiles. This spring, LinkedIn overhauled its Companies section to include more information on businesses whose employees use the network. You can use the Companies section to search for employees at a specific company, or do keyword searches to search for companies by geography or industry. Once you find a prospective source, go through the same routine I outlined in step no. 3 to contact them.
5. Look up sources by their job title. – Need to interview IT managers or corporate HR directors? Use the People section of LinkedIn’s user database to search for sources by their specific job title. When you find prospects, go through the steps outlined above to contact them. Note that if the person works for a large company, they may request that you go through their company’s PR department to set up an interview.