Building relationships: How to capitalize on the momentum of your op-ed
You have your argument, you’ve identified your audience, and you’ve pitched your op-ed with successful results. Now what? How do you keep the momentum going? How do you continue the conversation with your audience? How do you consistently access large platforms where your audience gathers without the possibility of being blocked by gate keepers? The answer to all of these questions is: build relationships.
Building relationships requires a two-pronged approach. It requires you to establish a rapport with your audience, yes, but also with those who regularly access your audience because of their platform. Ideally you want to position yourself as the foremost thought leader in the area of expertise of narrative change your organization has centered itself around. In doing so, when something happens remotely aligned to your narrative change project both your audience and the gatekeepers who have the power to bolster your voice will be looking for you to respond. Think of yourself as an influencer for social good. Instead of trying to market beauty or fashion trends or hawk some other product, you’re putting forth concepts and ideas, stories and arguments that can shift communities, counties, the country and the world. The first step is to speak directly to the people who are already with you.
More from our series on op-eds for narrative change:
The Argument: How an op-ed can shift the narrative
Who are you talking to? The audience of an op-ed
Audience identification worksheet
Pitch Perfect: How to place your op-ed and get it published
Building relationships with your audience
An organization is made up of people who support the goal or mission of the organization. Building a relationship with them is about presence; in real life and online. While you don’t need to have a storefront location to be present in real life, if you do that’s a starting point. Taking up physical space in your community allows those who you want to reach, help, and advocate for access to you. It also allows your audience to find you in case they want to become involved or learn more. If you only have a P.O. Box for your organization because a lot of your work is remote that is okay too. Whether you have a physical location or not, in today’s world much of relationship building takes place online.
There are many pillars needed to maintain a presence online, engage with your audience, and build relationships with them. The first pillar is your website. Think of your website as your digital storefront. It is the home base for all of your activity, announcements, projects, advocacy, and organization. If people want to know about you they should be able to go to your website. If they want to volunteer with you they should be able to sign up on your website. If they need help from you they should be able to ask from your website.
Your website should be updated, easy to navigate, and functional. Anything someone needs or wants to know about you should come from your website. Additionally, your website should link people to your presence in other places; especially social media.
There are a lot of social media sites and more are popping every year. Your social media presence and strategy can take many forms, but your best bet is to choose one social medium where you want to be dominant and focus on building the audience there, while also reserving your name on other platforms where you may also want to have a presence. If your organization is more focused on messaging, Twitter may be the space where you’re most active. If your organization hosts lots of events in your community, sharing images from those events on Instagram may be the best place to build your audience. If your audience skews older, Facebook may be the best place for you to build a relationship. If your audience skews younger, Tik Tok may be best. If you plan to hold roundtables or discussions where you want immediate feedback or even pass along information, Clubhouse or Discord may be your social mediums of choice.
There are many options across the social media landscape. Is it possible to be successful and master them all, all at once? Yes, but only if you have a small army for a communications team. Otherwise, your organization is best served by choosing one social media outlet, building the audience on that one platform, and then migrating them anywhere else you want them to go.
Once you’ve made a consistent connection to build your relationship, that audience will follow you wherever you want them to. Because of this migratory pattern each pillar of your online presence should point to the other. Your social media pages should point to your website, your website to your social media pages. If you launch a newsletter or blog–hosted either on your website or another platform–it too should point to your website and your social media. No matter the initial platform where your audience finds you and begins to engage, they should be able to easily follow you across the internet because of the interconnected nature of your online presence.
Building relationships with gatekeepers
When it comes to building relationships with gatekeepers, just like with your audience, you have to put yourself in front of them. During my career as a news producer I received 1,500 to 2,000 emails a day. If I opened 800 it meant it was a slow news day and I was desperate for stories. This means the likelihood of someone seeing, opening, and reading that one press release you send that one time to that one journalist/editor/producer/influencer is slim. It happens, but why leave it to chance?
The same format you learned in The Pitch for giving your op-ed the best possibility for publication is the same way you should think about building relationships. If you have one op-ed that’s been placed the likelihood of the same editor you worked with before opening your next email is high. Instead of pitching them, hook them by asking if they have time to meet with you so you can give them more background on your organization. If you have a physical location, invite them to the office. If it’s a virtual meeting, have resources for them to see and experience. If you don’t have a prior relationship at all, find them on social media instead of inundating their work email inbox. Some gatekeepers say right on their Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn bios whether their DMs are open. As the saying goes, “Shoot your shot.”
Another way to build a relationship with gatekeepers is thinking outside of the op-ed. Think of your organization as the subject and then find a journalist you trust to tell your story. As a freelancer, every time one of my stories goes live I get emails from organizations and PR firms who’ve seen it and want me to write another variation featuring them (or who they represent) as the subject. In this way, you’re relying on the journalists network, reach, and platform to build your own. If the story turns out well, the representatives at your organization then become a trusted source the journalist can come back to over and over again.
Finally, one sure fire way to put yourself in front of gatekeepers is going to where they gather. A conference. Organizations like NABJ/NAHJ (National Association of Black Journalists/National Association of Hispanic Journalists) hold a conference every year in a different city. So, too, do organizations like JAWS (Journalism and Women Symposium), ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors), and many more. Conferences are organized around a theme, and the conference organizers are often looking for speakers. To get your message in front of this large group of gatekeepers you could certainly submit a session proposal. However, you could just go to the conference and mix and mingle with the gatekeepers at the outlets you want to get your organization’s message in front of. While this approach requires monetary resources, three days in a hotel or convention center with hundreds or thousands of editors, producers, journalists, and writers roaming around may not be a bad investment.
No matter your approach to building relationships, the one thing that is required is presence and consistency. You must show up every day proving that you’re both reliable and trustworthy. These traits will help you lock in your audience and galvanize them toward the narrative change you’re seeking while also getting the attention from gatekeepers who will want to tell your story and help you reach your narrative change goals.