Those who work in public relations are always looking for effective ways to pitch stories for their clients. Traditionally, this has meant sending out emails and picking up the phone to give journalists and editors a call. But now, thanks to the popularity of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, there is another way to reach and pitch people.

However, PR people need to be very careful about the way they approach social media as a pitching tool, as Mashable notes. While it can be an effective way to reach people, it’s also possible to step on some virtual toes and turn off the very sources you wish to reach. The following tips can help PR people to use Facebook and Twitter as effectively and prudently as possible:

Facebook: some dos and don’ts

Facebook is primarily a place where people connect with friends and family and share funny stories and cute photos of their kids and pets. In other words, journalists and other members of the media who have Facebook accounts are probably not going to be too amenable to getting work-related pitches on their walls. But by using a very light touch and understanding how to use a person’s page, Facebook can be an effective research tool.

If they know the name of a local journalist that they would love to contact, PR folks can look up the person on Facebook and see if they can access the writer’s home email address or phone number. If the account does not have a lot of privacy settings, it’s typically pretty easy to get this information; just click on “About” and see if the contact information is there. Then, when sending an email or giving the person a call, PR people don’t have to feel compelled to say where they got the contact information, as most journalists are aware that their email and phone number will often be passed around.

As a related tip, PR people should advise their own clients to be sure their social media pages include all of their contact information too; for example, DriveTime’s page on Facebook not only includes the company’s address, email and phone number, but also a handy map on how to get there; this is all extremely helpful information to include on a Facebook page. It’s also possible to send the source a very short message via Facebook asking for the source’s contact info, but these might not be as effective.

Twitter: a great way to reach others

While Facebook tends to be used for more personal reasons, Twitter seems to be a widely accepted way to reach members of the media. As Media Bistro notes, to use the giant social media website the most effectively, PR people should first make sure that they are active members on the site with a well-designed page and reputable brand. In other words, instead of hastily creating a Twitter account with only the most basic info and then sending out a pitch to a dozen or so local journalists, be patient and allow some time to pass by before using Twitter as a way to reach out to journalists.

Once PR people have established themselves as active and reputable members on Twitter, they should pitch their idea directly to the reporter, producer or editor — not the general publication or television station. While the newspaper’s general Twitter account might be managed by a variety of people and a pitch could easily get lost in the shuffle, chances are very good that the reporter is in charge of his or her own page.

PR people should also follow the reporters and other members of the media who they might want to pitch someday, explains Freelance Writing. Then, they should make an effort to engage them on social media. This way, when the time comes to pitch a story, at least the name will be familiar.