Newsjacking: How to Keep it Classy

Remember when you had to wait for the morning paper or the nightly news to get your current event fix? That seems like forever ago. Today all you have to do is log into Twitter. And although the public has always had a fascination with breaking news, the way we experience these stories has evolved, and in turn so has our hunger for them.

During the last Super Bowl, for example, 26 million tweets were sent out. With that many people watching and participating you can bet marketers were looking for ways to get in on the action. How many of those 26 million tweets do you think were from fans, and how many were from brands looking to prosper from the media surge?

Introducing “newsjacking.” The term is an obvious combination of “news” and “jacking,” and refers to brands or companies capitalizing on the hype surrounding current events to promote their own messages or products. The term was popularized by David Meerman Scott’s book, Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage. The title is intriguing, and who wouldn’t want to take advantage of such a hot resource? Unfortunately, much like the other words that end in “jacking,” newsjacking is not always the noblest pursuit. But is there a way for marketers to get a piece of the pie without looking desperate? Can newsjacking ever be classy?

The dark side of newsjacking…

Audiences are not dumb. Audiences are in fact very savvy, and shameless promotion does not fly past them undetected. Look at the thinly disguised newsjacking that took place during the birth of the royal baby. From Las Vegas tweeting “see you in 21 years,” to Fergie’s shoe company brazenly telling the Duchess of Cambridge to “keep calm and wear Fergie Footwear,” everyone seemed to want to get on the royal baby-bandwagon. While the Las Vegas tweet is at least clever, all either brand really communicated was a bid for attention. And they got it. Lots and lots of negative attention. 

Newsjacking can sometimes have even graver consequences. The company American Apparel learned that the hard way when they asked on Twitter who was “bored” with hurricane Sandy. Needless to say their tweet came off as grossly insensitive and was met with major consumer backlash. When Kenneth Cole noticed that #Cairo was trending, they tried to newsjack the term and use it to promote their new clothing collection. Imagine their horror upon discovering the hashtag was being used to discuss Egyptian unrest. This type of newsjacking is certainly not classy.

Waiting for the right moment

Although there are lots of ways to get newsjacking wrong, there are also a few strategic ways to get it right. Current events do affect us all, and as brands develop more human-like personas online, it is only logical that they should be part of the conversation.

Keeping it relevant

There are occasionally stories that pop up that are both relevant and appropriate for certain brands to engage. One of the best examples of successful newsjacking is from Joe Payne, former CEO of marketing software provider Eloqua. When he came across breaking news that Oracle had purchased Market2Lead (one of Eloqua’s biggest competitors) he quickly wrote a blog post about the acquisition. When journalists began searching for information to fill in their stories, they only came across two sources: a hasty press release from Oracle and Payne’s well thought out blog. Which source do you think they quoted most? By staying on top of the news and jumping at an appropriate opportunity, Joe was able to steer major publicity away from a competitor and focus it on his own company. This is newsjacking at its finest!

Keeping it valuable

Opportunities like this do not come along often, but as Joe proves, you do not have to newsjack every story to be successful; you just have to newsjack the right story (in the right way). His idea to write a blog post was brilliant, since evergreen content—content that will rarely expire due to its scope and information—has proven to be incredibly effective. His contribution got long-term traction and he ended up with, according to him, “a million dollars in new business.” Not a bad ROI on one blog post.

Keeping it in line with brand messaging

Not only should a story be relevant in order for newsjacking to stay classy, but also responses need to be in line with brand messaging. The London Fire Brigade, for example, found out that Kate Winslet had recently rescued someone from a burning building, and quickly extended her an invitation on their website to train with them at their local center. As a result, the brigade’s website received tons of traffic, inbound links, and media exposure. The fire brigade newsjacked successfully because they kept their response in line with their brand messaging by supporting the idea of fire-rescue and praising courage in the face of danger.

Keeping it timely

Most of newsjacking success stories are also immaculately timed. Breaking stories are constantly rushing in, and audiences are just as quick to move on to the next. If a newsjacking attempt comes in after the hype, it will be dead in the water. On the other hand, stories are not static entities but constantly develop and expand. Newsjacking that swoops in too soon may not be sensitive to all the details of the event, and be met with consequences down the road.

Stay classy

Newsjacking works when all the pieces fall into place and it flows naturally.  If a story pops up that is relevant to your brand and you can respond in a way that adds something of value and stays in line with your brand message—go for it. And if the timing is right, why not have some fun engaging with it? As Brant Barnhart notes to Sparksheet, “Newsjacking is most effective in moderation…and has the potential to become a peripheral part of your content strategy rather than something integral.” The key takeaway is that as brands do develop personalities in new media outlets, they need to follow the same basic etiquette rules as the rest of us.

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