So far in this blog series, we’ve covered how to perfect your voice for social media channels, and how to run contests that help you boost engagement and goodwill. The last topic is something that can go so right, and also so, so wrong: newsjacking.
What is newsjacking? It’s the process of taking advantage of a popular news story to boost your marketing. Pretty simple, right? Yes and no. When it’s done right, jumping on a timely news trend can boost your social media reach and engagement, and even help you get near that elusive viral status. But less successful newsjacking will, at best, fall flat – and at worst, it can be offensive or tasteless.
Riding the Wave
Use of the word ‘newsjacking’ to describe this marketing move was made popular by marketing and sales strategist David Meerman Scott, in his book Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage. Savvy marketers can use breaking news in many different ways – advertising, press releases, timely giveaways, etc. – but we’re talking about social media use here.
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Scott describes news popularity as a wave that rises up to the peak exposure and then rapidly drops off. Effective newsjacking needs to be very, very timely, or you’ll just look like you’re hopping on a trend that everyone else is already tired of. A very popular news story will really saturate all types of media, and that definitely means your fans will be seeing a lot of it in their newsfeeds on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social platforms. If you’re too late, they’ll probably just scroll right past your post or image since they’ve already heard enough on that topic.
Industry Topics vs. General News
Newsjacking can work in two ways: you can jump on news topics that are relevant to your industry, or just use general news or pop culture stories to highlight a certain aspect of your brand. Let’s look at a great example of the former:
“Bendgate,” of course, refers to that exciting time after everyone realized that the brand new iPhone 6 would bend in your pocket. As far as a news story, it had everything – a hint of scandal, great visuals, lots of social media participation, and a healthy dose of humor, too. A lot of brands jumped on this timely story to highlight their own sense of humor, and of course, their superior, non-bendy phones. Competitors were wise to capitalize on this story, since Apple so rarely takes a hit in the public eye.
Lessons to learn from LG, Samsung, and all the other brands that took this opportunity? If there’s big news in your industry, good or bad, you can and often should present your take on it. The other big takeaway is that humor is a good way to smooth the way – especially if the news topic lends itself to laughs like Bendgate did.
When it comes to capitalizing on general news and pop culture stories, let’s look at the Superbowl tweet heard round the world:
Oreo definitely got a jump on businesses when the lights went out during the third quarter of the 2013 Superbowl. They managed to pull together a great visual and get it out there before most people had even taken to Twitter to complain or comment on the blackout. This is another great example of the role humor can play in newsjacking – it might not make a whole lot of sense for Oreo to comment on the Superbowl (not exactly typical football snacks, are they?) but because they were able to make a joke about it, the connection is there.
Massive events like the Superbowl, the Oscars, and the World Cup aren’t everyday things, but you can plan ahead for them generally. Don’t force a connection if it’s not there, but explore options and talk it over with your whole team in advance. Then, make sure your social media marketers are thinking on their feet as well, so that unexpected events (whether it’s a Superbowl power cut or viral video) can be used to your advantage.
Crimes of Newsjacking
Newsjacking done badly can be pretty blah – users won’t pay any attention to your attempts if they’re too late, or don’t make sense. But some brands have really blown it with tasteless newsjacking of very unfortunate news:
First place in tactless newsjacking goes to Urban Outfitters, who used Superstorm Sandy to highlight their free shipping. Gap did something similar, hoping that users stuck inside might be doing some online shopping. Considering that many people lost their homes and some lost their lives, it pretty much goes without saying that any attempt to use that for sales is in pretty poor taste.
Second place goes to the Golf Channel, with this newsjack of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. It’s not a tragedy like Sandy was, but it’s still a topic that’s too serious and sensitive to use for business gains. Learn from Urban Outfitters and all the rest – just stay away from news stories that might be sensitive subjects for anyone. In the world of social media, nothing will help you go viral, in a bad way, like stepping on toes.