Friday, August 14th, 2015
There is one thing we never run out of us – news.
There is always something happening in the world, and there are always marketers looking to capitalize on it.
After all, going viral is one of the best ways to generate traffic.
While the name sounds like a shady exchange of gossip in a back alley, newsjacking is actually an authentic means of generating traffic and continuing meaningful conversation.
It’s authentic if you’re doing it right, that is.
Surf Trending Topics
If you’re going to use the news to your favor, you have to know what the news actually is. Keep tabs on trending topics so that you can hop into the fray at the critical moment. That critical moment is the slot of time after the news has broken for the first time and before the news media writes a follow-up story with more details. If possible, you want to be the details the major news outlet provides.
You can only do this if you are absolutely in tune with the media and know how to smoothly hijack the news for your own purposes in a way that others will appreciate as well. It’s very much an art form.
Set Up Notifications
As a beginner in the field of newsjacking, you can start by simply setting up some notifications through Google or other social media monitoring sites. Watching the media can be a full-time job, and it’s one that a lot of professionals can’t handle without help. Enter the alerts. Every day you can get alerts on what’s trending as well specific alerts about keywords related to your industry.
Of course, the easiest newsjacking is done within your own industry simply because things fit together in the minds of readers. The news is about new healthcare guidelines and you sell healthcare supplements. It’s an easy pairing for you as you build on the news and for readers who want to make the connection as they read.
Expand Your Horizons
That being said, the easy way out is not always the best. Don’t just stick to your obvious industry. Once you have the feel for newsjacking under your belt, it may be time to expand out of your obvious industry and try something a bit more attention getting and entertaining.
For example, DiGiorno Pizza decided to live tweet the live television production of The Sound of Music. Pizza doesn’t have much to do with musicals, but thanks to a clever media manager, DiGiorno tweets were one of the most enjoyable parts of the production for many viewers. Among the most tongue-in-cheek, DiGiorno wondered:
The DiGiorno example above worked only because the media specialist making the tweets was able to tap into the minds of those watching the show. It was like the pizza company was one of the regular viewers who also just happens to sell pizza.
When you choose news to hijack, it is important to work within an appropriate zone or your attempts will fall flat. Worse, your hijack can take on a life of its own, but certainly not in a good way. Godiva learned this the hard way when they tried to force a connection between Thanksgiving turkey and luxury chocolates. Hint: They don’t go together no matter how much you try.
Check Your Keywords
Newsjacking is a form of internet marketing, and as such it should be treated with the same approach as your other marketing. You’re writing an article, it should contain relevant keywords and links. Be careful to include those keywords naturally, of course. After all, the point of newsjacking is to have your article or tweet be read, enjoyed and shared. Keyword stuffed nonsense isn’t going to be enjoyed by anyone. Be thoughtful about hashtags as well, especially if you’re on Twitter – those hashtags can take on a life of their own and propel your posts and hashtags into viral territory.
Read the Rest of the News
You’re not going to be a very good newsjacker if you’re the second or third to hijack a particular story. At least it would be embarrassing if you took what you thought was a bold approach and found out you were the second or third to do so.
For example, Kate Winslet rescued Richard Branson’s elderly mother in a fire a few years ago. The event made the news and the London Fire Brigade hopped on the thread. The Brigade offered Kate firefighting training publically. News outlets caught the story and the firefighting training became a bigger story than the actual rescue because it was well timed and clever.
If any other fire brigade thought to offer Kate course or congratulations we don’t know. Those tweets and posts never made the news because London Fire Brigade beat them to the punch. The lesson here for you is simple: When you want to newsjack, work quickly to be first, but keep checking the news. If you get scooped, your efforts are for naught.
Add to the Discussion, Don’t Interrupt It
The Kate Winslet fire discussion above is a perfect example of a natural connection. The newsjack actually made the original story more interested and added to the natural discussion around the event. The mass media picked up on the new caveat to the story, and suddenly the free lessons were in every story about the event and the exposure for the fire brigade was huge and positive.
There are many excellent examples of companies making a natural connection and improving the discussion. There are just as many examples of companies making themselves look foolish when they caused discussion to come to a screeching halt while everyone scratched their heads and tried to figure out what was going on.
This disconnect often occurs in articles where a tie is simply too stretched to make sense. Robin Williams didn’t teach anyone about career transitions and Nelson Mandela had absolutely nothing of value to say about internet marketing. Trying to force topics together that don’t make sense makes you look ridiculous. Don’t do it.
It goes without saying that newsjacking isn’t a leisurely pursuit. If you’re going to do it and do it well, you must quickly to hit the sweet spot after news breaks and before the more in-depth articles appear online. If you’re late to the table, you may still be able to hop into the discussion, but move carefully so that you’re offering something new and meaningful, not out of touch and ridiculous.
Skip the Nit-Picking This Time
In the interest of time, this is a good time to skip your perfectionist tendencies. Yes, the article you’re writing or the tweet you’re preparing is going to be part of your overall brand marketing strategy, but no, you don’t have time to agonize over details and send out the article for proofreading and phrase analysis. Write it, post it, and hopefully enjoy the results of your efforts.
Pop Culture v. Politics
Savvy newsjackers know that the best topics are those associated with pop culture, or the topics that are trending right this minute with the critical “in-the-know” demographics. The worst topics to try and newsjack are those with highly divided readerships.
For example, when the Super Bowl experiences a blackout, the world knows. It’s a collective part of our pop culture now. Oreo hit the mark by letting us know that you can still dunk in the dark via Twitter. It was timely, clever and not at all divisive.
If you tried to newsjack something from the recent Republican debate, on the other hand, you’re going to be playing with fire as there are so many strong opinions. A newsjack will almost certainly be considered choosing sides, which isn’t a good marketing move for most companies.
Treat Tragedy Delicately
Dark stories deserve special treatment. Emotions run high in a tragedy such as the Sandy Hook shooting or the wide spread destruction of a hurricane. When Cairo was rioting, Kenneth Cole thought to hijack a bit of news for marketing reasons.
Their assertion that the political riots in Cairo were about the new spring collection of Kenneth Cole fell decidedly flat and the public was not amused.
Use an Appropriate Angle
When newsjacking, the angle you take to the news is as important as the timing itself. As we stated previously, you must make a natural connection to your news in your post and you must also try to create a new buzz. In many cases this is simply a new angle you’re taken.
Save the Children did this well in the immediate follow-up to the Sandy Hook school shooting. While parents were numb with fear, Save the Children could have made a huge misstep, but instead released a list of “10 Tips for Helping Children Cope.” The approach was novel, helpful and resonated with parents. It was a huge help not just for the parents trying to process the tragedy, but created a tremendous bit of positive exposure for the non-profit as well.
Save the Children did it well. Stay positive in your newsjacking. While readers may enjoy commenting on negative stories, negativity in the news reflects poorly on your company. Being clever, amusing and even mildly sarcastic are considered a great thing in newsjacking. Being critical is not.
We don’t slam the Super Bowl committee for losing power. We dunk Oreos instead.
We don’t mock how uninspiring The Sound of Music turned out to be. We wonder about pizza instead.
Positive, classy and amusing wins every time.
Know Your Vehicle (Hashtags, etc)
If you’re going to newsjack, it’s important that you know how to do it. We don’t mean the steps here, we mean actually knowing how to work with Twitter or post articles correctly with keywords and categories.
While they seem like an afterthought, hashtags can be a huge part of a post for either positive or negative reasons. A clever or meaningful hashtag inspires others to post using your hashtag, growing your influence. A badly placed hashtag, on the other hand, can spell doom.
Ask Kmart how badly this can work. After a meaningful tweet about their thoughts and prayers following the Newtown shooting, they used the hashtags #PrayforNewtown and #Fab15Toys. Accidental or intentional, it went over like a ton of bricks.
Market Your Marketing
It’s not enough to post your clever message or tweet and hope that the world will notice. Like so many things in internet marketing, you’re going to have to force people to notice. You must market your marketing.
Use social media channels, keywords, networks and any other vehicle you can find to get the word out. Hopefully after an initial marketing blitz, your message will get picked up and spread on its own, but never leave campaigns to chance.
Clever Wins Every Time
As so many of the previous tips have shown, being clever means being appreciated by the right people in social media. Social media users expect amusing, intelligent banter and fun online.
As you are contemplating what to write, skip the more traditional, educational message and go with the more tongue-in-check message with a bit of a virtual nod to those who will hopefully appreciate your astuteness to pass it on.
Keep it Relevant
As more people newsjack, it’s easy to see the messages and topics start to skew so far off topic that they no longer make sense and companies just look silly. Keep your message relevant and connected well enough that nobody is going to wonder what you’re doing.
If a particular news item has been beaten to death, don’t add to the madness. Just skip that news story and wait for something new to come along where your message can be heard more clearly and you don’t run the risk of going too far away from relevancy.
Brand Development not Sales Materials
The vast majority of successful newsjacking is done for brand recognition, not direct marketing. The Kenneth Cole Cairo riots over clothing lines, the Kmart Fab15Toys in the wake of a tragedy as well as many other examples show that the public is not interested and will become hugely uncomfortable when companies try to sell things through newsjacking.
If you do mess up this cardinal rule, you’ll be doing some serious brand clean-up online.
After reminding us all how important it is to stay inside and shop for new clothing in the midst of a hurricane, Gap then had to explain that their messages were more about safety and less about online sales.
The explanation barely got noticed. The misguided original tweet is still famous as an example of what not to do.
With newsjacking, your audience almost certainly knows what you’re doing, embrace it. This is where the self-depreciating sense of irony comes into the tweets and articles. Newsjacking is an art form and the vast majority of jacks are done around pop culture stories where savvy internet users are waiting and amused by companies and other entities posting purely for their entertainment.
This is not an audience of sheep and barely savvy users. Newsjacking reaches a more discerning audience and you should embrace this as you create and post. Trying to slip in some sales speech or market directly will likely make your audience feel betrayed and uncomfortable. This is the opposite of your goal here.
If you’re going to newsjack, you must continue to newsjack. You can’t do something clever once and then never do it again. This isn’t to say you must comment on everything out there under the sun, but a savvy marketer knows that when the opportunity presents itself, he must strike. If you’re not striking at least with some frequency, nobody is going to pay attention anymore and you will cease to be relevant.
Build Evergreen Content, Too
Finally, while newsjacking is fun and can be hugely successful, it is a form of brand marketing – not direct marketing. Those impressed with your cleverness will follow you or visit your site wanting more. This is why you must continue to build meaningful site content and other articles as well. Newsjacking may get you noticed, but your evergreen content will make those new readers stick around.
Newsjacking is becoming an increasingly common means of brand development and marketing. Of course, like anything, some companies are newsjacking well and others are creating disasters that will be discussed for years as what not to do.
The big question is simply: Are you ready to take on newsjacking?