By now you’re probably well aware of the term “newsjacking,” and you probably see it happening all the time in your Twitter feed. Popularized by marketer David Meerman Scott, newsjacking is what happens when brands piggyback off the day’s biggest news stories to draw attention to their own content.
While on the surface this might seem like something PR people have been doing for years, newsjacking takes the practice to the next level, as it helps blog content and social posts to instantly reach interested followers. Effectively, this means newsjacking can have an immediate impact, allowing brand marketing efforts to either become part of the trend or get out ahead of it as it’s happening, capturing the highest traffic for popular keyword and hashtag searches.
However, newsjacking certainly has its risks. Countless brands that tried to make the best of Hurricane Sandy is one prime example, as are Kenneth Cole’s infamous Egyptian revolution and Syrian conflict tweets, which exploited a massive social movement and a source of considerable human suffering as opportunities to push products. Cole himself (after issuing an apology) defended his actions, pointing to increased online sales, stock prices, and Twitter followers as evidence that controversy is good business. That point, however, is arguable, especially when it comes to building a loyal following over the long-term, rather than a few thousand extra followers who will stick around only to watch your demise.
Newsjacking is a tricky and delicate thing. But when businesses learn how to effectively navigate Twitter (and other real-time social communities), there’s a lot that can be achieved by playing into the news of the day.
Let’s take a look at some big brands that got newsjacking right — in a big way:
Charmin has always served as a shining example of how you can take a product that’s relatively taboo to talk about and make it inherently shareable.
At last year’s Oscars, the brand was ready and waiting with a steady stream of brand marketing “potty” humor that poked fun both at the event and at its own product without ever crossing the line into poor taste.
Take this tweet, for example:
It’s funny, simple, relevant to the brand — and even more relevant to the nominees. All this without being blatantly promotional. In fact, this is personal enough to have been tweeted by a friend, rather than a brand.
The lesson: Unlike major socioeconomic and political events, pop culture makes for relatively safe and fun content material. What’s more, it can be easier to plan for, as was clearly the case with Charmin’s use of staged photos like this one (and others). While some of the best newsjacking examples occur in reaction to an unpredictable event, events that a brand can predict can serve as a compromise between the painfully slow and outmoded corporate communications approval process and the dangers of a rogue tweet. Incorporate scheduled events into all social media and content plans so that you’ve got the materials you need to craft more off-the-cuff tweets as an event unfolds.
While Oreo may be the most famous newsjacker of 2013, thanks to its well-timed Super Bowl tweet, Tide is another brand that made excellent use of a spur-of-the-moment brand marketing opportunity, with the following TwitPic:
Simple, witty and, of course, timely, this tweet received thousands of retweets and hundreds of favorites, as well. This is impressive, given that the brand really has no relevant link to the Super Bowl other than the one it created.
The lesson: Just because a big event like the Oscars or the Super Bowl doesn’t have an obvious point of relevance for your brand, it’s still worth tuning in and being prepared — just in case an unexpected opportunity arises to put your brand on the minds of millions of potential consumers all at once.
Of course, brand marketing efforts like this also requires a savvy knowledge of how to use hashtags. Make sure you’re monitoring brand-relevant hashtags throughout events like this, so you can jump onto trends and add your own voice — as Tide did with “#blackout,” “#SuperBowl,” and “#TidePower.”
Stella Artois became another brand marketing star of the 2013 Oscars with this playful tweet:
While the tweet itself didn’t receive a ton of reshares or favorites, it did receive a very robust response from followers who tweeted their guesses. The game was simple, and yet Stella still managed to sneak in its brand marketing message with intriguing visuals and a catchy game name: Stella Artois Shorts. That’s a good thing, because when it comes to newsjacking, unobtrusive branding is the smart way to go.
The lesson: Newsjacking doesn’t have to stand on its own. In fact, it’s often best done in conjunction with other social media approaches. Followers like contributing their own content — especially when doing so is as simple as adding an @reply to tweets about an event they’re already excited about. Be on the lookout for opportunities to combine multiple social media marketing approaches into one.
Live tweeting popular events is practically a national pastime these days, with viewers following hashtags, connecting with like-minded fans, and tweeting voraciously throughout their favorite shows. In fact, passionate viewers can be so vocal that discussions about TV show episodes can often rise to the top of Twitter’s trending topics list. That’s certainly something DiGiorno learned as it latched onto the #TheSoundofMusicLive hashtag during NBC’s The Sound of Music live broadcast.
The tweet wittily connected the event to the DiGiorno brand, keeping things fun and relevant. Given the mass mocking of The Sound of Music Live on Twitter (and elsewhere), the brand leveraged a perfect opportunity to lure in bored viewers, while adding a little gentle levity into the mix. As you can see from the number of retweets and favorites this tweet earned, viewers and followers were thankful for the pleasant distraction.
The lesson: The best newsjacking efforts add brand relevance to a news item, even when a link between the two isn’t obvious. Whether it’s a play on words, a joke that will feel inside to a niche audience, or tweaked song lyrics, the more solidly you can build a bridge for viewers, the more appreciative they are likely to be for your efforts. (Note that this is the complete opposite of a newsjacking fail — like Kenneth Cole’s — that can result from slapping an irrelevant offer on to the end of a tweet without making the connection clear and relevant.)
There are many potential ways to prepare your brand marketing plan to do newsjacking right, including signing up for Google alerts so you can stay on top of breaking news and making good use of the Twitter hashtag. But beyond this, there’s something to be said for brands that can demonstrate that they truly “get” internet dynamics — as this Petcentric tweet does:
Petcentric did two smart things here. First, it openly admitted that it was purposely trying to newsjack the Oscars. Then, it basically said, “screw it” and posted a picture of a cat. Say whatever you want about the internet, but there’s little doubt that it is one meta-loving, self-deprecating, and cat-ridden place. Internet culture is notably appreciative of transparency, even when an effort is self-motivated. Defined that way, there’s nothing more internet-friendly than a TwitPic like this, with all the added benefits of being relevant to a current news event.
The lesson: Brand marketers must understand internet culture — and particularly its most current trends, nuances, memes, and etiquette — to effectively navigate any of its digital communication efforts, including newsjacking. Brands that are blatantly self-promotional without any self-deprecating humor just rub their audience the wrong way. You’ve got to act like one of the people to get them on your team.
The key takeaway
So, what are the best advice points I can offer for making newsjacking work for you? For one, it’s time to throw out the old, painfully slow corporate approval models; yet it’s crucial that you do so without neglecting the risks at hand. Whenever you can, ensure you’ve got a wealth of relevant material to draw from at any given moment, whether that’s new product announcements or customer stories. Steer clear of controversial situations, and sit your entire social media team down to set a general tweeting policy before embarking on any attempts to newsjack, so that everyone on your team has a clear idea of what’s acceptable for your brand and its voice and what’s just… well… Kenneth Cole.
Good luck, and have fun!
Looking for more inspiration on leveraging news and current events in your brand marketing efforts? Check out the fantastic examples in CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook: 24 Epic Ideas for Connecting with Your Customers.