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Newsjacking: You’re Doing It Wrong

What do Justin Bieber, Honey Boo-Boo and Tim Tebow have in common? They’re all people whom you should STOP WRITING ABOUT RIGHT NOW unless you’re a music, trashy reality tv or sports (this one may be debatable) writer. Yes, they are trendy (although they aren’t ‘news’), and unless you’re in a relevant industry, you’re most likely only…

What do Justin Bieber, Honey Boo-Boo and Tim Tebow have in common?

They’re all people whom you should STOP WRITING ABOUT RIGHT NOW unless you’re a music, trashy reality tv or sports (this one may be debatable) writer. Yes, they are trendy (although they aren’t ‘news’), and unless you’re in a relevant industry, you’re most likely only using them to try to convince people to click on links to undoubtedly weak content.

Random trendy thing + Whatever You’re Writing About ≠ Viral Content

Newsjacking, a term popularized by David Meerman Scott, describes “the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.”

Plenty of brands attempt to use newsjacking to garner attention, however their efforts are often too late, too weak, too untargeted, too sloppy, or simply too unprepared.

Although newsjacking is a process that requires you to think on your feet and act immediately, there are ways that you can prepare for – and even predict – what will generate media coverage so that your brand can be the first to create content strong enough to take full advantage of newsjacking benefits.

Peep our handy list of newsjacking do’s and don’ts so your brand doesn’t become a newsjackass.

DO: SOMETHING. ANYTHING. AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

The very idea behind newsjacking is that you are acting and reacting in real-time. This means that you need to be able to – or have someone or a team you trust to – make spur-of-the-moment decisions in order to have time on your side. If you wait too long to create content, then you will either be duplicating the efforts of a faster company or simply not newsworthy anymore. The easiest way to do this is establish you or your company as a resource by answering questions your target audience or industry may have – before they even ask them – or providing a solution to a major problem.

The Red Cross proactively newsjacked Hurricane Sandy by creating a hurricane app that contained useful information regarding the storm, a notification system for informing loved ones that you were safe, and a flashlight.

The app had over 400,000 downloads and the day after the storm was in Apple’s top 3 downloads. The Red Cross, in advance, created something that drove brand awareness as well as helped those affected by the storm. 

DON’T: Force it …or do what everyone else is doing just so you feel like you’ve done something.

If you’re late to the media party, don’t be discouraged. You can still be the belle of the ball if you are creative enough to harness the media from a groundbreaking new angle, contributing to a larger collaborative effort or simply making a larger effort than others. However, there is no need to force a newsjacking effort if it does not make sense. Newjacking is not about pushing your company or product regardless of what is trending, it is about establishing relevancy. If you can’t decide how to create the connection between news and your company or products, then do not force it.

Consumers will see right through forced or shoddy efforts, decreasing trustworthiness and having an adverse effect. In that same vein, do not thinly veil duplications what others are doing. Here’s a good rule of thumb to go by: if Google can autocomplete your article title or a search of your article’s subject reveals scarily similar posts on the first page of results (because honestly, who looks anywhere else?)… DON’T WRITE IT. This is exactly why I am writing this post instead of another “why social media can/can’t/did/didn’t decide the election.”

Newsjacking should provide something useful and new to the media and consumers, so they will keep returning even after the story that has helped you gain attention is no longer considered news. Writing the same boring article as everyone else is a waste of your time and efforts that could be better dedicated to creating content that people will actually read, care about and benefit from.

DO: Use SEO to your advantage.

If you work in SEO or have an awesome SEO team, you already know what factors cause content to trend or rank. It would be not only an oversight, but also simply irresponsible to not put this knowledge to good use. Newsjacking in essence is a part of the formula for creating great content, but if you are waiting until something becomes news to react, then you are missing out on opportunities.

SEO will not only help you take advantage of ranking factors but it also will help you even predict what will trend before it even gains mass media attention. You will already be tapped in to what is going to be news, but you have already taken steps to enable your business to build a foundation to rank online for relevant terms as well as create innovative content before others are even aware there’s a story. Combining newsjacking and SEO is a winning formula for you to be predictive, proactive and primary.

DON’T: Create crappy content in an effort to link bait.

This should go without saying, but unfortunately it happens all too often. Supposedly “trendy,” controversial or generalized content is produced or labeled just to draw attention and create links. This content is illogical, irrelevant, poorly crafted or even flat-out pointless. Sometimes “bad” link bait is just simply forced content – there are some things that trend that will never relate to your company or product in a way that makes sense.

You don’t need to write a “Fifty Shades of SEO” post just because a lot of bored housewives read the same book – honestly, that kind of link bait is both kitschy and tacky. That said, there is “good” link bait – content that goes viral simply because… well… it’s inherently good. It is not difficult to tell the difference between the two if you use common sense – or, if that fails, ask yourself “how will the recipient of this content benefit?” You know what will draw people in – use that power for good, not evil.

DO: Incorporate a newsjacking component into your social media strategy.

Newsjacking and social media strategy rely upon real-time conversations created around trending topics and content. Where social media provides you with the tools for listening to sentiment, newsjacking provides you with the impetus to act in a way that takes advantage of these conversations. Social media, like SEO, can help you predict and monitor what will trend in your target markets, so your campaigns will reflect what matters at what times to the media and consumers. Jason Boies discusses this very thing put into action by MTV. For the VMAs, MTV created a social media driven award category of “Most Share-Worthy Video” to newsjack their own offline newsworthy event before it even occurred.

This conversation created on social created more buzz for the event, which led to an increased number of VMA viewers.

DON’T: Jump the gun to newsjack on social media.

Unfortunately, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, several businesses attempted to newsjack the trending topic in order to promote selfish or irrelevant interests. American ApparelUrban Outfitters and The Gap were under fire for newsjacking the #Sandy hashtag to promote sales via Twitter.

The insensitivity displayed by these retailers not only turned off consumers but led to harsh backlash for those involved. Simply using a hashtag in a tweet is not an appropriate way to newsjack – make sure you know the facts, your audience and sentiment before you post. 140 characters or less can cause damage that will take far more than another tweet to remedy, if you don’t post responsibly.

DO: Use newsjacking as a force for good.

Although certain retailers were newsjacking Hurricane Sandy irresponsibly, there were other businesses that used newsjacking as a way to do good for those affected. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal both took down their payrolls so that people could get their storm updates for free – they also did this for the election last night. AccuWeather.com hosted a Google+ hangout to answer questions regarding the hurricane.

All of these examples benefit consumers as well as provided them with a sample of the type of useful content each has to offer – which will keep them coming back even after their original reason for visiting has expired.

DON’T: Waver focus regarding your brand’s message – and whom that message is coming from.

Keep in mind – especially if you are a content creator, community manager, social media strategist or any combination of the three – that, above all, anything coming from a brand’s outlet must reflect its values and messaging. No matter what the topic, ensure that the topic itself as well as your approach reflects your brand’s voice and vision. Although it may seem tempting to use a brand outlet to further personal views or causes you support: DON’T. If you are someone who also often speaks on behalf of the brand, whether in a PR or social media or a combined capacity, and use your personal account sometimes to do so, also be aware that you are under a microscope – so if you are covering or discussing sensitive topics, you can’t lose your cool.

When you tweet as a brand or create press materials on your brand’s behalf, you are speaking for the brand as a whole – your entire team. For some newsworthy topics, it is easy to decide what is aligned with messaging or not. However, unless a brand’s stance on a controversial subject has been determined by those shaping brand messaging, do not make a decision on behalf of the brand. If you have personal social accounts, ensure you keep your thoughts separate between the two – and be extra- aware of what you are saying where. Know who you are ‘speaking’ for when you speak, tweet, post, write, etc. There are too many companies that have faced PR disasters by becoming the news story themselves due to an offensive tweet or post. KitchenAid faced this very issue due to a careless tweet that wasn’t meant to be posted on the corporate account:

An apology was issued from the senior director at KitchenAid. Consumers may eventually forget this kind of gaffe, but it’s best to prevent this issue before it happens by being careful – don’t give your competitors a reason to newsjack a negative story about your brand.

DO: Pitch your trending content to the appropriate media outlets.

This “do” is almost so simple it’s a “duh.” Have a media list prepared and do not be afraid to pitch your content to them. Part of successful newsjacking is, essentially, pitching the right content to the right outlet. The proper content in the right place will be seen by the right audience, who will drive it to go viral.

DON’T: Wait to build relationships with media outlets until you need them.

PR and the media are slowly seeing each other as advocates for one another, however, you must create relationships with the right media contacts before you need them. This will enable you to have your content shared or posted exactly where you want it in a timely manner. The better relationships you have with the media, the more likely they are to share all of your content, not just one piece of it. You will become a resource for the media – who your consumers inherently trust, sometimes even more so than they trust brands. You may need the media to share your content, but you can also ensure they depend upon you for that timely, trendy, informative and interesting content.

These are only a small sample – although some of the most important – do’s and don’ts for newsjacking successfully and responsibly. What other tips would you include? What examples have you seen of brands using newsjacking to their advantage? Are most of these examples positive or negative reflections of the concept of newsjacking? Please leave your responses in the comments below!