Newsjacking is a relatively new trend in brand marketing. It’s mainly facilitated by the readily available immediate communications with Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. The question is, is it frowned upon?
The core idea behind newsjacking is simple. A current event happens; post something on social media to tie your brand to that event. It’s the implementation that causes so many problems for so many brands. The name itself is a portmanteau of news hijacking, after all. While that sounds threatening and vaguely malicious, it’s actually a common and perfectly benign practice.
The key to newsjacking is doing it properly. The key to doing it properly is a lot of self-awareness, a lot of timing, a lot of creativity and no small measure of common sense.
Before a brand can even begin to attempt to newsjack, it needs to be aware of its own public image. This means their actual public image, not the stories put out by their PR department. For example, for MLK day in January, Dow Chemical tweeted a simple attempt at a newsjack, asking their users how they are making MLK’s dream a reality. This tweet has very little to do with Dow itself, and Dow is not known particularly for promoting civil rights. More importantly, their negative reputation for misuse of chemicals opened them up for scathing responses from cynical Twitter users.
A brand must know what their reputation is and must then avoid newsjacking in a way that opens themselves up for an insulting response that itself can go viral. This potential negative press can harm a brand and further tarnish its image, though the business will likely survive.
A positive example of self-awareness and brand relations is Duracell’s reaction to Hurricane Sandy. Their response was not to promote their brand passively. They could easily have Tweeted about a sale on batteries in the affected areas. Instead, they mobilized a humanitarian effort to provide device charging stations throughout the affected areas, and advertised that. No sales, no product announcements, just humanitarian aid with a brand attached. Contrast with American Apparel at the same time, which simply advertised a clothing sale in affected areas. It was a transparent attempt to make money from a tragedy.
Creativity in newsjacking is required for the attempt to do anything other than fall flat at best. The most basic and least effective attempts at newsjacking are illustrated in a deleted tweet from Hats.com, similarly for MLK day. Their tweet was simple; “Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a hat from hats.com.” It was also incredibly boring, had nothing to do with the holiday and brought nothing to the table. In the #MLKDay tag, it was nothing more than white noise.
For a brand to succeed with newsjacking, it needs to provide something of interest or value to the user. More importantly, it needs to be relevant to the news in some way. A brand can’t newsjack the missing Malaysian airliner story with an unrelated tweet about wearing nice shirts on vacation. It needs to offer wit, commentary or an interesting perspective on events. Oreo’s successful Superbowl blackout tweet is an example of newsjacking done right.
No one likes to receive a holiday card a week late. Timeliness with newsjacking is incredibly important. This means successful newsjacking is all about the spur of the moment creativity, tempered with enough self-awareness and self-reflection to avoid any social catastrophe.
PETA tried to get in on the MLK Day newsjacking by combining their cause in protecting animals with the civil rights movement. The result – “Today, we honor Martin Luther King Jr. & the plight of animals who are tortured, abused & neglected” – is at best unrelated to the day at hand. At worst, it can be construed as a racist comment, comparing minorities to animals. Altogether an unsuccessful attempt by the controversial organization to newsjack an unrelated holiday.
If your brand is going to attempt newsjacking, it needs to be prepared. A large part of successful newsjacking is in spontaneous creativity within certain guidelines.
In general, use newsjacking sparingly. A carefully considered post on a trending topic has much more power than an ill-considered post on every topic available. Users are aware of the intentions behind such posts, and the more transparent an attempt is, the worst it will play out.
The original question was, is newsjacking frowned upon? The answer, in general, is no. As with many marketing tactics, however, it can be used poorly and thus come off as a negative tactic. People have been commenting on current events for as long as there has been live media. Newsjacking is simply an extension of this perfectly valid practice.
Where newsjacking earns a negative reputation is when it’s used incorrectly. Too many brands try to newsjack indiscriminately, with no forethought and no consideration for the effects of the post they are about to make. It all comes down to the difference between being a sensitive human being and being a profiteer.