Blog > Content Marketing > Is Newsjacking for Content Marketing Frowned Upon?
Is Newsjacking for Content Marketing Frowned Upon?Published by James Parsons • Category: Content Marketing

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 Intricacies of Newsjacking

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.

Self-Awareness

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

Creativity

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.

Timeliness

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.

How to Newsjack Successfully

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.

  • Be as prepared as possible. News stories are unpredictable, but they aren’t the only events that can be newsjacked. Holidays are a primary target, particularly because users expect holiday promotions and acknowledgement. Holiday newsjacking can be prepared in advance, leaving more creativity for the spontaneous news events.
  • Be as timely as possible. After a day or two, mentioning a news event without something particularly interesting to add comes across as a particularly unaware company trying to get in on an event it just discovered.
  • Don’t rush to post. Trying to be the first one to newsjack an event is a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t leave enough time to analyze a potential newsjack attempt for negative connotations. It’s how PETA ends up looking racist, or how Dow opens itself up to social commentary.
  • Always be positive. Put a positive spin on anything you try to newsjack. National tragedies such as 9/11 can be newsjacked for positive effect, when done tastefully. Holidays and positive events in general can always have a positive comment attached.
  • Avoid global tragedies for newsjacking. Events like Fukushima, Hurricane Katrina and other large-scale disasters can be successfully newsjacked, but they require an intense amount of preparation and forethought. An inconsiderate newsjacking attempt comes off as insensitive and harmful, which can destroy and brand’s reputation. The Duracell example above is a good guideline; it provides a critical service to the people affected and doesn’t take advantage of the tragedy.
  • Don’t limit yourself to Twitter. Facebook posts and blog posts are equally viable, if not a better decision altogether. The NFL posted an analysis of the most royal player names when the Royal Baby was trending. It was a successful newsjack; it took current events and involved the brand in some interesting, positive way.

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.

Newsjacking’s Reputation

Newsjackings-Reputation

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.

Written by James Parsons

James Parsons

James is a content marketing and SEO professional who enjoys the challenge of driving sales through blogging while creating awesome and useful content.

Comments

  1. I-Rank-U says:

    Newsjacking has been around since news was around. It’s just how news spreads, I think it’s definitely effective to cover new topics, even if they idea is taken from another source.

    • Blogpros says:

      I agree completely. Just make sure you’re not stepping on any toes or copying word for word. If we see a great topic somewhere else, we try to add a spin on it or add some value to the topic to create a completely different but equally useful piece of content.

    • Blogpros says:

      I agree completely. Just make sure you’re not stepping on any toes or copying word for word. If we see a great topic somewhere else, we try to add a spin on it or add some value to the topic to create a completely different but equally useful piece of content.

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