7 Tips for Successful Newsjacking

Current events and social media trends can give your small business big exposure if you know how to leverage them.
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Use current events and social media to your advantage by perfecting the art of newsjacking. (Photo: Michael R Ross/Shutterstock)

When there’s a news story or cultural phenomenon taking the nation by storm, your small business can ride its coattails to get some real attention. The real-time marketing tactic known as known as “newsjacking” can be a great way to get social media views and even media coverage — if you do it right.

Experts weigh in on what to do and what not to do.

Be prepared to react immediately

“When a story breaks, the members of the media and also potential customers are looking for something right now — not tomorrow, not in five hours, but right now.” -David Meerman Scott (Photo: David Meerman Scott)

“When a story breaks, the members of the media and also potential customers are looking for something right now — not tomorrow, not in five hours, but right now.” -David Meerman Scott (Photo: David Meerman Scott)

“What’s most important is to be fast,” said David Meerman Scott, pioneer of the newsjacking movement. “When a story breaks, the members of the media and also potential customers are looking for something right now — not tomorrow, not in five hours, but right now.”

To react quickly to breaking news, you first need to know what’s happening. Scott suggested checking news sources and trending topics on Twitter several times each day. “It doesn’t need to be a large time investment, only two or three minutes at a time to check Google News and local headlines.”

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“The reason Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet was so effective is because the tweet was designed, captioned and approved within minutes,”-Emily Kent (Photo: Emily Kent)

Second, you need to have a person or team in place ready to execute a social media post or article when an opportunity arises.

One recent example of successful newsjacking is Oreo’s tweeted ad, “You can still dunk in the dark,” during the power outage of Super Bowl XLVII, which “won the internet” that night. Of course the company didn’t know a power outage would happen, but it had a dedicated social media response team and situation room ready to take advantage of any newsjacking opportunities that arose during the game.

“The reason Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet was so effective is because the tweet was designed, captioned and approved within minutes,” noted Emily Kent of marketing agency LyncServe.

Jump on (relevant) trending hashtags

Regularly check trending hashtags on social media and look for ways your business might exploit them.

“Keep it simple,” said Kent. “Arby’s had a simple but effective message during the Grammys when they capitalized on the similarity of their logo to Pharrell William’s infamous hat” using the hashtag #GRAMMYs.

Make sure you understand the purpose of the hashtag and that your post is relevant before you pile on.

“Just because a story is getting a lot of engagement does not mean it’s the right story for your business to engage with,” warned Kent. She shared DiGiorno Pizza’s cautionary tale, in which the company misappropriated the #WhyIStayed hashtag and was subsequently slammed for being insensitive to domestic abuse victims.

Name a product in honor of a person or event

Naming a product after a celebrity or in the wake of a big news event is an easy way to jump on the newsjacking bandwagon. Ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s is famous for creating flavors based on current events, such as when the company temporarily renamed its cookie dough ice cream “I Dough, I Dough” in celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage.

Offer a journalist your expertise

Another newsjacking tactic is pitching story ideas to reporters or offering to comment on a story that relates to your area of expertise.

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If you are working with a reporter, make sure to get them the information that they need quickly, says Bob Spoerl of Bear Icebox Communications. (Photo: Bob Spoerl)

First you’ll need to figure out the right reporter to contact.

“Make sure you are efficient and quick to get the reporter what they need in moments of newsjacking,” advised Bob Spoerl, co-founder of boutique PR and content marketing firm Bear Icebox Communications. “Most likely, if you’re inserting a source into a topical, breaking news piece, then the reporter is on a tight deadline seeking a relevant source to add color or unique perspective to her piece.”

Registering as a source on HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is a great way to connect with journalists looking for experts.

Create a clever sign

Something as simple as a clever window sign or sidewalk sign can stop passersby in their tracks and potentially go viral.

Frisch shared this example: “When the Arizona state legislature was considering a bill that would protect business owners who declined to serve gay people in early 2015, a Tucson pizza shop posted a sign in their window saying ‘We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators.’ A photo of the sign went viral, and the pizza shop made hundreds of local and national media outlets, including CNN and the Huffington Post.”

Avoid negative stories

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When newsjacking, make sure to tread lightly in the immediate wake of bad news, says Gary Frisch, founder of Swordfish Communications. (Photo: Gary Frisch)

“It’s very dangerous to newsjack a story that has negative connotations,” said Scott. “Anything involving death, destruction or disease are best avoided.”

Gary Frisch, founder of Swordfish Communications, a New Jersey public relations agency, agreed that newsjacking such a story can be hazardous. “You have to tread lightly so it’s in good taste,” he said. “You don’t want to put out any kind of self-promoting press release, no matter how well intentioned, or how useful the information, in the immediate wake of a disaster or bad news.”

Be willing to wait

If a new event comes along that isn’t right for your business, no matter how powerful the story, be willing to take a pass.

“Before you jump headfirst, make sure it is a good fit,” said Spoerl. “While it may be tempting to capitalize on newsjacking for the soonest-to-publish nature of this type of media, be careful. Good things sometimes really do come to those who wait.”

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