The news cycle moves fast, and journalists and editors have to scramble to keep up and make their stories to stand out. From a marketing perspective, this presents a golden opportunity for your organization to get free publicity by using a practice called newsjacking.
Newsjacking has the power to propel your business to the forefront of public discourse. And it can be inexpensive, too.
What is Newsjacking?
Newsjacking is when you capitalize on a current news item by interjecting your business into the story with a relevant quote, observation or commentary.
The term newsjacking was popularized in 2011 by marketing expert David Meerman Scott in his book, Newsjacking. It’s a combination of the words “news” and “hijacking”, because the practice sees marketers and PR professionals piggyback on breaking news stories to obtain visibility for their brands.
Newsjacking isn’t about trying to sell the media on some survey you’ve conducted or get them to cover your latest product launch.
Rather, newsjacking is about riding the coattails of an existing viral story to bolster your own presence before the buzz dies down. In other words, you hop on board a story currently in the news cycle.
At its core, newsjacking is about positioning your brand, yourself or someone in your company as a valuable resource to add insights or a different angle to a story getting lots of attention already.
How Do You Use Newsjacking?
Three of the most effective newsjacking methods are to:
- Get your brand quoted or mentioned in a news story by capitalizing on the desire of news outlets to build on a hot news item. In other words, you are looking to be cited as a credible expert source. For this you will need to reach out to editors or journalists offering to give timely insights.
- Add commentary on social media platforms by producing witty responses to or follow-up content such as a humorous image inspired by a buzzworthy story. You often see this on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
- Publish a newsjacking post on your company blog weighing in on the news item, and then share that on social media.
Newsjacking might sound daunting, but it’s something any content marketer or business owner can do.
It starts with being well-informed. Then you must act quickly while the story is still in the news cycle.
15 Tips and Mistakes to Avoid
Newsjacking can be a fantastic way of getting your brand publicity, attention and in the news. But you can make mistakes if you are not careful.
That’s why we’ve assembled the following 15 tips and mistakes to avoid, to steer you right.
1. Be Crystal Clear on Your Audience
It seems self-evident, but this point is often overlooked in small businesses. Be clear on exactly who you’re trying to reach. Otherwise, how do you know what sort of media outlets to approach, or stories to attempt newsjacking with?
Long before you get started newsjacking, create a snapshot of your target audience. What are their demographics? What are their interests? What sort of media do they consume and what news outlets are they likely to visit? What social platforms do they use? Creating customer personas like this can help organize your thinking of when, where and how to do newsjacking.
2. Monitor the News
Newsjacking requires you to be on top of what’s going on, the controversies and the news stories making headlines. Then you will know exactly when to strike.
- Keep tabs on social networks — often the hottest news appears there first. Twitter is especially good because its format is ideal for spotting news headlines, it has an excellent search feature, and it tracks trending topics. And lots of journalists hang out on Twitter!
- Set up Google Alerts for keywords and phrases associated with your brand or industry.
- Check RSS feeds and news sites.
- Use a monitoring tool. SourceBottle is one resource. Cision has a paid monitoring tool for agencies and enterprises. It also owns HARO and ProfNet where journalists may be looking for sources. The latter two tools are suitable for small businesses, but may or may not be timely enough for newsjacking — it depends on the issue.
3. Be Ultra Quick
Newsjacking is a game of speed. Big news breaks extremely fast. Media outlets can be desperate for analysis to give a unique take or spin to their particular story. If you want your analysis or social media posts to gain traction, you’ve got to respond within a few hours or at most a day or two. If not, you’ll get lost in a sea of endless stories and social media updates that got there first.
Exception: If a lesson is evergreen then it can be leveraged days, weeks or months later. Tech entrepreneur Larry Kim did this effectively, by commenting on a viral video of an out-of-control beverage cart at an airport several weeks after the video first went the rounds. Notice how he tied it to a timeless piece of advice:
4. Don’t Be Boring
Have a good angle for the story you want to target. Be critical, be contrarian, be opinionated. Take a stance that will make you stand out. Above all, don’t be bland.
5. Anticipate Unasked Questions
Newsjacking offers well-informed business owners an opportunity to answer crucial industry questions and show off expertise. Journalists aren’t experts on every topic under the sun. So when a story breaks, they are looking for resources to help contextualize it. Think of the sort of questions an industry outsider may have. Better yet, think of issues the public wouldn’t likely know about. “Everyone is talking about X but the real issue is the Z problem it gives rise to ….” That’s how you provide a unique take.
6. Don’t Be Reckless – Words Matter
The swift nature of newsjacking makes it easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and commit an unforced error. Think of all sides of your message before you speak or fire off snarky social media content. Who among your target audience might be offended? Will you hurt your brand by using a too-colorful word that disparages others? Will you offend a religious group? Is the issue so politically charged that you’re bound to alienate half of your audience no matter which side you take? There’s a fine line between taking a stance and making yourself a target of outrage.
7. Avoid Death and Destruction
Unless it’s 100% relevant to your business or industry, you should do your best to avoid newsjacking stories relating to deaths, disasters or destruction. Kenneth Cole found that out the hard way when joking about protests in Egypt, sparking an outcry about his insensitivity. Not only is awkward humor a terrible idea, but even clumsy attempts at sympathy may be misinterpreted as efforts to profit from a tragedy. No matter what you say in these instances, you’re likely to offend people — so do yourself a favor and leave these stories alone.
8. Stay On-Brand
When you’re newsjacking, keep all content on-brand. Train your people what this means. If you’ve got staff or contractors monitoring social media, they may be tempted to fire off witty retorts to news items. But the words and voice they use must be consistent with your brand personality. Snarky quips or judgmental sarcasm may not be what you want your brand to represent.
Brands have found great success piggybacking big events when they stay on-brand. Several years back the power went out during the Super Bowl. Oreos produced a quick Twitter graphic with an Oreo cookie saying “you can still dunk in the dark.” The content not only was timely, it represented the brand authentically and become the hit message of the big game. See below.
9. Don’t Abuse Hashtags
Ever notice how people use hashtags on Twitter, Instagram and other platforms for newsjacking? They pick a trending hashtag and add their own commentary. It’s a good technique, but don’t risk getting branded as a spammer by using hashtags that are unrelated to your content or industry just to get attention. It comes off as desperate and lame.
10. Blog, Blog, Blog
Newsjacking isn’t just about public relations — it also reinforces your content marketing. If you maintain a blog on your company website, fire out a concise but meaningful post relating to a breaking news story. Do it fast! Then share it everywhere on social media with a few well placed words and a hashtag. If your analysis is sharp and unique, you might also catch the eye of journalists or editors who seek out your expertise for a quote or link to your analysis.
11. Keep It Super Simple
Some of the most effective examples of newsjacking are the most simple. A few lines from the CEO with a well-placed keyword or hashtag may be all it takes to get your content noticed and shared. If you’re blogging about a story, don’t waste 200 words trying to explain it. Link to its primary source and move rapidly into a concise analysis.
12. Don’t Wait to Assemble Media Contacts
When newsjacking you need to hit the ground running. For public relations purposes you should already have a media contact list of reporters, bloggers and outlets covering your industry or target market. If you don’t have one, start developing it now — before you need it. Media on that list are the first to contact.
PR pros use media matching services like Muck Rack and The Kiti to research journalists. But DIYers can check local newspapers for journalist names, examine trade publications and niche websites that cover their industry, and take note of local television reporters — to assemble their own list.
Build relationships with media ahead of time if possible. How do you build relationships? Retweet journalists’ and bloggers’ material regularly on Twitter and tag them (@them) so they notice you. Write blog posts and mention the writer’s name and outlet in your stories so the mentions show up in the Google Alerts they use to monitor themselves (yes, journalists do this!). Then when you want to jump in with commentary they are more likely to recognize you.
13. Don’t Overlook Influencers
The line between social media influencers, bloggers and journalists is blurring.
Today, newsjacking isn’t just about getting media pickup. It’s also about social media amplification of content.
Therefore, you should have a list of social media influencers and build relationships with them ahead of time. When you really need shares, likes and retweets, you can approach them — but only if you are sometimes a giver, not just a taker. Give their social updates some love and then when you need to get traction for your social update they may be more inclined to return the favor.
14. Use an Obvious Subject Line
A media outreach email is no time to be cutesy. If a reporter is rushing to meet deadline, he or she does not have time to guess what you mean. Be clear.
Here is an actual subject line received here at Small Business Trends with a newjacking pitch: “Costco Thanksgiving Glitches – expert commentary.” This one is good because it has two essential pieces of information in just five words. (1) It identifies the news issue of the moment. (2) It mentions expert commentary, which is what you have to offer. Editors and journalists working on a follow-on story will open that email fast!
15. Don’t Be Afraid to Recycle
One common misconception about newsjacking is that content must always be completely fresh. So long as it’s a relevant resource, there is nothing wrong with recycling bits and pieces of old content to re-frame around breaking stories. For example, if you spoke at an event last year on the very issue some poor company is getting hammered about today in the headlines, why not pull out the YouTube video of your session, set the player to start on a memorable quote, and share it with the trending hashtag?
The above 15 tips and mistakes to avoid are by no means exhaustive.
Newsjacking is a fickle beast, and it works differently for everyone. That’s why you should be prepared to try various methods. Use content or website analytics or social media engagement metrics to measure the response.
Don’t be discouraged if your first efforts fail to pan out. It could be that the media you reached out to simply decided not to cover the story or already had decided on a different angle. Keep experimenting and there’s no reason newsjacking can’t turn into a part of your content marketing, social media and public relations mix.
Newsjacking Photo via Shutterstock