5 Pitfalls to Avoid While Newsjacking

waffle-house-belgium-twitterAnyone remember this famous tweet? It happened during Team USA’s run in the World Cup. As you can tell, Waffle House got a little notoriety from that soccer success as well. This act of genius, according to a term coined by the great David Meerman Scott, falls into the “Newsjacking” category.

It has become a social media phenomenon that brands and people alike try to leverage for their benefit…with varying degrees of success.

To summarize, newsjacking is seeing a runaway story or a widely followed trend, riding on its coat-tails in the name of ‘brand awareness,’ and subtly exploiting that story or trend hoping to score exposure. It’s like photobombing an online conversation, and it works well if done properly. Then again, if it doesn’t, your brand will suffer.

Here is the latest 5 things list for your edification…

Newsjacking1. Tragedy Doesn’t Sell. From Kenneth Cole trying to sell shoes because people were dying in Cairo to the brands that thought a headline like “This storm blows but free shipping is a breeze” will help sell things during Hurricane Sandy, every social media and PR person across this country should know that there is nothing cute about death. This is a stain of #PRFail that most brands never wipe away because they are inexorably linked with stupidity moving forward. That’s not a newsjacking tragedy because your brand isn’t that important. Newsjacking is all about real-time decision making, but then again, it’s also about using good judgment — something that these (possibly former) brand managers show is clearly in limited supply. (PHOTO H/T: CyberAlert)


dunk in the dark2. Real Time Means Now. The art of newsjacking is the wit to take advantage of a trend or story for your brand. The science of it is timing, as in right before the trend or story gets overwhelming. That’s when people lose interest, get tiredhead, or just tune out. When the buzz is initially lifting, that’s the time to move. One the most repeated examples of quick-witted responses at the ready is Oreo and their little newsjacking stunt during the Super Bowl in 2013, known as the #BlackoutBowl. Someone had an idea, so social media and graphic designers got together and did this. The rest is folklore and delicious history. The bottom line went up. Virality was created. And all because someone didn’t hesitate to make a jokey-joke about a bad situation during a football game. Had that happened 15 minutes later? Meh. Pass the Chips Ahoy.


spaghettios3. Newsjacking Involves Understanding. The mere idea of newsjacking is based on disruption. While everyone is talking about one thing causing the buzz or the trend, you show up, raise a flag, and make people collectively say “Squirrel!” You can disrupt any conversation with a scream among loud voices or with a fart in church. Volume doesn’t matter, understanding does. Take patriotism. Chef Boyardee tried showing his pride and got spanked in the process all because of misunderstanding. It was Pearl Harbor, and while the sentiment was right, the mascot was all wrong. Soldiers dying in the face of a Japanese bum rush is not cause for a smiling Spaghettio, as Twitter quickly demonstrated. Be patriotic in times of remembrance, just be mindful of why you are remembering in the first place.


ben and jerry4. It’s Not Part of Any Campaign. That’s the thing about newsjacking — it involves spur-of-the-moment responses. You can’t plan for newsjacking; you happen to be a part of it. How nimble is your PR or social media team? You get to put that flexibility to the test during attempts at newsjacking. I became a fan for life of Ben & Jerry’s because of a well-timed tweet that no one saw coming. You know the story: Colorado legalizes weed and the state gets a case of the munchies. Someone had an epiphany, took a great picture of a capsized carton of ice cream, and coupled it with “reports of stores selling out of Ben & Jerry’s in Colorado.” This, coming from a brand dedicating a flavor after Deadhead Jerry Garcia, come on! Brilliant, and definitely, brand-friendly.


Denny's5. Newsjacking Cuts Against the Brand’s Grain. If you are known for saying or doing outlandish stuff, it is difficult to trump yourself. If your brand has a somewhat conservative voice, you are poised for a great opportunity in newsjacking. Do you understand your audience? Do you relate to them well? Take that brand loyalty out for a spin and see what happens. When you think of Denny’s, you think of branded breakfasts and some cheesy advertising. You wouldn’t typically think about college football, which is why this tweet worked. Earlier this year, Auburn lost the national championship in heartbreaking fashion. So, who better than Denny’s to offer a shoulder to cry on? Yet, there it is — a yellow brick road from the Rose Bowl to any one of 47 locations to cry in a fresh batch of Moons Over My Hammy. It worked.