The Merriam-Webster Twitter account has become known for updates that in some way comment on or address the news of the day. And the brand’s reputation has only improved because of it. Every time they nonchalantly tweet about a word that’s trending because of a story in the news, they’re employing a marketing tactic called newsjacking.
What is Newsjacking?
Newsjacking involves identifying a trending topic and working it into your marketing strategy as a way to gain more attention for your brand. Often it involves capitalizing on something in the broader news or popular culture. Think marketing content that incorporates trends like Animal Crossing or touches on political news like the election. Or sometimes it can be about news specific to your industry that you know your audience will be following, like a merger between two notable brands in your space.
How to Decide Whether to Use Newsjacking
Newsjacking can be a good way to get your audience’s attention if the trend you’re addressing is something already on their mind. But it can also backfire, and often has when brands have employed it thoughtlessly. Before you incorporate newsjacking into your marketing, consider three key questions.
1. Does it make sense in your industry?
This is a question to apply both to the overall idea of whether to use newsjacking and to each specific bit of news you consider doing it with. For the first, consider how trend-driven your audience is. Are they more likely to click on a headline if it touches on something new and topical?
You may also want to consider how long trends tend to stick around in your industry. Fractl recently performed an analysis into how long consumers stay interested in trends across a few main industries.
Is your industry one where trends peak fast, such as home or fitness? If so, consider if the work you put into capitalizing on new trends will pay off long enough to be worth the clicks you may get in the short term.
2. Is your marketing department set up for fast turnaround?
Even if you’re in an industry where trending topics stick around longer, newsjacking still depends on working fast. If your process requires spending days putting together, reviewing, and gaining approval for each piece of content, you’ll be behind the curve by the time you put it out there.
This is a tactic only worth trying if your team can step into gear the moment news breaks and create something worthwhile within a day or two at most.
3. Think about your audience: Will it appeal to them?
Newsjacking is tempting to marketers because it can seem like a way to get more clicks, or improve your search engine optimization (SEO) results by ranking for a trending keyword, even if temporarily. But those aren’t good enough reasons on their own to do something. The main question that should take priority in your decision is: how will our audience feel about it?
If they’ll learn useful information, or find it entertaining to see how you tie industry information in with a popular piece of content, then go for it! If they’re likely to roll their eyes, or think it’s in bad taste, it’s not worth it.
How to Do Newsjacking Right
If you decide that newsjacking does make sense to include in your marketing strategy, doing it well is imperative. Some of the most embarrassing blunders brands make are based on insensitive or offensive newsjacking attempts.
1. Always make sure you fully understand the topic you’re addressing.
Taking time to understand what you’re talking about is always good advice. And it’s especially relevant when you’re attempting newsjacking. One of the risks of rushing to capitalize on a fast-moving trend is not taking time to read up on the topic. Doing that could mean you put out content that treats something serious or dangerous in a way that’s disrespectful.
Years ago, Kenneth Cole became a prime example of this error. Tweets trying to use serious news to sell shoes—first of an uprising in Cairo, then later of U.S. military intervention in Syria— showed that the brand did not understand or care about the issues they were trying to capitalize on.
2. Good or neutral news is a better bet than bad news (with some notable exceptions).
In most cases, newsjacking about a celebrity wedding or TV show finale is going to be a safer bet than something like a natural disaster. Earlier this year, Michelle Messenger Garrett wrote about the tastelessness of brands using Kobe Bryant’s death to pitch stories to journalists.
Again, think about your audience. Is there any chance they’ll find your angle offensive? Garett advises that “common sense should prevail when it comes to newsjacking. If it feels ‘icky,’ don’t do it.”
One exception to addressing negative news is when there’s a trending topic you know your audience is reeling from, and you’re careful to handle it with sensitivity and a focus on helping, rather than selling.
When Covid-19 rocked all our lives this year, brands had to figure out whether to ignore the elephant in the room, or incorporate its effects into their marketing. Trying to ignore it completely risked looking disingenuous or out of touch. However, trying to use it in any way that felt opportunistic would fail to pass the icky test.
You can address upsetting news topics in your marketing, but you have to go back to our key rule: putting your audience first. Make sure you’re thinking about how they’re feeling and what they need. As long as that’s central to how you address negative news stories or trends in your marketing, you should be OK.
3. Only do it when you can find a tie-in with your brand (that’s not a stretch).
If you force out some content that doesn’t make much sense in an attempt to mention a trending topic, people will notice. The world probably doesn’t need your article on what Pokémon GO has to do with good HR practices. (An exception could be if you came up with some compelling connections between the two). If you don’t see a good way to produce something genuinely useful to your audience that involves the trend, you’re better off scrapping the idea rather than forcing it.
4. Don’t stop creating evergreen content.
Newsjacking has its place, but it does not a full marketing strategy make. Weaving in some newsjacking content now and then when you see an opportunity may be good for your results. But don’t prioritize it to the exclusion of the kind of evergreen content that your audience will benefit from for years to come.
Tread Carefully With Newsjacking
Getting people to notice and care about your marketing is an uphill battle. Using something that’s dominating the news or popular consciousness may seem like a good way to cut through the noise. And sometimes it will be, but it could also be a great way to put your foot in your mouth. Make sure any time you address trending topics in your marketing, you do so thoughtfully. And, say it with me this time: think about your audience first.