After the movie came out, I was obsessed with the Titanic.
Leo and Kate fandom aside, my classmates and I needed to know everything about the movie and the ill-fated ship it was based on. Our school library bought every book it could on the topic and there were mile-long waitlists for each of them. It was all we saw on TV, read about in magazines, and talked about during recess -- but of course, that didn't last very long.
A few months later, we moved on to Furbys, then Tamagotchis, Livestrong bracelets...
Fads like these disappeared just as quickly as the rose, but regardless of how long they lasted, they each had their moment in the spotlight and anything even remotely related benefited. Today, this kind of "success by association" is very similar to what we call newsjackingin inbound marketing.
Newsjacking is a concept coined by David Meerman Scott in his book with the same name. In his words, “Newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.”
But more simply put, it means taking something that’s popular and much talked about and using it to bring more attention to you or your business. (Like these brands did with PokémonGo or these did with Star Wars.)
Aligning yourself with trending topics can be extremely beneficial to your brand in building awareness and driving traffic through SEO, but only if you have your finger on the pulse.
When to Newsjack a Story
To newsjack the right way, you need to understand the lifecycle of a news story.
The life of a story can last for days or weeks, or it might only last a few hours. Needless to say, timing is everything.
Here’s how the life of a news story works:
Breaking News: An event happens. News outlets report whatever details they have available to get their stories out as quickly as possible. This is the ideal time to newsbreak.
The Scramble & Excitement: Depending on the impact of the event and the initial hype, journalists scramble to find new information from anywhere they can. This is still a good time to newsbreak if you bring some new insight or spin the story in a way that no one else has.
The Peak: By now, the general public is aware of the story and has heard several spins on the subject matter. If you successfully newsjacked the story, your content will get to ride the wave to the peak.
Old News: All of the possible angles have been exhausted and people have lost interest in the topic. There's no point in trying to newsjack old news.
How Will Newsjacking Help My SEO?
As a story starts to trend, search traffic for keywords related to that story tends to explode. Google features articles about that story at the top of search results and stories get highlighted by Twitter's trending topics.
When you newsjack a story at the right time, you get in before the story peaks and are able to grab attention while it's still building.
Although there will be tough competition for this traffic, if you get in early enough you will get links from other outlets that use your article as a reference. Thus, newsjacking can provide short term and long term SEO benefits.
How to Newsjack a Story
The first thing you need to do is find news to jack. There are always going to be opportunities, but you have to identify them quick enough to ride the wave
If you jump on the story too late, your competitors are likely to beat you to the punch, but worse, the trend is likely to pass.
David Meerman Scott has four simple tips for newsjacking and nailing timing.
Follow journalists and bloggers that cover stories relevant to your industry.
Keep an eye on trending hashtags on Twitter.
Luck -- be in the right place at the right time.
Once you have a system in place to track potential stories, you have to prepare to act quickly.
Newsjacking To-Do List:
Publish a blog post with your take on the story
Tweet about it using the established hashtag
Directly contact journalists who might be interested on Twitter
Hold a live or virtual press conference using Periscope or Facebook Live
Newsjacking 2016 Update
As the internet and social media continue to change how we consume news, our approach to newsjacking has to evolve as well.
In early 2016, Huffington Post published an article where John David interviewed David Meerman Scott to see how his approach to newsjacking has changed in the last few years.
Below are some insights from that interview.
"John P. David (JPD): Has your definition of newsjacking changed since you first coined/started using the term?
David Meerman Scott (DMS): Yes, the definition has changed. When I first invented newsjacking, I focused on the idea of getting your ideas into news stories. My main consideration was to teach the technique of getting you quoted in the stories being written by mainstream media reporters at newspapers, magazines, and in broadcast stories on radio and television.
But as I’ve spoken with hundreds of people who have successfully implemented my ideas, I’ve realized that many of them were generating sales leads, adding new customers, selling products and services, and growing their business — all from newsjacking!
JPD: What is the first step in newsjacking, and what are key factors to success?
DMS: The first step, and the most important one, is to develop a real-time mindset.
But real-time communication is antithetical to the mega-corporate paradigm in which any message should reflect the consensus emerging from an extensive process. That might have worked back when public discourse was essentially a corporate monologue. It surely does not work in the age of social media, round-the-clock news, and newsjacking.
I recommend drawing up a formal mandate—signed off by senior management, the PR department, and the legal department—that sets out rules of engagement in the same way that military commanders are empowered.
This mandate should give select frontline staff the freedom and flexibility to write a blog post or send a media alert when the time is right. That might be late at night or on a weekend or in the middle of a holiday.
To successfully newsjack—or fend off a newsjack—you can’t wait for approval. You just have to do it.
JPD: Are there any downsides to newsjacking?
DMS: Newsjacking is particularly dangerous with any story that has a negative connotation. Whenever you see an opportunity to newsjack a story, give some deep thought about how you have a legitimate tie to it, especially if the story involves death or destruction.
For example, on September 11, 2013, AT&T tweeted an image of a smartphone taking a photo of the site of the World Trade Center in an attempt to generate interest in the AT&T brand. The image, sent from the @ATT Twitter ID, said, “Never Forget.” The negative reaction on Twitter was swift.
For example, @ryanbroderic, with nearly 10,000 followers, replied, “@ATT your cool Photoshop makes the memories of watching my parents cry in front of the television a lot easier to deal with today.” AT&T responded quickly, but the damage was done.
Its tweet, “We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy,” wasn’t enough to prevent more than 50 mainstream media outlets, including ABC News, USA Today, the Washington Post, and Huffington Post from writing about the error in judgment. If a story like the anniversary of the events of 9/11 has negative connotations, it is best to stay away from commenting in public."
3 Big Brand Examples of Newsjacking
All you have to do is scan Twitter and you'll find numerous examples of newsjacking daily. Here are some of our favorites from the last few years.
Denny's Uses Wordplay to Newsjack
Whenever Apple bought Beats headphones for $3 billion, the acquisition made headlines everywhere. Where everyone else saw an amazing success story, Denny's smelled opportunity to grab some of that attention for themselves.
Sure, it didn't change the course of their business, but it did get them a lot of engagement on social media.
Virgin Airlines Toasts to Their Loyal Customers
The Virgin empire, founded by Sir Richard Branson, has always aligned itself with the LGBT community. (Who, by the way, are among the highest spending demographics.)
When the same-sex marriage bill passed in the United States, Virgin newsjacked the story in a way that congratulated those affected by the bill and also garnered extra attention for their brand.
Arby's Seizes Their Lucky Opportunity
Some stories you can anticipate and plan for -- other times you just have to spot your lucky moment and jump on it.
I'm sure you remember when Pharrell showed up to the 2014 Grammy's in his now infamous brown hat. Everyone had their opinion about the artist's fashion choice, but Arby's couldn't help but notice that his new hat looked very similar to their logo.
Pharrell, who's a newsjacking mastermind himself, played the situation perfectly for Arby's with his response.
You don't have to hit a home run every time to benefit from newsjacking, and you certainly shouldn't try to dedicate all of your content marketing efforts to it. This is just another useful trick to have up your sleeve as a savvy marketer.
The opportunities are endless, you just have to keep an eye out.
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