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Jumping on the bandwagon: How to newsjack in content marketing

Donald Trump. Usain Bolt. Brexit. Pokemon Go. US election results. The 2016 Olympics.

According to Google, these were some of the most searched-for topics over the last year. These trending searches have all been huge news stories over the last 12 months, and for content marketers, they provide a valuable tool for increasing traffic and boosting brand awareness.

This dark art is known as ‘newsjacking’ and in this article we’ll look at how businesses of all shapes and sizes can do it.

What is newsjacking?

Newsjacking is exactly what it sounds like. By piggybacking off the biggest and most-searched stories of the day, brands and businesses can get their message out to a much wider audience. The term was first popularised by David Meerman Scott in his book Newsjacking: How to Inject your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage, and since then has grown to be a widely used industry term.

Here’s how HubSpot describes the phenomenon:

“Basically, news is breaking every second in this crazy world of ours, and there’s a point at which marketers have a unique opportunity to ride the popularity wave of a breaking story to benefit their business in some way.”

Even if the word newsjacking is foreign to you, we’ve all seen it online. From ‘10 accounting lessons from Usain Bolt’s Olympic training regime’ to “What will Brexit mean for international plastics manufacturing?’

Let’s take a look at some effective uses of newsjacking.

Examples of newsjacking in content marketing

Let’s start with a recent example – one from our very own Castleford blog. We wrote about the furore surrounding Kendall Jenner’s poorly-thought-out Pepsi commercial, a major news story at the time, and one that we could directly relate to our own work in content creation and social promotion.

Because there was so much attention focused on the topic, we were able to whip up a piece of content that could engage with the story in real time, feeding into and pulling from the discussions playing out online as to whether or not the commercial was an insensitive misstep (It totally was).

If done correctly, newsjacking has all sorts of benefits. A few of these include improving SEO, driving targeted traffic with a higher potential to turn into leads or sales, and ensuring your brand stays at the cutting edge of what’s going on in the industry. However, not every industry generates stories as ‘buzzworthy’ as the world of marketing.

If you can make ‘What Pokemon Go can teach us about the future of window glazing’ a riveting read that provides value to your customers without sacrificing quality for the sake of the angle, you deserve the benefits that newsjacking provides.

We were able to jump on the Pepsi trend because it’s related to what we do as marketers, but does this mean other companies simply can’t newsjack?

Not at all!

The great thing about newsjacking is that the story you hijack doesn’t have to be directly (or even loosely) related to your product or service. If you can make ‘What Pokemon Go can teach us about the future of window glazing’ a riveting read that provides value to your customers without sacrificing quality for the sake of the angle, you deserve the benefits that newsjacking provides.

For an example of newsjacking a completely unrelated story, let’s take a look at one of the simplest, but most wildly successful news hijackings in recent years – Oreo at the 2013 Superbowl.

If Oreo was limited to only newsjacking stories related to the cookie industry, it’s fair to say the company’s marketing department wouldn’t have much to work with. Instead, the brand saw an opportunity to pounce on a developing story, taking advantage of the powercut that disrupted the superbowl for more than half an hour to post the following tweet.

With over 10,000 retweets in the first hour of being posted, Oreo’s newsjack was the marketing story of the Superbowl – ironic considering how many millions of dollars had been spent by companies (including Oreo) on their half-time adverts.

“Although Oreo had no direct correlation to the event, the brand still managed to inspire people to munch on their delicious product through some witty newsjacking,” explains HubSpot.

How-to: Newsjacking

Looking at these examples, there are a few key components that we can point to as the basics of successful newsjacking.

The first and most important of these is to strike while the iron is hot. Oreo’s tweet got such a great reaction because it was directly engaging with a situation as it played out. Similarly, if we were to publish an article about Kendall Jenner and Pepsi today, we probably wouldn’t get much of a response. If you’re planning to newsjack a story, don’t spend days planning the perfect article and lose your chance. Get your content out there as soon as possible. To stay on top of what’s hot and what’s not, Google Trends is a great tool that will show you exactly what people are searching.

News results on Google Trends

Secondly, don’t get so caught up in the thrill of jumping on to a trending bandwagon that you forget to differentiate your content from everything else out there. If it’s a big story, you won’t be the only business trying to horn in on the action, so any way that you can make your content stand out (be it infographics, first-hand information or interview material) is a great benefit.

Finally, a couple of warnings. Don’t get so caught up in commenting on a story that you forget to market your product or service. It’s easy to engage with a story online, but twisting a topic to your advantage is a much tougher, but infinitely more valuable task. After all, there’s no point attracting screeds of visitors to your site if they have zero chance of becoming customers – even if it’s down the track.

Similarly, consider the story before you hijack it. There are unfortunately a lot of examples of newsjacking that have backfired, because brands have been so caught up in the marketing side of things they forgot to think about the story itself. Fortunately, most of these could have been easily avoided simply by thinking. Don’t use a natural disaster or memorial event as an opportunity to sell your product, and you’ll be fine!

Happy newsjacking!

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