Essential newsjacking tips for PR pros

When attempting to capture a cultural zeitgeist, communicators should take care to be quick, thoughtful—and above all, inoffensive. Consider these insights before jumping in.

Newsjacking can be defined as “injecting your ideas into breaking news.”

Although most PR pros know about the practice and attempt it frequently, many of their efforts fail or get slammed online. Here are some tips on how to take advantage of the news of the moment—as well as ways to avoid offending your audience with tasteless offerings.

What you must do

1. Be timely.

When trying to jump on a story, you must do so before everyone else does. When people are trying to research and learn more about a story, you want your content to reach them first.

No one is trying to get more information on a story that has already passed. News moves quickly, and if you post too late, your audience will have moved on to something else by then. An example of good timing is this tweet by Aldi, a European supermarket that previewed the World Cup match up between Denmark and Australia:

2. Plan ahead if possible.

Though jumping on a breaking news story can be effective, there’s a lot of pressure to come up with an effective message in a short amount of time. If you look ahead at what big news stories will be coming up, such as the Olympics or a royal wedding, you have time to create and edit the perfect message to capture the attention of your audience. A good example is this Coca-Cola tweet, which looked ahead to the birth of the royal baby and created a graphic that was witty and creative to go along with the occasion:

3. Jump on positive messages.

Much of the news today is negative, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get attention when talking about an uplifting story. You want your brand to be seen in a positive light, so it is a good idea to attach it to news that is also positive.

It might be tempting to jump on negative stories since they can be more popular, but this can easily lead to mistakes and leave your brand open to scrutiny.

What to avoid

1. Jumping in on an inappropriate story.

Make sure you are only newsjacking stories or events that your target audience will care about. If you add on to a story that misses the mark, your message will come off as pushy and will leave a bad taste in your audience’s mouth, rather than elevating your brand.

An example of this was @UrbanOutfitters tweet during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The tweet gained so much bad press that it had to be deleted, but it read “this storm blows but free shipping doesn’t!”. Not only did they belittle a storm that killed over 100 people, but they tried to turn it around into a promotion for free shipping.

2. Copying other brands.

You may see a great tweet and think you can spin it to fit your brand and no one will notice—and you might get away with it—but there is a good chance someone will spot the similarity. If someone is looking at content under a popular hashtag and finds your post, they will probably find the post you copied. Remember that every post or tweet has a timestamp and you will be viewed as lazy or uncreative in the eyes of your audience.

What to avoid at all costs

The worst thing you can do is tack on to a sensitive news story to boost your brand’s image. No tweet is worth the risk of offending people and creating a scandal for your brand.

Make your posts are proofread by multiple people. If a couple people look over your content before you post it, you will catch offensive messages and avoid having to post an apology later. Another example (since deleted) is @kennethcole’s tweet “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor they heard our new spring collection is now available online” during the deadly political unraveling in Egypt in 2011. The company faced significant backlash and had to apologize.

What rules would you add, PR Daily readers?

Loren Pickard is an intern at Communiqué PR, currently studying communications at University of Washington. A version of this article originally appeared on the Communiqué PR blog.

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