What is newsjacking (definition)? Newsjacking is a PR tactic in which an organisation leverages existing news in order to get attention in the media or on social media. Newsjacking is an English term for “hijacking”.

This concept was first popularized in David Meerman Scott’s 2011 book Newsjacking. But its true breakthrough was when it was named one of the “words-of-the-year” in the 2017 Oxford Dictionary.

It may not be surprising for those working in communication. Companies took ten years to figure out the right mix of social, marketing, conversation management, PR, and before they were comfortable adding newsjacking to their mix, it was a long process.

What are the benefits of newsacking?

Although newsjacking is not mandatory, it can help your brand grow. Binet and Field (2013) state that “share of voice”, is a key factor in brand growth. This means that if your brand is able to gain more voice, you will eventually have a greater market share.

A brand can be built by newsjacking. Your share of voice can be increased through mass media or word of mouth (also known as “buzz”) Newsjacking is a great way to show your stakeholders that you are interested in the outside world. This is good for your brand’s reputation.

What is newsjacking?

It takes a great sense of timing to newsjack. To be successful, an organisation must make its reaction public (via social media or via press releases) as soon as the news spreads quickly and attracts a lot of attention. However, this is before most media outlets have covered it.

Newsjacking case: Lego & Tesla

Oh no! Those Lego bricks Lego. Newsjacking does not have to be difficult, as Lego demonstrated when it successfully hijacked Tesla’s Cybertruck launch.

Game of Thrones & Starbucks

Do you want a latte and that newsjacking? HBO. Starbucks scored $2.3 billion advertising equivalent in the viral story of the Game of Thrones coffee cup. What is the secret to success?

Starbucks managed to sound quite nonchalant (“TBH”) for “to be truthful”, an almost Reddit-like opening), adding a little humor and a Starbucks product to his response. Copywriters were under immense pressure to create the perfect tweet. Although social media is the best way to do newsjacking it can also be used to send a quick e-mail or press release to your regular journalists.

Newsjacking: taxiplan

It is possible to plan newsjacking ahead of time, as you already know what news facts will be coming. People were anxiously waiting for the new Brussels taxi plan. Will the minister for Mobility open the door to Uber or will the taxi monopoly continue? Would Ubers be allowed to enter if they were permitted? This gave rise to the idea of generating attention for Zipcar, a free-floating car-sharing service. Why not allow taxis on the bus lane? The strategy was simple. They sent out a press release informing Zipcar that they had the right to use the bus lanes. The release included a Photoshop image of a bus lane featuring “car sharing”. Le Soir and others picked up the story.

Although we didn’t make 2 billion dollars in media value, it was a low-cost way to raise awareness about a new concept and bring car sharing to the attention to the public. The success factor was almost certain the image that spoke for itself.

Newsjacking is timing, in any case, requires a great sense of timing. Your reaction should be sent at a moment when the news event is clearly gaining traction, but not at a time that has yet broken through. This is because if everyone else has picked up the message already, it’s too late. It’s like trying to catch up on a wave on your board (doesn’t work). You must be on the wave. The following rule of thumb is used in Belgium. When news coverage has been covered by one or more online media but has not yet appeared on TV broadcasts or printed, we aim to newsjack.

Newsjacking demands a “catalogue”, with strategic messages if you don’t know what your organization thinks about certain topics in society, it’s impossible to newsjack. Companies usually have a list of messages for issues. But, trends are rare.

It is a good idea to have regular discussions with the CEO or other C-levels about recent trends and developments. This will help to create business positions around these topics, as well as to document and communicate them (also known as “thought leadership”).

These perspectives are often very useful during newsjacking. Your CEO will be more likely to grant a go if you use messages that have been in circulation before than messages that are new and unique for this occasion.

In quiet moments, create a corporate communication catalog that includes your answers to questions and also identifies trends in your industry. It can be used when you are under a lot of pressure such as during an attempted newsjacking.

Newsjacking involves balancing (and tone) of voice.

It is easy to become distracted by the latest news. Sometimes a little bit of enthusiasm can help convince colleagues. Don’t let your enthusiasm get the better of you and don’t send out newsjacks to everyone without having someone look at them with neutral eyes. You don’t want to be ridiculed but also accused of using tragic events as marketing tools.

3 Suisses made an interesting visual pun on Je Suis Charlie/Je 3Suisses Charlie when it responded to the terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo. As you would expect, the reactions were intense. Stress test your newsjacking.

How to avoid newsjacking

Newsjacking can be a delicate art. Sometimes it is better to let the train pass rather than try to jump on it. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to stop a newsjacking operation.

Newsjacking has a very short turnaround time (approximately 1 to 3 hours). This puts pressure on your organisation. You want something to be approved that is not subject to the normal processes and turnaround times.

If you wish to communicate in certain areas, you might need permission from the C-level management. Organizations can be prone to doubting or pushing back. If your response does not have the desired effect or unwanted effects, it can place you in a difficult situation. You can always evaluate whether it is still worthwhile. It is better to miss an opportunity than to face backlash

If you are unable to catch the wave or notice the topic becoming less relevant than you thought, or the timing isn’t right, you can stop the action. There are more waves to catch.

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