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Navigating Newsjacking with Precision: A Media Monitoring Approach

Using media monitoring to track your company’s mentions is just scratching the surface of how tools can be used to augment your PR efforts.

Your monitoring program is a powerful partner in your PR and communications efforts and can help you quickly identify opportunities to craft time-sensitive pitches that lead to more coverage. This technique is sometimes called newsjacking.

What is ‘newsjacking’?

Newsjacking’s root word is based on “hijacking”—to commandeer, or “seize arbitrarily.” Essentially, to engage in newsjacking is to use a prominent news story as a means to advance your own issue or narrative.

Put in even more basic terms, newsjacking is paying attention to current events, and linking those to advance your stories. The objective is to ride the coattails of a trending or viral story, garnering attention for your idea, issue, product, or service.

While the term newsjacking might have a somewhat derogatory connotation, it’s really just a catchy term for a standard PR practice—if it is done right. Paying attention to what is going on in the world and finding the logical connections between a story that is trending and a company’s individual efforts isn’t unusual at all.

Getting newsjacking right

Finding the right story to newsjack, and then nailing both the timing and the tone are essential for successful newsjacking. If any of these three elements is out of whack, a brand can end up with either a flop (a bummer but not a big deal) or potentially causing a crisis.

One of the most famous examples of brilliantly executed newsjacking is now a decade old and yet is still relevant as a case study. When a power outage caused the lights to go out in the stadium during Super Bowl XLVIII, Nabisco’s Oreo cookies quickly turned around a social media ad that read “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” The text was accompanied by a simple image of an Oreo cookie with the background shaded from light to dark. It’s simple, clever, funny, and on-message.

Uncovering the right story to news jack requires ongoing monitoring, and a solid understanding of what messaging a brand wants to reinforce. It also demands quick thinking and an impeccable sense of timing and an intuitive sense of what is appropriate to comment on (and what is not).

How to monitor trends for newsjacking

Because newsjacking is so dependent on breaking news, viral content, and trends, it can be challenging to plan for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some groundwork done ahead of time. Here are some tips and suggestions for monitoring, so that you’ll be ready when the right story surfaces:

  • Monitor for content relevant to your brand – stories that make headlines that are about your industry have the clearest link for effective newsjacking, so monitoring this content makes sense. Look for stories that allow you to position messaging in a positive or subtle way.
  • But, also keep an eye on what’s trending generally – As the Oreo cookie example shows, a news item doesn’t have to be about a specific industry to be a compelling topic to newsjack.
  • Brainstorm ahead of time – While it’s unlikely that you’ll know ahead of time exactly what news item might be worth using as a springboard, doing some work ahead of time will help “train” the PR team to think in a “newsjacking-relevant” way. Use either monitoring keyword results or current trending topics from a social platform and bounce around some ideas. They will not likely be ready for prime time, but just doing the work can uncover good ideas…and make the team cognizant of what things are best avoided. It’s good training.
  • Review your approvals process – This is incredibly important, due to how time-sensitive newsjacking is. If you’re part of a brand with a large geographical footprint and the person responsible for social channel post approvals is several time zones away, it’s better to figure out the process now—and not when you’re trying to act on a hot news item.

When NOT to news jack

The use of newsjacking is heavily dependent on finding logical, clear connections between the ideas you are trying to promote and trending stories.

That does not mean that every trending story is appropriate to newsjack. Serious crises, war, famine, or really any story of human or animal suffering is inappropriate to try and leverage for coverage.

Newsjacking on serious stories such as these is tacky and wrong. Under a best-case scenario, a brand that attempts to do so can expect to be publicly scolded. A worst-case scenario could see real damage to trust in the brand and potentially even a self-inflicted crisis.

Is newsjacking right for your brand?

Newsjacking isn’t a perfect fit for every organization. There are some that either because of corporate culture, regulatory oversight, or other considerations for which it might not be a good fit—even if the PR team is spot-on in tone and identifying the right story.

If you know that regardless of how hard you may push for fast approvals that social content needs to go through a standard process that takes days (with the only exception being crisis communications), newsjacking might not be a good fit. Because timing is such a critical element, newsjacking on days-old content can look contrived and inauthentic.

Patience and practice

The best newsjacking looks clever and effortless, but in reality, it takes a lot of effort. It’s like that one friend who makes throwing a dinner party look easy—when we all know there’s a ton of work that happens behind the scenes to pull off a successful event.

You’ll need patience to find the right story, and you should practice so that when the right topic does present itself, you’ll be ready. Monitoring trending topics, getting the approvals process in place, and practicing are all part of creating successful and compelling newsjacking content.

Speak with one of our experienced consultants about your media monitoring and communications evaluation today.