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“Newsjacking:” should you do it and how to do it

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Surely, you have been tempted to jump onto the latest news story to grab attention for your brand. Heck, there’s a whole well-worn wagon path followed for years by proponents of what has come to be called “Newsjacking,” by author David Meerman Scott among others. I’m not a fan of the term itself, as it brings to mind “hijacking,” and if newsjacking in PR should avoid one thing, it’s an unwanted takeover of something that does not belong to you. 

Conceding that the term is in regular use, I prefer to concentrate on how to do it in a way that benefits your healthcare brand and does justice to the story. With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 happening as I write this, it is more important than ever to be sensitive to newsjack properly.

From my own experience, here are some Do’s and Don’ts of Newsjacking, written with healthcare communications pros in mind:

DON’T: Jump in where you have no business being. You may be passionate about a controversial item in the news, but does your brand need to comment on it? Just because the world’s attention is on the latest tragedy or seismic world event does not mean you automatically have something to say. A company can rightly be knocked for at best speaking out of turn and at worst being insensitive and offensive (for example, civil unrest is no place to promote your shoes, and perhaps using Veteran’s Day to promote your book that is not about Veterans is unwise).

DO: Be relevant; if your CEO is known for embracing a cause, or the company is backing a charity that is relevant, go ahead. If your product is relevant to the news, perhaps the event poses a problem that you can help solve, you may proceed, if cautiously.

DO: Be sensitive; that said, newsjacking isn’t necessarily about sales. Promoting your product rather than your expertise is very likely not appropriate. Be sure you are speaking to the cause, and you are helping. 

DO: Be timely; sometimes reacting in real time to an event can get attention for a brand. It may be an overused example, but the Dunk in the Dark Tweets from Oreo during the Superbowl blackout several years ago, was a great example of a brand having the right content and the right social media manager at the right time. It helps that a sporting event is hardly controversial, and the stadium blackout was not the kind of mishap that required extra sensitivity.

DON’T: Be a copycat; after Oreo’s success, many brands thought they could force the same success. This was a matter of wonderful timing that cannot be duplicated by brute force, so don’t do it. In a similar vein, a simple message of support may not always be welcome, even if “Everyone is doing it.” Actions behind messages mean more, whether it’s showing solidarity for victims of a tragedy, or even celebrating a holiday.

In the end, newsjacking is about crashing a party you might not have an invite to; the temptation to do good should result in actually being good. Otherwise, you can do damage to your brand rather than lift it. 



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