How Not to Newsjack

Caitlin Genoe - 21/01/2016 - 3 mins read - Community Management

Newsjacking is a term that has been around for years now, and it is still as relevant today as ever. Just last week, the world mourned the passing of icon David Bowie. Fans took to social media to pay their respects and they were not alone. Plenty of brands joined in, some were successful in their newsjacking, while others found themselves in hot water. Unfortunately for Crocs, their attempt came across as a thinly veiled opportunity for product placement.

When news first breaks, there is a massive pressure for brands to be one of the first to newsjack. It can often be a great chance to use real time marketing and gain coverage for your brand. To stay relevant and fresh brands have to be quick off the mark, which can mean having little time to think campaigns through. At best, content can come across as cheesy or crass, at worst it can be highly inappropriate and even offensive. A brand’s public image can change (at least for a short while) in the time it takes to tweet. Crocs later deleted the tweet, but like everything on the internet, it lives forever.

With this in mind, here is how not to newsjack:

No tact and no taste

The content Crocs created was only loosely related to Bowie’s death. The use of a stock image of their product and Bowie’s signature lightning bolt could be seen as unimaginative. It sparked a strong response on Twitter, with some finding the blatant advertising distasteful.

There is a lack of tact and taste with this approach. It takes away from the real matter at hand and turns attention to a product. It would be advisable for brands to steer clear of celebrity death and other tragic events all together. However, some do get it right. Some major fashion houses newsjacking came across as a tasteful tribute.

Insensitive and irrelevant

If brands do choose to use tragic events as a newsjacking opportunity, they must remain sensitive. Urban Outfitters faced backlash in 2012 with their tweets during Hurricane Sandy, an event which caused death and destruction. One tweet in particular promoted a free shipping offer. The use of hashtags ‘#ALLSOGGY’ and ‘#frankenstorm’ were particularly insensitive. Furthermore, the irrelevance of the content added to the negativity of this tweet – the brand were using a tragic event to promote free shipping. It’s unsurprising Twitter users found it shameless.

Urban Outfitters were not alone, Gap were another clothing brand who joined in on the newsjacking. While Gap did urge people to stay safe, their concern was disregarded by the promotion of online shopping.

Brands newsjacking tragic events can always be risky. That being said, brands or products that are relevant to the subject have a great opportunity through newsjacking. During Hurricane Sandy The Red Cross created and promoted an App which offered help, advice and a check-in service. They took this newsjacking opportunity to promote the app and the organisation itself for all the right reasons.

When newsjacking tragic events brands should keep this in mind - tact, taste and sensitivity. If the brand or product is utterly irrelevant, it is safer to stay away and stick to light hearted news, just as Aldi did in 2015 by newsjacking Madonna’s fall at the Brits. Aldi already have a reputation for humour and managed to make their product relevant.

If you want more advice for real-time social media marketing, find it here in Kirsty’s blog.

Be quick, but be clever – happy newsjacking!

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