Why You Shouldn’t Newsjack

Newsboy Freddy Doesn't Want to Be Jacked, Man
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I don’t care what David Meerman Scott says.
(If you don’t know, he wrote the book on newsjacking. Literally, wrote the book.)

Thou shalt not newsjack.

Thus have I spake. Before we talk about why you, specifically you — no offense — shouldn’t newsjack, let us first invoke the Internet’s favorite corollary to the Golden Rule. Perhaps, it shall henceforth be known as the Silver Rule.

Mr. Wheaton’s Law

Will Wheaton, famous uber-geek, proud nerd, actor, gamer, speaker, and author, developed his law after long first-hand experience with and for the gaming world.

The Internet has since thanked him for it. It basically states, “Don’t be a jerk.” It’s the Xer’s and Millennials version of Bush Sr.’s call for a “kinder, gentler nation.”

Here’s a YouTube video where he gives the origin story. (Disclaimer: There are swear words.)

Okay, now let’s talk about what newsjacking is.

According to the good folks at Hubspot, it’s”the practice of capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing success.” They recommend it strongly and give a thorough how-to.

It’s all unicorns and rainbows!

But, things can turn ugly.

As a grown-up, you may have noticed in your very own life, how things can turn ugly. The bottom can fall out. The other shoe can drop. Your spouse takes what you said, not what you meant, the worst possible way.

That’s why Content Marketing Institute is a little less breathless and a little more cautionary in their how-to newsjack piece.

They recognize that newsjacking can go horribly, disfiguringly, instantaneously, irrevocably sideways and pear-shaped.

Here’s a hypothetical example. Say you run a children’s toy store and were looking to boost sales of your new shipment of soft, friendly stuffed animals. You would NOT, under any circumstances, choose your hashtag to be #CecilTheLion.

I mean, do you sell to young mothers of small children and to proud grandparents? Or do you sell to pimply-faced teenaged boys, who are probably more mature than that these days anyway?

On the other hand, this is a perfect news item for a snarky, jaded account like CrapTaxidermy to jack with.

When tweets go bad and things go ugly. Really ugly.

Some of the most famous “brand tweet fails,” happened before David Meerman Scott’s book coining the term. Shortly before, in fact. Within the same year. One suspects he saw a gaping-maw of a need and filled it with some instruction and thoughtful guidance.

Kenneth Cole’s Green Spring

There was that one time when Cairo was in a full-on, straight-up, all-hands revolution. They were doing more than throwing tea in the harbor. And, sensing an opportunity (??), the Kenneth Cole team tweeted that all of Cairo was in an uproar because of his new spring collection. Srsly?

Also, possibly, Exhibit #472 as to why you shouldn’t hire interns to do your social media.

Entenmann’s Guilt by Association

In July 2011, the peanut gallery that is Twitter was screaming injustice and disapproval at the not guilty verdict for the mother of a dead two-year-old girl.

Here comes tasty pastry purveyor, Entenmann’s, “surfing the hashtag”(#NotGuilty), and going for the punny. Something about how you shouldn’t worry or feel guilty about indulging your sweet tooth. And your gluten tooth. And your processed food tooth.

Want More Facepalm Moments and Epic Newsjacking Fails?

All you need to do is:

    1. A few facial stretches and neck rolls. Loosen your jaw. Let your tongue relax into the bottom of your mouth.
    2. Take a few deep breaths.
    3. Find your center.
    4. Then Google 9/11 and brand tweets.

You will cringe. You will groan. You will clench and you will eye-roll.

If highly paid marketing execs can get it this wrong…

Well, discretion is the better part of valor. If you’re a beginner, just getting started in social media or content marketing, do yourself a favor and don’t newsjack. Yet.

To pull it off takes timing, judgment, intuition, and ninja skills.
You’ll develop these soon enough, Grasshopper.

Sometimes everything does work out.

Who doesn’t love it when a plan comes together?

To everything there is a purpose, after all.

You probably remember some very, very successful newsjackings. Like that time the lights went out in Georgia and Oreo reminded us,

Or that one time when Pharrell was performing at the #Grammys and some absolute genius at Arby’s gave the world this,

You should note that both of these occasions were very well attended on the interwebs, on the social channels, and particularly on Twitter.

A Word about Social Watching

To give some perspective, I don’t own a TV. I was at home reading a book during the SuperBowl. I got to the end of a chapter and thought, “Well, I guess I’ll see what the chatter is. At least about the ads.”

I ended up “watching” the rest of that game on Twitter. Reading the play call from millions of people tweeting to that hashtag.

Millions of people tweeting to the same hashtag is exactly why Mr. Meerman Scott et. al. say you should newsjack.

So, okay, alright, maybe you can “newsjack.”

It’ll probably be okay if it’s related to the entertainment industry and:

      • No one’s been hurt.
      • No one’s been shamed.
      • No one’s been… Oh whatever, you get it.
      • It’s Wheaton’s Law, right?

If you’re going to cannonball into something FUN that’s trending, run it by your team. Have them run a check on your unconscious biases — your blind spots — and make sure there aren’t bogeyman or pratfalls for all ye who enter there.

Never forget, it’s all fun and games until somebody takes offense online.

Venture the deeper waters and stronger currents, only if you’re a good swimmer.

For example, if your business is impacted and contributes favorably to the #blacklivesmatter movement, then, by all means, join in, speak up, stay woke, be seen, be heard.

But only if:

      • You and your staff are ready and able and willing to participate in the unfolding dialogue around the hashtag.
      • You and your business belong to and serve the niche or community which “owns” the hashtag.
      • You have already established a meaningful commitment to that movement or news item, whatever it may be.

That’s not newsjacking, though. Nah, that’s “doing social.”

That’s being human.
And, as such, you will make mistakes. Therefore, you will make apologies.
And your community will grow and tighten around you because you’re authentic and trustworthy.

In closing, #IStandWithAhmed.

This is my favorite newsjacking ever.

You’ve probably heard about the brilliant kiddo who made a clock and brought it to school to impress his teacher. One thing led to another, like they’ve been doing so very, very often, and he was trotted off to jail.

RE: my earlier point about things getting ugly.

Internet to the rescue

Would Obama, Zuckerberg, Google, Hillary, you, or I ever have heard of a high-school kid who got jailed in the Dallas area without the Internet to boost the signal?

No. No, we wouldn’t.

If I were a jaded cynical bitter adult, I’d say this kid scored a major PR coup and just sealed his future as an exorbitantly paid and pampered computer scientist. I’m not that bitter.

Here’s where we get back to newsjacking.

Millions of people suddenly wondered,

“How *do* you build a clock?”
“What?! It was a digital clock? With circuit boards and servos or whatever?”

You could almost hear millions of heads being scratched across our fair land.

And, as Rick Friesen pointed out to the Father of Newsjacking, David Meerman Scott, the Maker Movement saw a need — all of us headscratchers — and filled it.

Anybody surfing the #IStandWithAhmed tag would have seen informational, educational, helpful, handy tweets, like these.

How cool is that!

A little more serendipity wrung out of what was an ugly moment.


 

Featured image credit: By Lewis Hine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Suzanne Hoenig is a strategist and writer helping small businesses, nonprofits, and private practitioners craft their marketing copy, grow their online and offline community, and navigate the changing tides of social media and digital content marketing.

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