“In case you’re bored during the storm. 20% OFF EVERYTHING FOR NEXT 36 HOURS. Just Enter SANDYSALE at Checkout.”
The above message was an actual sales promo used by the popular clothing brand American Apparel, tweeted out to the store’s many users as Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc and destruction on the east coast of America. That’s right: The company decided that a major natural disaster was as good a reason as any to launch a big sale. As you might imagine, the move went over poorly with the public, and soon the hashtag #SandySaleFAIL was in use among consumers who found American Apparel’s move to be tacky and tasteless.
What American Apparel was trying to do is what’s known as newsjacking—and believe it or not, this can actually be a great social media strategy. It just so happens that American Apparel did it very badly—but that doesn’t mean your company can’t engage in newsjacking with a little more intelligence and class.
What is Newsjacking?
Whether you care to implement it or not, newsjacking is an important concept for marketers to be aware of. Mot basically, it refers to the practice of capitalizing on the trendiness of a current news story to amplify your own marketing success and reach. The news in question may be a big national, international, cultural, or political event, or it may be something that’s simply newsworthy within your industry. The point is that it’s something people are talking about, so aligning your brand with it in some way can boost the exposure of your own marketing pieces.
Newsjacking may sound reasonable and beneficial on paper, but how can you actually do it—without getting burned the way American Apparel did? We have a few basic tips:
- First, you’ve got to know what’s actually newsworthy right now, so we recommend setting up Google Alerts for terms related to your industry. Social media monitoring tools can also help; scan some Twitter hashtags that are currently trending to see if you can work them into any of your content marketing.
- If there’s a topic that jumps out at you, use it as the focal point or the hook for an article, blog, Facebook post, or tweet that offers valuable insight or perspective. For example, a few weeks ago, the Grammar Chic blog featured an article about the content marketing lessons learned from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The topic was not accidental, and neither was the timing: This blog was posted right when Jimmy’s Tonight Show tenure started, so he was a hot topic on Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, his name routinely makes its way onto lists of trending topics whenever he posts a great new sketch or interview, which means we have plenty of timely opportunities to share that blog entry all over again. Note, though, that while Fallon is the hook we use for the article, the piece is really about content marketing—one of our own core competencies.
- You may not have a business that lends itself to writing about TV shows, political events, or cultural milestones—but there is always industry news you can latch onto. Accountants can always base their content on the next big tax season milestone, on the release of new tax guidelines, or on some other news story involving financial planning or the IRS. Furthermore, if you own a medical practice and there’s some compelling new medical research being reported, that’s a great opportunity to newsjack. The list goes on.
- Finally, we might simply caution marketers and small business owners to use common sense and discernment when it comes to newsjacking potentially contentious or delicate subjects. While there is certainly nothing wrong with courting a little controversy from time to time, it’s never smart to risk portraying your brand as uncaring or insensitive—something that companies like American Apparel learned the hard way. There’s not necessarily any set-in-stone rule here, but we would generally advise against using human plight or suffering as angles for marketing your company.
Newsjacking 101: How to Leverage Current Events in Your Content Marketing