Search engine optimization is about more than just maximizing keyword use.
Staying topical – and exercising a degree of social awareness while you’re at it – is one of the best ways to generate hits on a page.
Sure, when it’s done poorly it can become a social media gaffe, but when it’s done well it can net you a ton of traffic in a very short amount of time.
With that in mind, here’s an introduction to the method of content marketing and search engine optimization known as “newsjacking.”
What Is Newsjacking?
Newsjacking is taking a brand, product, or service and wrapping it up in a current topic or trend that people are talking about.
As a positive example, think of this commercial advertising tourism in Las Vegas with a lesbian couple.
And as a negative example, think back to the backlash surrounding this Pepsi ad.
Who Can Newsjack?
Newsjacking works whether you’re looking to optimize a community library’s search engine results, trying to sell a high-end brand name product, or get more hits on an Etsy page.
It can generate traffic on anything from a personal Redbubble store page to a massive ad campaign by a Nabisco subsidiary.
If you’re making content online, you can engage in newsjacking.
What Are The Benefits Of Newsjacking?
Whether you’re pitching newsjacking to a room full of investors or considering doing it yourself, here are some of the things it can bring to a business.
However, it’s important to note that a lot of these things only turn into long-term benefits if the newsjacking is done well.
As Keurig found out when it was made public that the company had decided to pull its ads from Sean Hannity’s show, piggybacking off of breaking news certainly generates publicity.
The product doesn’t even have to be good, nor does there have to be any real statement made about brand values; the appearance of a statement is enough to get media coverage.
Improve Brand Recognition
When a brand ties itself to a certain part of the day’s narrative, people who are interested in that narrative will look up that brand while they’re at it.
If they support what the brand is appearing to show support for, then they’re more likely to “vote with their wallets” and invest in the brand’s products.
On top of that, if a customer’s first exposure to that brand is a positive one, they’re more likely to keep buying in over time.
Find New Audiences
Exposure to people who might not have known about your product otherwise has always been a benefit of content marketing in general, but market saturation has made this harder than ever.
Standing out among the crowd and rising above the white noise of other ads–to the point that the ad itself can be considered true content–is a brand awareness challenge that everyone faces.
The most important thing that a well-crafted newsjacking strategy can bring to the table in this regard is the human element.
Of course, newsjacking doesn’t have to be done through a massive marketing campaign.
Sometimes it’s as simple as publicly “leaking” an internal response to allegations at another company, or even throwing together a few rainbow shirts.
Even a token effort is still a step towards getting your brand out there and having it associated with positive ideas.
For some, however, the biggest benefit of newsjacking is getting a brand tied to a very specific set of ideas or beliefs.
Appealing to a niche and establishing a dedicated base is one of the best ways to gain brand loyalty in the long term.
There are even studies to show that millennial brand loyalty is often driven by politics, which is far easier to appeal to than the boomer demographic.
Is Newsjacking Worth It?
While there is still some debate on the topic, there is definitely a measurable increase in the number of followers a brand has on Twitter after even a negative instance of newsjacking.
Positive instances, in contrast, nearly double that increase.
Newsjacking, while widely considered to be a marketing stunt when it’s poorly handled enough to be noticed, is still the kind of thing that can integrate a brand into an ongoing conversation.
And even when the attempt itself is flubbed, an apology afterward can give the appearance of a brand listening to consumers.
Entire guides exist online that are tailored to that very purpose.
Tailoring a brand’s image:
When done well, successful newsjacking can be the thing that pushes your brand into the spotlight for key demographics.
Newsjacking today takes the place of things like brand jingles and mascots from back in the day, giving consumers something to care about that they can tie to the product.
These days, a lot of revenue is generated through traffic and ads.
It’s starting to get to the point where selling ad space and consumer data is more lucrative than selling the product itself.
This makes search engine optimization methods like newsjacking all the more valuable, even to sites that aren’t product-oriented.
Taking advantage of psychology:
Human beings are masters of associative thinking, which means we can subconsciously connect one concept to another quickly.
This associative thinking is also the root of most biases, and for marketing purposes, it’s a vitally important tool to keep in mind.
Demonstrating social awareness:
By keeping up to date with breaking news and showing that your brand is doing so, you show that your brand isn’t stuck in the past.
For an increasingly jaded and socially aware consumer base, this can be like a breath of fresh air piped in straight from their social media channels.
Boosting social media engagement:
Whether for good or for ill, nothing tears people away from doom scrolling quite like a hot take that they just have to respond to.
And with the interconnected nature of the internet, that hot take is sure to be screenshotted and shared on other platforms, further increasing awareness and engagement.
Doesn’t last long:
The length of time that a brand has to respond to a breaking news story is not only short but also wildly variable.
You don’t have long to put together a post, run it by PR, and then get it into public view before the topic at hand loses relevancy.
Worse yet, you often don’t know how long you even have to do all this.
Easy to flub:
Authors use sensitivity readers for a reason.
Everyone in the chain of command who’s involved in putting together a new marketing strategy has biases, and those biases can blind them to offensive stereotypes.
Mistakes are made constantly in the realm of newsjacking, many of which seem like great ideas on the surface.
Opening up the floodgates to criticism:
Boycotts may be fleeting annoyances for larger companies, but for a smaller brand, it can be a death sentence.
Concerned right-leaning parents and boomers are especially hard to please, but catering to them risks completely alienating the millennial market.
Accidentally appealing to the wrong people:
In some cases, the positive feedback can be as bad as the negative feedback for your overall image.
Pay attention to just who it is that’s praising you on social media.
If your product is suddenly being promoted by right wing ethno-nationalists after a newsjacking attempt, that’s not a good sign.
While newsjacking requires no small amount of tact and awareness to pull off, it’s still a valuable tool that anyone looking into marketing themselves should know about.
When used in conjunction with other standard SEO practices, it’s almost guaranteed to get your brand to rocket to the top of search engine results.
Examples of Newsjacking
Along with the various examples mentioned above, here are some additional relatively famous newsjacking stories.
Aviation Gin and Peloton
This one’s a two-for-one in terms of marketing lessons.
Peloton created an ad for an exercise bike in which a husband bought a bike for his wife, who was hesitant to use the thing but slowly got the hang of it and ended up thanking him for it.
Then the issue was raised that Peloton’s tagline of “The Gift That Gives Back” implied that it “gave back” by making his wife sexier.
Ryan Reynolds then promptly leaped at the chance to fire back with his personal alcohol brand, Aviation, by hiring the same actress who played the wife to be in a commercial for that, too.
Burger King Big Mac-ish Menu
So, a while back Mcdonald’s tried to sue a small Irish chain, Supermac’s, over the rights to the Big Mac branding.
Unfortunately for Mcdonald’s, Supermac’s had gotten there first, so the global chain lost its rights to the branding in the EU.
Burger King promptly followed this up by making a “Not Big Macs” menu for themselves to troll Mcdonald’s, available at their Swedish locations.
The benefits of this one were twofold.
First, Burger King proved that it had a sense of humor as a brand, endearing itself to a market that’s difficult to break into otherwise.
Second, it reinforced its market share to further muscle Mcdonald’s out of the European market, where labor laws already make things difficult for the supergiant corporation as it is.
AeroMexico a World Without Borders
A fascinating case study of how economic incentives and political goals go hand in hand, AeroMexico opened its 2019 ad with a cutting statement.
“Mexico’s first destination is America,” the ad said, “but America’s first destination is not Mexico.”
To balance this out somewhat, AeroMexico came up with an ingenious plan: they would offer DNA tests to potential customers.
Whatever percentage of Mexican DNA the customer had would end up being their resulting discount with the company.
And as it turns out, 54% of the people who tried this were shown to have Mexican ancestry.
The ad ends with a powerful pro-immigration message: “There are no borders within us.”
Given that a “world without borders” is such a common refrain in left-leaning political circles, this hit home for many.
In one fell swoop, AeroMexico had aligned itself with a movement that represents everything from anticapitalism to worker’s rights, to environmentalism.
Calm Election Ads
In the middle of one of the most stressful election cycles in recent history–and towards the tail end of one of the most stressful years in recent history–Calm decided to advertise on CNN.
Sitting subtly in the corner of the screen, the meditation app’s logo brought enough people to Google that downloads were up from their daily average by a considerable margin.
This product placement couldn’t have been any more well-timed.
People flocked to the app’s promises of a soothing way to spend an otherwise miserable evening, and the low-key nature of the ad made it unobtrusive rather than jarring.
Gillette and the Me Too Movement
Arguably one of the most successful examples of newsjacking in recent memory, Gillette’s razor ad that replaced “the best a man can get” with “the best men can be” sparked major discourse.
The ad positions itself in opposition to toxic masculinity, bullying, and sexual harassment, with a clear implication that men who do these things damage themselves and each other.
Unfortunately, some people disagreed vehemently with these statements.
Right-leaning celebrities called immediately for boycotts of Gillette’s products, even as people on the left came out in full support.
It was a marketing ploy, certainly, but one that got people talking.
And when people talk about a brand, they bring brand awareness.
How To Newsjack
Now that you’ve had a chance to look at the basics of what newsjacking opportunities can do for you as a marketing strategy, here’s how you might go about actually taking advantage of them.
Set Up News Alerts
To know what it is you can tie your brand to, you first have to know what’s actually going on.
Many types of news alert software exist on the market today, from Google Alerts to Muck Rack to Mention.
Once you’ve found one to your liking, get things set up so that you can be alerted via email when certain keywords appear in the news.
Choose a Platform
Once you’ve got your alerts set up, you need to pick a social media platform that you want to distribute your newsjacking campaign with.
This isn’t as simple as picking the one that you like the best, however; different demographics and audiences use different platforms.
For this part, Google Analytics is going to be your best friend.
Use it to get a feel for what your preferred audience is most likely to be using.
After all, your marketing angle is going to be twofold: you’re angling to sell people on the idea that you care about the topic at hand as well as the product or brand itself.
Find out who might be convinced to care about both.
The trouble with finding keywords that relate to current events is that the “correct” keywords haven’t actually been figured out yet in a lot of cases.
So to find the right keywords to bring your page to the top of the search engine results, you’re going to need to get creative.
You’re also going to need to pay attention to a story as it’s in the process of happening.
An example of this going wrong is how a university in Milan leaped at the chance to ban Dostoevsky from being taught or read in their classrooms after the invasion of Ukraine.
When newsjacking, it’s important to be right on top of whatever news it is you’re trying to weave your branding into.
A timely bit of marketing riding the wave of current events can sear your brand into the minds of everyone paying attention around that time.
New laws, new products, new media, non-recurring sporting events, holidays, and election cycles all make for great newsjacking ideas that can elevate your brand.
Get Media Attention
Finally, you want whatever you do to be picked up by actual media outlets.
It’s one thing to start beef with another brand on Twitter over recent events for clout, but it’s another entirely to have CNBC or Vox pick it up and run with it.
This means you have to bring your A-game in terms of cleverness.
You want your brand tie-in to be spicy enough to stand out.
What To Avoid When Newsjacking
Here are a few things that should be avoided while Newsjacking.
Don’t Use Tragedies
Newsjacking around a tragedy is almost never a good idea.
You’re going to make your brand look insensitive at best and downright hurtful at worst, and you don’t want to do that kind of damage to your brand’s image if you can help it.
Don’t Be Negative About Competitors
A little sass is alright, but you cannot turn your content marketing strategy into an attack ad if you want to be taken seriously.
Unless the subject of the news in question is a direct competitor to you, there’s no need to make yourself look that unprofessional.
Letting your product and message speak for themselves is a much better alternative.
This one may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important.
If you have a plan, then you’re going to be inclined towards sticking to it.
The sunk cost fallacy kicks in, leading you to make decisions based on what you want to see done instead of what needs to be done to make your newsjacking attempt really work.
Newsjacking is an important tool in the shed of modern marketers.
But like any good tool, it has the potential for misuse.
Respect its power, its purpose, and its potential, and you’ll see your brand awareness rise to greater heights than you would’ve ever thought possible.