As a marketer I know what it’s like to be desperate for clicks and retweets. Some people fantasize about winning the lottery; I fantasize about writing viral content. It’s a world I live in almost every single day. And that’s why I understand almost more than anyone on the temptation of newsjacking. It’s a line I see all the time and yet one I try very hard not to cross.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, newsjacking is when you capitalize on the popularity of a news story to amplify your own sales or marketing efforts. We see it everywhere: red carpet events, natural disasters, and even celebrity deaths.
When I began the research for this article, I expected to find a lot of content out there about the perils of newsjacking. Only I didn’t find that. Instead I saw hundreds of articles giving advice on how to newsjack. This confused me even more. Am I missing out on something? Is newsjacking a good thing? Or do ethics just not matter anymore?
Well, a little of both really.
Firstly, not all newsjacking is bad. There are a lot of brands who are coming up with clever content during live events like the Oscars, or the Superbowl. For example, during Super Bowl XLVII when the lights went out in New Orleans, cookie company Oreo tweeted “Power Out? No Problem, you can still dunk in the dark”. Not bad huh? When done right, newsjacking can be brilliant and engaging.
But it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.
When done wrong it can be a complete disaster. Take the 2012 Hurricane Sandy for example. Many high profile brands, like Instyle Magazine, took advantage of the hurricane hashtag and wrote things like “Hurricane Sandy Have You Stuck Inside? 5 Beauty Treatments to Help Ride Out the Storm.”
Fashion designer Kenneth Cole was one of the worst culprits. During an escalation of Syrian conflict last year, Cole tweeted “’Boots on the ground’ or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear.” No surprise a lot of people reacted with anger. Yet Cole defended his actions claiming he knew the risk he was taking.
Was it worth it?
We also recently witnessed a flurry of newsjacking following the death of actor Robin Williams. Everywhere I looked were articles such as “What Leaders can Learn from Robin Williams,” or even “What Robin Williams teaches us about the NFL.”
Really?! Was this necessary?
So if you find yourself contemplating newsjacking, please ask yourself these questions before proceeding any further:
Does it sound like your brand?
Your brand should have a voice and a personality of its own. If newsjacking a story doesn’t sound like your brand’s voice, DON’T do it!
Is the topic controversial?
From Ferguson to ISIS, there is a lot of horrific and scary stuff going on in right now; stuff that doesn’t need to be exploited. No brand or person should ever benefit from human suffering.
Can your reputation handle it if it doesn’t work out?
It isn’t just my ethics that prevent me from newsjacking so much as it is my reputation, or the reputation of any company I work for. Just one wrong offensive tweet or comment and social media will turn on us in a second. I can’t take that risk, nor can any company I work for. It just isn’t worth it.