News You Can Use? Newsjacking as Content Strategy

When used correctly, matching your content with current news or trends can help increase your brand's visibility, and position you as a credible information expert.

Under the category of “welcome to the department of the obvious,” it's very safe to say that we live in a 24/7/365 cycle of news and information. Today’s “OMG!” trend will likely be next week’s “remember when?” nostalgia topic. Current events tend to have a shelf life of days, if not hours. The only thing constant is political outrage, but that is not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is that current events and hot topics can be used to boost your content efforts. Known as “newsjacking,” this process can tie your blogs, tweets, photos, e-mails and other content-oriented activities to what’s currently of interest to your audience, thereby adding relevance and visibility to your brand, and street cred to your image.

What it Is

Piggybacking content off what’s happening now isn’t really – er – news. In the past, advertisers frequently relied on trends and news to promote their products and services.

Vintage ad, two women discussing ink and war.
Nothing like a world war to sell ink. Source: Civilian Military Intelligence Group

But this tie-in activity really didn’t have a name, at least, until David Meerman Scott published his book, “Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage.” He defines newsjacking as “when a company uses, or creates, a campaign around a major, well-discussed news item,” outlining the concept in more visual detail:

The idea here is that, if you can hop on the news bandwagon before journalists require more information, you will be in a “right-time, right-place” window, in which your content can be useful to these journalists and their audiences. The same can also be said of fads or “in-vogue” topics. Aligning and timing your content with up-and-coming popular trends can increase your company’s visibility.

And, okay. Since you asked. Yes, I’ve newsjacked topics for blogs, such as one published in March 2020, in which I outlined the importance of content planning and distribution during COVID-19. Hopefully, many of you have taken notes, and are moving forward with your content plans.

And, remember him?

Yes, I blogged about this, too, using murder hornet memes as a foundation to discuss the importance of context marketing. But this article was written DURING the cycle in which the Asian giant hornets made news (and was the subject of plentiful memes). The murder hornet was SOOOO last May.

Which underscores the two important aspects of newsjacking.

1) Hitting the News Trends/Cycles at the Right Time

If you take only one thing away from this blog, it’s that your content should go live at absolutely the correct moment, if you want to gain any traction from newsjacking.

Scott’s graphic, above, suggests content should be distributed right after the topic breaks, and before journalists are actively turning over (figurative) rocks to obtain additional information. I would go one step further, and suggest that the time to match your content with interesting trends would be just as people are starting to talk about them. By the time a trend has been written about, memed about, and picked over on various social media platforms, it’s too late.

What this means is that speed and immediacy are of the essence when you first spot a story or development. It means eliminating potential red tape that could tie up the timely release of a blog, or podcast or press release. It also means regularly monitoring the news and trends, so you can find that up-and-coming thing of interest.

How to do this? Set up a Google Alert, with specific keywords. Become a news and “infotainment” connoisseur. Learn to love your social media, and keep an eye on what is being discussed.

It's also of vital importance that you carefully consider your audience’s response to the news, and the content with which you are pairing it. Interested in courting controversy? In a word: Don’t. The adage of “all news is good news, as long as they spell your name correctly” is nonsense, and could easily backfire.

Such as what happened with this.

Kenneth Cole tweet, newsjacking the Arab Spring uprising.
Look up "tasteless" in the dictionary, and you'll find this.

Fashion mogul Kenneth Cole thought it would be a really great idea to link a tweet/promotion to the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. The idea stunk, the backlash was huge, and the fashion company was forced to backtrack, retract and apologize.

Certainly, the tweet and follow-up put Kenneth Cole in the public eye, but the negative press wasn’t worth it. The goal with newsjacking is to build a positive product or service image with your audience. Piggybacking off violent, revolutionary change in a repressed area of the world does not really fit into this goal.

Also, when newsjacking, you need to figure out your own, unique angle and what will resonate with your audience. Your clients and prospects don’t want to hear about warmed-over stuff they can find elsewhere. They want to know your take on a particular situation and how it is relevant to them.

Speaking of relevance . . .

2) Ensuring the the News Topic or Trend Fits with your Message

Not all news or trends are going to fit with your content. Dave Sorter, the late, great content writer, understood this. He was a master at ferreting out news topics, and developing unique content to match.

One good example was the use of “Pokémon Go” as a content topic for Axiometrics, an apartment and student housing research company.

You might remember the summer of 2016, during which just about every man, woman and child was glued to their smartphones. Well, okay. That’s not so different from today. But back then, people were staring at their phones, non-stop, because of Pokémon Go.

Just in case you were living in seclusion at the time, or need to refresh your memory, Pokémon Go was an augmented reality game, in which participants wandered city streets, suburban walkways and country roads, attempting to catch Pokémon, with an eye toward virtual competition. It was a very, very, VERY hot topic.

Young girl, with a smart phone, image of a Pokeball.
Gotta catch 'em all. Pokémon, that is. Not children.

At the time, Dave was content/communications manager with Axiometrics (which was acquired by RealPage in 2017). He studied the Pokémon Go trend, then wrote a blog, suggesting how student housing operators and apartment managers could tap into the craze to lure potential renters to their properties.

This made really good sense for Axiometrics. The company provided apartment and student housing data, with its prime audience and readership consisting of brokers, owners and managers. The post ran on Axiometrics’ and Forbes’ websites, and received a great response.

Now, what would NOT have made sense for Axiometrics is if Dave had attempted to piggyback an apartment-themed blog on interest over, say “Project Runway,” or “The Great British Baking Show.”

Or the “dress.”

Two versions of "The Dress," from 2015.
Remember this debate?

Of course not. Because the worst thing to do when newsjacking, is to force content with trends that clearly don’t fit your product or service.

Well, maybe not the worst thing. See the Kenneth Cole example, above.

Also, back in 2012, Hurricane Sandy seemed to bring a lot of “huh?” content and tweets out of the woodwork. Companies tried to force news about the storm with their content, leading to poor-taste results. This storm led to billions of dollars in damage, killed hundreds and effectively shut down the northeastern United States for several days, with power failures, flooding and other catastrophes.

And, in the middle of it all, The Gap came up with this beauty.

Tweet from The Gap, in reference to Hurricane Sandy.
Stuck at home without power? Go shopping!

The first question to ask yourself when determining your newsjacking strategy is: “ Will my content remotely fit the news or trend with which I am trying to pair?" Secondly, you need to ask yourself: “Have people suffered or are people suffering from this news?” If the answer to the first is "yes," go for it. And, if the answer to number two is also "yes," you might want to leave the topic alone.

Specifically, if you own a casualty insurance company and want to tell people about your services, it’s probably okay to newsjack a Hurricane Sandy-style story. Same thing if your company sells generators and survivalist gear. But, if you run a clothing store, and believe that people will flock to your website in the aftermath of a destructive storm, stop that line of thinking, and move on.

All the News, That’s Fit to Use

When used correctly, and with plenty of forethought and consideration, tying your content to a current trend or breaking news story can be a boost to your content strategy. Newsjacking can add relevance to your blog, tweet or video, allowing your company to be part of the overall discussion that is happening around a particular trend. This, in turn, can help improve your brand visibility and expertise, while helping ensure that your content continues to be of interest to your audience.

If you need help with your content strategy -- with or without newsjacking -- contact The WordSorters at for your no-obligation consultation.

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