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Should You Start Newsjacking?

Hitching your brand to a breaking news or viral story can help build your business, but it has to be done right, quickly and authentically.

Suddenly, everyone is talking about newsjacking. Why aren’t you newsjacking yet? Are you newsjacking enough? Are you newsjacking correctly? What if you get out-newsjacked? Should you panic about newsjacking yet—or just ignore the whole thing?

Some online influencers like to scare the pants off any advisor who doesn’t jump onto every new PR and marketing fad. Clearly, it’s time for a more balanced perspective. Like many hot trends, newsjacking can be a powerful tool for raising your profile and growing your brand. But it’s not for everyone. Like everything else, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s right for your business. I’m here to help you cut through the noise.

The Facts: What Is Newsjacking, Anyway?

Newsjacking is a technique for hitching your own brand to a breaking news story. Essentially, you try to leverage the spotlight by injecting your own content and ideas right before the story goes viral on mainstream and social media. The term was popularized about 10 years ago by marketing strategist David Meerman Scott, but the concept really took off in the hands of big consumer brands. The most famous example of newsjacking happened in 2013 when the Super Bowl lost power. Minutes later, Oreos tweeted out an ad saying, “You can still dunk in the dark.” The post earned thousands of retweets, making it the perfect real-time newsjack: quick, witty, relevant and brand-focused.

Why It’s a Thing: A Simple but Effective Way to Grab Attention

Advisors have heard the gospel on content marketing—but to most, creating content doesn’t come easily. It’s hard to know what to write about. Newsjacking makes it simple. Every day, the news offers a fresh batch of ready-made trending topics to choose from.  Just pick one you personally find engaging and respond to it. You can showcase your expertise without having to think up an original theme.

Your newsfeed is a goldmine of ideas. Think how many opportunities you’ve had over the past year to piggyback on viral stories coming out of the pandemic—from coping with early retirement to deciding where to invest stimulus payments.

From a PR perspective, newsjacking has a big advantage over trying to place original stories. It’s hard to get journalists to pay attention to a new narrative. But if they’re already following a story, they’re eager to hear from people who can add depth and color to their reporting. If you can help journalists write more informative, interesting pieces, they’ll feature your viewpoint in front of their entire audience.

Does Newsjacking Work for You? Three Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’re deciding whether to try newsjacking, here are three things to think about:

  1. Do you have the infrastructure to pull it off? Newsjacking demands speed. When a story starts to “blow up,” there isn’t time to learn how to use Twitter, set up a blog or debate policy positions. News has a short shelf life, and today’s fresh story will stale in a week. As soon as something happens, your response has to get out in close to real time.

Large companies maintain dedicated brand newsrooms—full-time teams who are always on the lookout for breaking stories, ready to jump into conversations in real time. You probably don’t have a command center. But you can still create some kind of infrastructure that lets you capture opportunities as they arise. Blogs, podcasts, Twitter followers, video hosting platform, email marketing systems, client lists or even a weekly posting schedule can serve as platforms for launching your point of view.

  1. Do you have something authentic and valuable to say? To newsjack successfully, you need an interesting angle. It doesn’t need to be new, just your own. Choose a story you’re genuinely passionate about. You’ll already have something to say, and your content will be easier to write. Honest, well-informed opinions help you burnish your credibility, keep you visible and add value to conversations outside your circle. They can also help you build relationships with reporters if hiring a PR firm isn’t in your budget.

What doesn’t work is being fake. People can sniff out ambulance-chasers—self-promoters who latch onto a story without understanding it. We’ve all seen those people all over social media. If you comment on crypto, get ready to answer real questions from your clients about crypto. The press will be even tougher. Reporters work in unforgiving environments without the luxury of time. If you can’t add anything interesting when they contact you, you’ll find yourself on their do-not-call-back list—a place no business owner wants to be. If you can’t defend your opinion, it’s best not to offer it in the first place.

  1. Does your message connect with your audience? Around 53% of adults get some form of news on social media, a platform where it’s easy to stir up controversy. But newsjacking works best when it connects, rather than divides. You want to build credibility and encounter new people, not become a trending outrage on Twitter. Always choose your words carefully. I work with advisors for whom faith is an important part of their lives and their work. They are constantly asked to weigh in on controversial social topics. They always decline. That’s not their goal. They seek to connect with investors who are looking for a deeper sense of purpose in their lives, and that is the only topic they comment on.  To avoid alienating potential clients, lead with empathy and humility. Show respect, even for opposing viewpoints, and remember there are real human beings on both sides of every conversation.

Newsjacking can enhance your thought leadership if it helps you authentically express the way you think. But, despite all the hype and sweeping generalizations, newsjacking isn’t a magic bullet. As with any hot new marketing tactic, only you can decide whether it’s right for you.

Megan Carpenter is co-founder and CEO at FiComm Partners

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