I’m old enough to remember the days when pop culture trends or newsworthy events would have been called fodder for water cooler talk. But it’s 2017 and who needs water coolers when you have Twitter? These days, things that catch the interest of the public spread like wildfire. One day it's Dabbing, the next it’s an 11-year-old mowing the White House lawn.
For PR professionals, these moments can turn out to be brand awareness gold if you know how to use them and pick the right opportunities to newsjack your way into the conversation. High-tech brands are often very savvy at digital marketing and know how to leverage what everyone is talking about in a way that is in line with the brand and either helpful or entertaining for the public.
Before we get into how they do it, here are a few examples.
Everyone Wanted in on Pokémon Go
It seems like ages, but it was only last summer when everyone in America started going on walks. Poké walks, that is. The augmented reality game that encouraged players to visit Pokéstops was a boon to brick and mortar businesses, parks, and public buildings. Everyone was talking about it. At the peak of its popularity, the app was getting 6 million mentions on Twitter and approximately $1.6 million in-app purchases every day.
Several high-tech brands seized the moment. T-Mobile and Sprint both realized that there was an obvious connection to their products. T-mobile did its best to make sure folks used its service for the game. They offered free unlimited data on the app for a year, free Lyft rides up to $15 to get to a new PokéStop or Gym, a free Wendy’s Frosty to fuel up for your hunting trip, and 50% off select accessories at T-Mobile stores including portable power packs and chargers. CEO, John Legere took to Periscope to share the news.
Sprint got in on the action as well by unleashing "lures," a tool in the game that attracts Pokémon to a specific location for 30 minutes, at its retail stores and Boost Mobile locations. Once there, players were be allowed to charge their phones and Sprint team members were prepared to offer game tips.
Other high-tech firms that tried to catch ‘em all, included Yelp which let business owners indicate if they were near a Pokéstops, and Monster.com which seemed to imply that if your workplace wasn’t a Pokéstops, you might want to consider a career change.
Samsung Tries to Steal Apple’s Thunder
In an excellent example of timing your announcement to capitalize on a competitor’s news, earlier this month, Samsung announced that it plans to ship a Galaxy Note with a foldable display in 2018 just before Apple made their announcement about the new iPhone X and iPhone 8. While Apple’s announcements were expected and the timing for them was known, Samsung’s news was a bigger surprise and rather than being an incremental improvement on an existing product, the new flexible OLED technology will likely be a game changer.
And continuing on the momentum, Samsung Electronics, D.J. Koh, also teased Samsung's upcoming smart speaker, which will square off against the Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo, and Google Home. Folks were in the mood to write about mobile and home technologies that week, so Koh gave them something to say.
The News Hijacks Hulu
When Hulu created its original series The Handmaid's Tale, based on the 1985 novel by Margret Atwood, they probably didn’t envision women in red robes and white bonnets showing up at protest marches, town hall meetings, and civic hearings all over the country, but that’s exactly what has happened. People are drawing parallels between the plot, in which women are at the complete mercy of a patriarchal authoritarian state, and the Trump administration and others that are seen as being hostile to women’s rights. According to the New York Times, “As symbols of a repressive patriarchy, the crimson robes and caps — handmade, repurposed or ordered online — have become an emblem of women’s solidarity and collaboration on rights issues.”
Hulu didn’t plan on this, of course, but the appearance of the costumes at events, and the press the movement has garnered certainly haven’t hurt the show. Ane Crabtree, the woman who designed the costume told Think Progress, “That gives me hope. There is something we all can do, and it may not feel big at the time, but it resonates. And thank God for social media, so more people can see it.”
How to Newsjack Like A Pro
The key to effective newsjacking is preparation. You might not know exactly what is going to happen, but you need to have the tools in place so that you can recognize opportunity when it knocks.
Be Prepared: Google Alerts is a useful tool for finding news that is related to your brand or industry, but you have to be very smart about sorting the interesting stuff out from the noise. Think not only about how you might respond to breaking news or trends on social media but also on how you might be helpful to journalists looking for a unique way to talk about the story. You probably have valuable information that could help them offer up a different point of view.
TrendKite augments the Google Alerts approach with artificial intelligence that navigates millions of articles and detects unusual spikes in coverage of your brand, your competitors, and your industry. When a spike happens, you get an email along with all of the information you need to understand the spike. We’ll even offer up some suggested next steps. You can set up spike alerts for any industry, company, or topic that you think might be useful to your newsjacking strategy. When our Insights Engine detects a spike with a volume of 2x or more coverage than average, the system will automatically alert you via email and provide you with the related highest impact articles.
For example, as the Pokemon craze was taking off, Sprint probably guessed that a competitor would try to leverage the game’s popularity. With a spike alert, they would have been notified as soon as T-Mobile’s plans were announced and been prepared to respond. Whether you use TrendKite or not, you want a way to know when:
- A competitor launches a product or a campaign that quickly gains traction
- A topic becomes trending in your industry
- A crisis starts to go viral. (Delta did a good job of this when United Airline’s press got ugly.)
Be Relevant: It is essential to have good alignment between your brand and messages and your newsjacking, whether it is a single Tweet or a multi-channel campaign. There needs to be a genuine connection between your brand and the topic that doesn’t feel forced or irrelevant. (This can actually hurt more than it helps.)
Be Creative: While it is important to be relevant, that doesn’t mean you have to stay within a box. There are often opportunities far beyond the obvious. When something catches fire, ask yourself if and how your brand might fit into the conversation.
Be Entertaining: Pokémon Go caught the attention of so many brands because it was fun and there were lots of clever jokes to be made. Being entertaining doesn’t always mean being humorous (there’s nothing funny about The Handmaid’s Tale), but in order to work, newsjacking needs to have an element that captures the imagination and stands out.
Be Heard: If you have something relevant to a trending story to say, let reporters know right away. Also, keep in mind that the first place journalists turn to for information on what’s going on is Google. Because Google indexes in real time, you can create blog posts that will show up in results right away. If they contain relevant and useful information writers will find you.
Measure Results: Newsjacking is like any other PR tactic in that it should produce results that have an impact on your strategic key performance indicators. After a newsjacking event or campaign, you should understand how it impacted metrics like share of voice, sentiment, and reach. The best PR analytics solutions make it easy to monitor other critical metrics like website traffic, form fills, and eventually customer conversion. Armed with this data, you’ll know what works best.
We’re big fans of newsjacking for PR because it can be both effective and fun. (That’s not to say it can’t go wrong.) We love these examples of high-tech firms nudging their way into the conversation about relevant events. With the right tools and preparation, you can do it too.