newspaper plane newsjacking

One of the biggest advantages of social media is the ability for real-time interactions and responses to events around us, so newsjacking, which often involves using current events as a launch point for sharing your brand (and ideally showing some personality), is a natural part of a business social media presence. Twitter and even Facebook move so quickly that it can sometimes feel like sitting in a happy hour or house party with the people and brands behind all of the feeds you follow, and it’s this sense of a casual, organically occurring conversation that can let brands make such a lasting, positive impression or create a messy and totally unnecessary PR problem. At the happy hour that is social media, especially during a major event or holiday, you want to be the lovely acquaintance who tells the great joke or the clever story that gets repeated all week, not the jerk who shows up late and sticks his finger in the onion dip. And here’s how to do it.

1. Beware of satire.

Satire can be funny and insightful and provocative, but it’s also a high-wire act normally best left to the professionals (and even they fall on their faces sometimes). Especially via text, it can be extremely difficult to express the right tone to make it clear that something is satire and not an earnestly held belief. Even if it is abundantly clear that you’re attempting to be satirical, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be interpreted the way you want, as The Onion found out when they made a horribly inappropriate joke at the expense of nine year old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis last year. If an organization known purely for satire can mess it up that badly, it’s probably best for the rest of us to just give it a pass.

2. Speed is key, so simple is best.

Your biggest challenge when trying to play off of a current event is timeliness. If you can’t get it out there fast enough, even the best attempt at a newsjack tie-in is going to fall flat. The best solution is our good friend simplicity. It doesn’t need to be overdone, it doesn’t need to be elaborate, it just needs to be topical and relevant to your brand. Just take a look at what Tide and Oreo did with the blackout at the Super Bowl in New Orleans early last year. Simple, something that a graphic designer on staff or even a digital media jack-of-all-trades could whip up quickly, but still clever. Remember that this isn’t a multi-stage, big investment marketing campaign. It’s a one or two tweet or status update nod to what people are talking about on social media. This is also a situation where it’s worth looking ahead to see if there are events like awards shows, sports championships, and TV show finales coming up that you’ll want to have someone on-call to respond to, since most of these things aren’t going to happen during regular business hours.

3. If you mess up, apologize.

Because we’re talking about fast moving and more casual, off-the-cuff content here, there is definitely a potential for missteps. Like we’ve talked about before the key is to apologize quickly and sincerely. Mistakes happen, we’ve all stuck our foot in our mouths before, but where you do the real damage is in refusing to own up to it or, maybe even worse, repeating the same mistake after apologizing, something Kenneth Cole has hopefully, finally learned his lesson about.

4. Context is everything.

Hashtags are one of your social media best friends for a lot of reasons, but when talking about a particular current event for two very specific and important reasons. The first is that the hashtags for big events like the Super Bowl or the Oscars are full of tweets from people who are very likely not already following you, so it’s a great way to get your content (and by extension your brand) seen by new people. The second is that it keeps any tweets or status updates from being confusing or bizarre or worse in a few hours or days when people forget exactly what happened at the event that spurred your comment. Just because posts fall off the first page of your feed doesn’t mean that they disappear completely, so make sure that they’ll have some context when looked back at later.

5. Keep it light.

One of the things that the Kenneth Cole tweets about Cairo and then later Syria and the slew of inappropriate and uncomfortable tweets in “honor” of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day illustrate is that heavier, more globally significant events are not particularly well-suited to corporate or brand-based commentary. Even some that are well-meant miss the mark because it’s almost impossible to not make it seem like you’re leveraging this serious, significant event for your own capitalistic gain. And hey, it’s America, we love our capitalism, but like most things, there’s a time and a place. The Tide and Oreo posts mentioned above, and this chuckle-worthy one from Charmin worked not just because they were timely and funny, but because things like sports and celebrities lend themselves much more easily to a silly joke without coming across as heartless or opportunistic.

The rapid commentary and reaction on social media is a great thing and is hugely valuable for marketers and businesses, and hopefully these tips make you feel more confident that you can dive into the fray in time for the Oscars this weekend. Remember a fantastic, timely social media post from a favorite brand? Share with us in the comments!