The Formula for Successful Newsjacking

Though the term was first mentioned on Search Engine Watch in 2013, newsjacking has been a go-to tactic ever since the industry realized that Google rewards fresh content – at least two years before this. Each day a different news story is rehashed, no matter how tenuously linked to the business reproducing it – all in the pursuit of fresh content. Many businesses still rewrite the news each day and report it to non-existent audiences. Whether or not content shock is a real trend it seems entirely possible that it should be.

It is also possible to add value to the audience with newsjacking and reap the benefits from search engines. The formula is pretty simple – you need a platform, and then you need one of three things:

  1. Data
  2. Creative
  3. An opinion

Knowing that a story is relevant to your audience isn’t enough – you have to make it relevant to your brand if you hope to gain coverage and links back to your website from the activity.

Platform

Having a website doesn’t entitle a business to traffic, and not every website can muscle in on the news. When we talk about a platform for newsjacking, we’re referring to a legitimate avenue to consumers’ eyeballs – publishing your opinion of a trending topic on your own blog is unlikely to get you links unless your blog already has a significant readership.

Journalists are always on the lookout for topics their readers will be interested in – the news is your best opportunity to get your brand mentioned somewhere else and potentially get links back to your website with the promise of further information.

To use another website as a platform for newsjacking you need to offer something valuable, and in most cases this comes in the form of data, creative, or commentary.

Data

Journalists need data to substantiate claims made in their reports. Often businesses will have data that will either confirm or contradict what’s being reported in the news, and in either case this presents an opportunity.

Newsjacking can be relatively easy for businesses that are data-rich and operate in sectors that get a lot of press attention. Companies that are data-poor, however, can acquire enough data for newsjacking without too much expense.

Google Consumer Surveys are a relatively cheap way to get hold of a range of data that can be used for this purpose – other survey providers can be more expensive but offer a quicker response, often with more respondents.

It’s incredibly useful to format your data with pivot tables so that you can quickly pull out headline stats. If you’re using your company’s data, it’s useful to format in advance and spend some time going through to understand the angles you can play before you need it.

In a previous article on Search Engine Watch I used an example of data visualization – how to format CRM data in a piece of content that can get links. It’s worth mentioning in the context of newsjacking as the content was created as the result of a news story.

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Creative

Producing creative content can be a good way to gain coverage because often journalists lack the time or expertise to add visual elements to their stories. In the same way that some stories won’t get covered because they lack visual elements, creating visuals for a story that will get covered anyway can help to get a brand inserted into the conversation.

There are two big problems with creative content:

  1. It’s expensive compared to other forms of newsjacking, for obvious reasons
  2. The turnaround time is much greater than offering an opinion or piece of data

Both of these problems can be overcome through planning. Keeping an events calendar can help to identify when you might need creative to be produced – especially useful if you need to book designers or developers to do it for you. Not every brand needs a “war room”: some trends can be predicted, such as anniversaries of events, TV launches and finales, awards, and so on. For a company that is prepared to take a position on an event, it’s easy to get involved with creative newsjacking – with the use of creative, data is not always required to make headlines.

A good example is Virgin Holidays, who “quickly” created the image below when the laws regarding same-sex marriage in the U.K. were changed in 2013:

Everyone from The Guardian to the Drum commended Virgin Holidays for their quick turnaround. In reality, the creative team behind the tweet had planned well in advance. Adam Reader from digital agency LIDA, who worked with Virgin Holidays on the campaign, said:

“Originally intending the ad to feature in press first thing the next morning, we shared the ad with our client who then went to investigate budget and media opportunities. In that time we saw how the conversation was building through social channels. We re-evaluated and agreed that it would create a greater impact to share on social immediately.”

The success Virgin Holidays experienced as a result of the story helped to shape further campaigns: the perceived speed of their marketing efforts allowed them to gain a lot of coverage with a single image.

Opinion

Though offering an opinion is without doubt the cheapest way to newsjack – it doesn’t require time in a CRM system or sitting with a designer, for a start – it’s also the most difficult to get right, simply because it relies on your brand to prove you’re worth listening to.

To an extent this means personal brand, but I would argue that a relatively unknown representative of a market leading business is qualified to comment on most issues that relate to that market.

Getting in early with something as simple as a short quote – a couple of lines of insight from your company – can be enough to acquire a link back to your website. Subscribing to something like Response Source or, for businesses with a smaller budget, monitoring a hashtag like #JournoRequest on Twitter, can give some ideas for what journalists are already looking for – in many cases this is just a second opinion from someone in close proximity to the subject area they are covering.

Preparation

The key to successful newsjacking is preparation. It is possible to jump on a relevant story relatively quickly but the only way to do this reliably is to prepare at least one of the above.

Larger businesses in particular usually have some form of compliance to go through if they are offering an opinion, for example – especially if they work in a regulated sector such as finance. Getting a quote signed off in the lifespan of a news story is a long shot, so understanding your company’s position in advance of it being required is recommended. Compile a document of “stock” quotes based on what you already know:

  • Customers’ Pain Points – Your product or service fulfills a need, and consumers feeling that their needs are not generally being met or taken into consideration can make headlines.
  • Events – Any marketing department should have a list of events in the public calendar that may be relevant to their brand. Understanding when a relevant company will announce annual results, or when the anniversary of an interesting event falls, or which public holidays may generate some interest, will allow you to understand which data you may have access to and whether you may be able to offer it up for press interest.
  • Trends – If you’ve seen something on the rise (or decline) in your industry it’s helpful to know whether your business sees this as a good or bad thing. Likewise any data you can get around trends can be very useful for newsjacking when a potential story hits.

Even with data, creative, and an opinion, newsjacking requires planning. Real-time marketing is not a strategy, and if your angle doesn’t add value to a story it is unlikely to be useful for link-building.

But with a combination of the right platform plus something valuable plus preparation, newsjacking can be an extremely lucrative source of links.

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