Newsjacking: riding the coattails of the ‘now




You’ve heard of hijacking, and if you’re social media savvy you should have heard of newsjacking – perhaps you’ve even done it yourself.  If not, Lucy Birchley explains all in this apparently simple, occasionally complex way to bring attention to yourself or your business…

Newsjacking. Yes it is a real thing and you’ve probably seen it a thousand times without even realising it. Mostly found on social media platforms such as Twitter, and popularised by online marketing strategist David Meerman Scott, newsjacking refers to content specifically created to piggyback off breaking news or events to increase its normal audience.

‘Kate Winslet was staying with Sir Richard Branson at a private retreat in the British Virgin Islands when lightning struck the home, setting it on fire. Branson’s elderly mother was in the home, and Winslet carried her out of the fire to safety.

Pretty amazing, right? News outlets certainly thought so, and the story was picked up worldwide. But you know who else thought it was amazing? The London Fire Brigade who, within a few hours of the story’s release, wrote a story for their website in which they offered Winslet a chance to train with their firefighters at their local training center. They let reporters in on their offer, and with little or no money the London Fire Brigade had tons of site traffic, inbound links, and media exposure to do with as they pleased. And that, my friends, is newsjacking!’

Corey Eridon, HubSpot, 2012

While it might sounds like something cooked up by an evil PR spin doctor trying to leverage off someone else’s tragedy, newsjacking can actually be a positive experience. Take for example, Duracell’s positive approach after Hurricane Sandy. In the wake of the disaster, which brought down countless power lines, Duracell set up mobile charging stations for people to charge their smartphones so that they could contact family and friends. Of course once most of the recipients had their phones turned back on they were able to take photos and Tweet about the kindness of the battery brand. Not bad for a few days work.

These days brands are trawling for interesting news stories and then creating clever campaigns often using humour or shock to fashion content that is instantly consumable and shareable. Take for example this ad by Lynx, which was released after naked photos of Prince Harry in Vegas were printed.


Essentially this means that newsjacking can give brands immediate impact on social media putting them out front of new trends or evening making them a significate instigator of one. And let’s face it who doesn’t love being a trend setter? Just ask the Joneses.

However, newbies beware, newsjacking can be a double edged sword and has its risks. Done well a clever social media user can increase followers, grow engagement, build brand awareness and generally make their brand look super cool. Unfortunately as with all things published in the public domain when newsjacking goes wrong it can be a total horror show.

A brand that recently felt the effects of bad newsjacking was DiGirorno Pizza. Usually lorded for their excellent comedic instincts and brilliant handle on real-time tweeting, unfortunately on this occasion DiGirorno failed to follow one of the most basic social media rules, check what a trending hastag is about before you use it.

Back in September in response to a viral video of American football star Ray Rice punching his then fiancée Janay Palmer, women took to twitter to discuss their own experiences of physical and emotional domestic violence by using the hashtag #whyIstayed. With an outpouring of tragic stories and shared experiences the hashtag itself went viral and DiGirorno was quick to respond with a humorous, but contextually offensive, quip “#whyIstayed You had Pizza.”


Needless to say that the backlash was instant, overwhelming and DiGirorno’s social media team had to do a lot of scrambling to do in order to negate a titanic sized brand melt down that they had unwittingly created.

So what is the lesson here? Well, newsjacking in itself is an easy and inexpensive way to increase followers on social media by using a little creativity and humour but as with everything we post online it’s better to eat your pizza than have it thrown in your face.

Happy tweeting!





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