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The Art of Newsjacking

Written by Josh Bernoff | on July 20, 2016 at 9:00 AM

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You have a plan for your posts, whether for a blog or a community. The plan is orderly. It allows you time to prepare things.

Meanwhile, news is happening. Your readers are reading about what Donald Trump just said about the judge in the Trump University trial, how a majority of Britons want to leave the EU, and how five police were killed in an ambush in Dallas. Is this noise?

No, it’s an opportunity.

If you know what’s on your reader’s mind, you can take advantage of it.

David Meerman Scott invented the term for this – newsjacking – and wrote a book about it.

Newsjacking is opportunistic, but it can’t seem opportunistic. You want your reader to feel engaged and intrigued, not exploited. I post on my blog every weekday, and about half of my posts are news-related. Some have taken off, and some have not. But after hundreds of posts like this, I can share some advice on how to do it right.

  • Write about news that your audience cares about. I write about writing. So I write about candidates’ public statements, layoff emails, and other cases where language is revealing. I don’t write about stock market highs or GE relocating to Boston. You should view each news item through the lens of “Does my audience care about this?”
  • Have a unique point of view. Rehashing news is pointless. You should ask, “What can I add about this?” Your expertise or experience might give you the perspective to write about the context of an announcement, or a pattern that you see, or to take analysis further than what people can read in ordinary media. If you have nothing unique to add, just post a link (on Twitter, Facebook, or in a community post) with a simple comment like “Worth your attention.”
  • Don’t waste space on the announcement. Your job is not to rewrite what the Washington Post or CNN wrote. Describe the facts in two or three sentences, then link to a definitive article. The article is the platform on which you’re going to build, and people can read more themselves if they must. In the rest of the post, where you’re sharing your insights, you can pull out quoted material from articles to support your points.
  • Tell your readers what it means. The best newsjacked posts include advice. Basically, “this happened, this is why it is significant, here’s what you should do about it.” If it’s a community post, then pose a question to stimulate discussion: “Will this change our mission?” or “Do you think the same thing will happen at other companies?”
  • Be sensitive. News items are controversial. Don't assume that all your readers agree with you (unless, of course, your community is constructed of people just like you). Your perspective should be on what the news means for your audience, not who’s right and who’s wrong. There’s enough meaningless arguing going on about news already, there’s no need to inflame it.
  • Above all, be timely. The value of newsjacked posts drops rapidly over time, now that news spreads freely on smartphones. Post the same day that you hear something, or the next morning. If you wait more than a day, then it’s old news, as David Meerman Scott’s diagram shows.

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If you post something insightful in a timely way, your posts will spread. And your perspective will become part of the discussion. You might find your blog quoted in news items, and if you get links, you might end up ranking on search engines as well.

Here are some examples of newsjacked posts that I had success with:

  • Donald Trump, memes, and the dangers of post-factual politics. I posted about a false meme that was circulating, claiming that Donald Trump called Republican voters dumb in People Magazine in 1998. People searching on that meme still land on my post, which has now accumulated 80,000 views.
  • Apple’s Tim Cook shows how to communicate in a crisis. When the FBI asked Apple to crack an iPhone, Tim Cook wrote a very clearly worded explanation of why he wouldn’t. I analyzed why his writing was so clear and powerful and posted my analysis a day and a half after he did. It generated 23,000 views and was shared 3,000 times on Facebook.
  • If you demonize Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, you lose the argument. When a clerk in Kentucky refused to provide marriage licenses for gay couples, I saw an irony. While people thought it was ok to criticize her based on her four marriages, I made the point that criticizing people based on their background is where discrimination starts. This was my fourth most popular post ever, shared 7,000 times on Facebook.
  • Jeff Bezos’ non-denial denial of the New York Times Amazon takedown. When the New York Times annihilated Amazon’s culture, Jeff Bezos responded. Sort of. I did a close read of his internal email about the piece and demonstrated that it didn’t actually say anything. This was a great example of how my analysis of clear writing intersected with a news story from a famous entrepreneur.

Newsjacking means you have to keep your ears perked up at all times. But it pays off if you’ve got something worthwhile to say and you get to it quickly. Add newsjacking to your toolbox, and you’ll always have something interesting and timely to write about.

 

Josh Bernoff is the author of the upcoming book Writing Without Bullshit.

Topics: Communications, Engagement, Marketing

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