Attempting to hijack a current news story is as old as the PR profession itself, and even though we’re in an age of social media, the skills required are still similar.
But while a well-placed story or stunt that ties into another item dominating the news agenda can earn a lot of online and offline coverage for a brand, an ill thought through newsjack – or Twitterjack, if you will - can harm your reputation faster than you can issue a retraction.
To help ensure you’re more likely be remembered for a creative campaign than a viral fail, here’s Ruder Finn’s top five rules for ensuring your Twitterjack stands a good chance of catching the internet’s attention.
1. Plan when you can
It’s far easier to plan great content when you know what’s coming up in advance, and any good PR desk will have a calendar with all major upcoming events and opportunities around these.
Twitter is no different. If you know an event’s coming up, you can at least have some ideas and images planned. It also means you’re in a better position to react quickly to any news surrounding the event.
Dulux are a good example of how a brand can leverage extra coverage from an event. Their Tweet on the evening of the BRIT Awards comparing Damien Hirst’s statue design with their colour palette was simple and clever.
2. Make it funny
140 characters are particularly effective for pithy punning and a well-crafted piece of humour that can tie your brand into a current event is always likely to gain traction on social media. What’s more, it shows your Twitter feed and company is run by people with a sense of humour.
Nando’s were particularly good at exploiting news of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, with a Tweet announcing at Manchester branches would stay open for an extra five minute - a reference to the amount of added time the club generally receive at the end of a game.
A word of warning though – unfunny or tasteless jokes won’t do you any favours. Virtual tumbleweed moves much faster than the real thing.
3. Be ready to react quickly
As with so many areas of communications, if you’re first, (and not forgetting if you’re good), you’ll probably be the brand that manages to get a fair bit of traction.
It’s why it’s important that the people responsible for your creative or social are plugged into wider events surrounding Twitter, not just your industry. It means they can react quickly to anything breaking.
Again, to take an example from Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, Golden Wonder quickly photoshopped a special bag of Fergie-flavoured crisps. It probably wasn’t the best effort on the day, but it was the first and gained those all important retweets and reach.
4. Make it visual
Two of the three examples already cited worked well because they were very visual in nature and highly shareable.
Whether it’s as simple as whipping up a quick lolcat or spending time photoshopping something a little more sophisticated, keeping it visual makes your Tweet stand out and increases the chances of virality.
It’s why US processed meat company Oscar Mayer’s Oscar-night Twitterjack worked so well. Posted after Adele scooped best song for Skyfall, their cheeky Tweet wouldn’t have made as much impact in text only – and it’s a clever comms team who can connect James Bond and bacon.
5. Avoid tragedies
Twitter really comes into its own during breaking news or times of disaster and, with so many eyeballs, it’s tempting for brands to try and muscle in on whatever happens to be dominating the news agenda that day.
However, unless it’s offering a message of condolence or is incredibly well thought through and sensitive, it’s probably best to stay away from promoting your wares on Twitter during this period.
Whether it’s Gap encouraging those affected by Hurricane Sandy to shop from the comfort of their homes, or Celeb Boutique’s attempt to tap into the Aurora shootings by promoting their Kim Kardashian Aurora dress, an insensitive Tweet can do more harm than good. What’s more, many of the tech and social blogs are likely to pick up on this, and we all know how good they are at SEO….
Recently McDonalds faced criticism for a Tweet around the Ohio kidnappings, saluting rescuer Charles Ramsey after he mentioned he was eating a McDonalds before he went to the aid of the kidnapped women.
The Tweet has divided opinion, with some viewing it as smart and others criticising the company for being insensitive, even if that wasn’t the company’s intention. Given the potential for a backlash, it’s probably best to give the bad news stories a miss.
6. And one bonus piece of advice… check your scheduled Tweets
Just as your social media team should be looking for opportunities to make the most of breaking news, they also need to be able to be aware of any risks pre-written Tweets may contain.
With many brands often choosing to schedule their Tweets throughout the day, an innocent remark can take on a very different meaning following a tragic event.
It’s obviously not the brand or PR agency’s fault – they have no way of predicting how 140 characters can go from irreverent to offensive in the space of a few minutes – but Twitter users may not be so understanding.
If bad news does break, it’s worth checking your scheduled Tweet queue and checking if there’s anything lined up that could cause problems. Ten minutes work can save you from dealing with a mini-crisis a few hours later.
The Daily Mirror apologised for a pre-scheduled Tweet that read, “Keep on running: David Luiz urges Chelsea marathon men to drag themselves over the finish line,” that was published on the day of the Boston bombings. Entirely innocent, but unfortunate timing.
Any more we’ve left off? Share your tips in the comments below.