News-jacking: Best to have some in-place strategy first

by mo on March 5, 2013

Last week the Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski compared Gov. Scott Walker to Wisconsin cannibal and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer on Twitter after prosecutors closed an investigation into Walker aides with no charges filed against the Republican governor.

Okay, incredibly stupid and offensive.

News-jacking, or attempting to score well in media relations in real-time is an exciting, contact sport and growing strategy for many companies and individuals. Politicians have been doing this for years. Trouble is, as Mr. Zielinski well knows now, Twitter and other networks let a misstep reverberate widely.

When the idea is based on a real strategy, magic can happen, well at least a reference to cannibal serial killer will not happen. Think what Oreo did when the lights went out during The Super Bowl.  And really the message they served up was not that cutting edge; they just served it up to the media really well. Served it up to media who are not used to getting imaginative tweets, but rather the screw-ups. I completely agree with Will Oremus of Slate, it was a good use of social media but may not have deserved all the accolades it got. Well, the power outage did make for a very long game. Anything interesting would get some notice.

For those thinking of trying this at home:

Identify the top news sources that make sense for your company, product or industry.  The news sources that reach your target are worth your time. The rest of the Twitter universe is not your concern. Get a list together and reach out to get on their radar. If your media list knows that your head of the Theology department is a top scholar on the papacy, you stood a good chance to get a call in late February and early March.

What topics should you speak about?  While every great news story may offer an opportunity to add commentary, remember Mr. Zielinski. Yes the topic may have been appropriate, but his tweet was more the kind of comment to share in the hallway (though keeping it in his own head would have been best) and not a message on any strategy I can think of.

One never knows what will come up in the news, but the whole point is to have a solid connection to a key message you want to get in the news, as in highlight your yummy sandwich cookie and its decadent relationship with a glass or milk.

In the case of Oreos and The Super Bowl, the process was how to take advantage of an event that is unforeseen and pretty media safe. When you identify the type of topics that you want to comment on, it will be very clear what you should let pass. For example, negative news for a competitor may offer an opportunity to pitch your subject matter expert, but does it open your company up to other risks to your reputation? Folks tend to recognize ambulance chasers. And then you might want to consider who your spokespeople are. If you have a Mr. Zielinski on staff, you may want to get some better controls in place. Social media has made too many people think they are good spokespeople.

Get prepared. One of the first steps in crisis communications is to prepare media responses in advance. When it comes to news-jacking, this is a vital step. This can help you determine when to jump into a breaking news story and more importantly when not to. Prepared responses help craft sound bites, which help journalists evaluate the quality of your company as a resource.

Think of all the types of stories that could come up in the news cycle that would present an opportunity and then figure out the response plan when they break. It used to be that one needed to plan for “after hours” to identify who would be on call to make decisions. In today’s world the news cycle is incredibly short and a 24/7 reality. Yet, it is that fast pace that generate the blunders we see so often.

Jump in. But only with a sound media strategy, response plan and spokesperson in place. Mr. Zielinski is available.









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