August 12, 2013

4 Questions To Ask Before You Newsjack

By Cynthia Floyd Manley

Attempts at "newsjacking" -- attaching your brand or organization to a news story or event in real time -- can be brilliant successes a la Orea's Super Bowl blackout tweet or equally spectacular failures depending on how well conceived and executed the efforts.

In health care, as perhaps few other industries, newsjacking must be approached with care, sensitivity and sound judgment.

At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, we have a long successful track record of positioning our experts as sources with national news media, and over the past year, have added newsjacking to our strategies for social media engagement as well.

When a news story gets you thinking, "Can we leverage this?" here are some questions to ask yourself before stepping out on the newsjacking limb:

1. Does the situation align naturally with your brand? This requires you to really understand what your brand stands for, why you do what you do, and what your priorities are. Recently, as the "Camp Gyno" video was generating buzz in traditional and social media, we thought about how we might connect to the story. The provocative video for a tampon-delivery start-up service was both funny and in-your-face, prompting talk about menstruation and how we talk about it. As a Children's Hospital with a blog that seeks to empower and encourage parents on topics of child health and well-being, our authentic link to the conversation was advice for talking to your daughter about her first period. Our post didn't get into the Camp Gyno discussion directly but used it as a jumping-off point for our own angle.

2. Will newsjacking take you places you aren't ready to go? We in health care can see obvious links to news stories about abortion or health care reform, for example, but you may not want to dive into the politically charged conversations those posts are likely to spark. We recently chose not to newsjack a story about breastfeeding in public, even though we are strong advocates for breastfeeding, because we didn't believe a constructive conversation would follow.

3. Do you have something of value to add to the conversation? The biggest failures in newsjacking, I think, are those that are so obviously about the brand's interests, not the interests of the community. If you have something of relevance to add, something that will truly help the community, then go for it. In the first hours after news of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we chose to develop a post about talking to your children about this horrible situation because we believed we could add value. It wasn't about drawing attention to our Children's Hospital; it was about helping parents whose children were coming home from school and needing answers and comfort that afternoon.

4. Can you pull something off in a timely way? In order to be successful, you have to capitalize on the news event WHEN IT IS HAPPENING. Posting something three days after all the buzz has died down is pointless. This requires you to develop a nimble workflow, to have your eye on the news all the time, and to be ready to acknowledge when you've missed the window and move on to something else. A little planning ahead can also go a long way. As obsession over the #royalbaby began to grow, we decided to put together a video of Children's Hospital experts offering new baby advice for William and Kate. We produced this about 10 days ahead of the delivery, and had it ready to publish as soon as news broke that the little prince had made his appearance. (A friend who is a marketer said she knew we had to have done this in advance but the selection of the iPhone instead of a higher-production approach made it appear spontaneous).

One last tip: a little newsjacking goes a long way. Use judgment and some forethought to carefully pick your moves. Define the subjects and conversations that are important for your organization to speak into, and watch that Twitter feed for opportunities.

What's your experience? What newsjacking successes or failures have you seen that helped you learn what to do or not do?

Editor's Note: Cynthia Floyd Manley is a member of the External Advisory Board for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

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