6 marketers on how to do real-time marketing, and avoid ‘newsjacking’

These days, all con­sumer busi­ness­es are social busi­ness­es. Mar­ket­ing around cur­rent events, news, and pop cul­ture is a great way to be part of the con­ver­sa­tion, and to get great results. How should brands coor­di­nate their real-time mar­ket­ing efforts?

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Brands today walk a fine line between cap­i­tal­iz­ing on head­line-mak­ing, traf­fic-gen­er­at­ing top­ics such as Poke­mon Go, Game of Thrones — or even more seri­ous sub­jects such as the elec­tion or the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment — and ‘news­jack­ing’ which can nat­u­ral­ly back­fire.

How should brands and mar­keters ensure their con­tent is rel­e­vant and engage­able, and min­i­mize the risk of com­ing across as inau­then­tic?

In this day and age, there’s vir­tu­al­ly always a trendy top­ic for mar­keters to cap­i­tal­ize on. Advan­tages include poten­tial expo­sure and engage­ment. But it’s also easy to come across as inau­then­tic if brands sim­ply ‘news­jack’ – not to men­tion there’s a high prob­a­bil­i­ty of offend­ing con­sumers and even rank­ing among the worst social media faux pas of all time if things go par­tic­u­lar­ly bad.

In oth­er words, beyond sim­ply rel­e­vance, how do brands and mar­keters decide when to chime in and when to remain silent?

We sur­veyed mar­keters for their best real-time tips and their respons­es were twofold:

1. Plan Ahead.

Joe Maceda, Managing Director of the Invention Studio, Mindshare North America

Joe Maceda MindShare

In the real-time world in which we oper­ate, any­thing and every­thing hap­pen­ing in cul­ture can be an oppor­tu­ni­ty for a brand. But it is crit­i­cal for brands to be rig­or­ous in plan­ning how to approach these moments. In fact, know­ing when NOT to play might be more impor­tant than know­ing when to engage.

Our Plan­ning for Agili­ty process iden­ti­fies cul­tur­al moments — both estab­lished tent-pole events and less pre­dictable news top­ics— that align with a brand’s DNA or cam­paign mes­sage. This estab­lish­es the moments and themes that are appro­pri­ate for the brand to inject [itself] into and sets the play­book for when those events hap­pen in cul­ture – it can be any­thing from a dra­mat­ic moment in sport to a new beau­ty trend, to an envi­ron­men­tal issue and beyond. A major ben­e­fit to Plan­ning for Agili­ty is that it enables real-time respons­es across all paid, owned or earned chan­nels, so brands can tru­ly seize these oppor­tu­ni­ties at scale, rather than only via light­weight social activ­i­ty.

Philip Fenton, Regional Director, Switch Communications

Philip Fenton Switch

The exam­ple every­one still gets excit­ed about is Oreo’s “you can still dunk in the dark” tweet dur­ing the Super Bowl black­out. But what gets lost in the telling is first that the brand had a real­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed news­room set­up that enabled them to spot the oppor­tu­ni­ty and take advan­tage of it and, sec­ond, that Oreo pro­duces a huge amount of con­tent that does not go viral. If you’re pure­ly look­ing to win big with one ultra-suc­cess­ful post, you’re set­ting your­self up to fail.

As for whether brands should attempt real-time mar­ket­ing in the first place, the answer is it depends. Oreo’s tweet worked because it was a fun brand mak­ing a light­heart­ed com­ment about an event that is also fun (at least when the pow­er works). Oreo com­ment­ing on pol­i­tics would be just plain weird. Like­wise, if you’re an accoun­tan­cy firm, it’s very dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how you can lever­age Poke­mon Go in an authen­tic way – chances are it will come off as pret­ty trans­par­ent news­jack­ing.

So know your brand, know your audi­ence and treat real-time mar­ket­ing as anoth­er chan­nel to be nur­tured rather than an oppor­tu­ni­ty to hit the jack­pot and go viral.

Jarrod Bull, Head of Account Management, iCrossing

Jarrod Bull iCrossing

When I ran social for brands like Dr. Pep­per and L’Oreal, the things we always did were set­ting up ‘guard rails’ — What does the brand stand for? What top­ics do we have an opin­ion on? And, from there, we could react more effec­tive­ly. It stays in the cul­tur­al rel­e­vance of what the brand stands for. You have to think about how will peo­ple feel if we do this or don’t do this? You can’t plan for all [events], but pol­i­tics is some­thing you want to stay away from, the death of celebri­ties, you typ­i­cal­ly want to stay away from… I think there’s a point of where you have to stick to your com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­e­gy and stand by that.

It’s impor­tant to stay in the cul­tur­al rel­e­vance of what the brand stands for. You have to think about how will peo­ple feel if we do this or don’t do this? You can’t plan for all [events], but gen­er­al­ly, pol­i­tics is some­thing you want to stay away from, and the death of celebri­ties, you typ­i­cal­ly want to steer well clear. I think there’s a point of where you have to stick to your com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­e­gy and stand by that.

For me, suc­cess is about hav­ing a clear [idea] of what the brand stands for, and then defin­ing behav­iors of what you would and wouldn’t do — then you can react quick­ly. It’s those peo­ple that react in the right way and at the right moment that gain aware­ness. It’s being ready to push that but­ton at that exact moment and, what­ev­er hap­pens, hav­ing a clear def­i­n­i­tion of who you are and what you stand for and hav­ing trust for who­ev­er is acti­vat­ing it.

The most suc­cess­ful cul­tur­al moments over time are when you actu­al­ly think about what’s com­ing out – for exam­ple, there was a lot of good oppor­tu­ni­ty around Star Wars — which is an alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al moment to a death or an actu­al event. You can plan for those things and think cre­ative­ly about how con­tent can play out.

The oth­er thing about plan­ning is you also have to be ready to react the oth­er way when [con­tent] could be deemed insen­si­tive [in the wake of an event]. You have to think about the reac­tion to those moments and pull back some of your com­mu­ni­ca­tion to let those moments go away because your voice doesn’t belong in that moment.

Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com


Real-time mar­ket­ing is a great way of bring­ing expo­sure to your brand but most mar­keters believe they can sim­ply attach them­selves to the hottest top­ic for great returns. The rea­son this does not work is because the mar­keters are not tap­ping into the essence of the top­ic and have no strat­e­gy. Sim­ply because the top­ic is attract­ing traf­fic now does not mean you can tack­le it with­out a plan. Three help­ful tips I’ve found to make a quick plan is:

  1. Research – The mar­keter must learn and under­stand the essence of what they are try­ing to take advan­tage of. They need to answer the basic ques­tions. What is it? Why is it pop­u­lar? Who is pay­ing atten­tion to it? Who isn’t? With­out these basic ques­tions answered, your brand will look inept no mat­ter what.
  2. Strate­gize – When the mar­keter has under­stood the basics, it is time for them to cre­ate a strat­e­gy that best high­lights their brand with­in the con­text of the top­ic. Sim­ply attach­ing the two will at best make the brand some­what vis­i­ble, but at worst it could show your brand is out of touch. The plan must invent a cre­ative con­nec­tion between all par­ties involved to help it break through the dig­i­tal noise suc­cess­ful­ly.
  3. Imple­ment – Final­ly, the mar­keter must know where to imple­ment their plan. Sim­ply plac­ing it any­where and every­where might bring vis­i­bil­i­ty but it won’t cause an impact. Spe­cial­iz­ing where peo­ple take notice and buzz about your strat­e­gy is just as impor­tant as under­stand­ing what’s going on. The last thing you want is the great­est mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy you have come up with go com­plete­ly unno­ticed because the forum was wrong.

2. Know Thyself. And Thy Consumers.

Cody Simmonds, Digital Strategist, Struck

Cody Simmonds Struck

The most crit­i­cal thing brands need to con­sid­er before tak­ing part in a trend­ing hash­tag or top­ic is to ful­ly under­stand how its core audi­ence per­ceives and engages with that par­tic­u­lar top­ic. For exam­ple, if Chee­rios’ core con­sumer is young par­ents with chil­dren aged 1–5 years old, Game of Thrones prob­a­bly isn’t the best top­ic to align with (unless those par­ents over-index as GoT watch­ers). Brands should always have a clear under­stand­ing of their tar­get audience’s hob­bies and inter­ests and look for ways to rel­e­vant­ly cater to those affini­ties. Even if a brand’s prod­uct or ser­vice doesn’t align with the top­ic of dis­cus­sion, the brand can find ways to take advan­tage of top­ics or dis­cus­sions that are rel­e­vant to its core audi­ence and cre­ate plat­forms for dis­cus­sion and engage­ment.

One of the biggest (and best) ways brands can dri­ve affin­i­ty and make a major impact with their core con­sumers is to be will­ing to take a side on polit­i­cal and social issues. Accord­ing to eMar­keter and Cone Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, more than 90 per­cent of Mil­len­ni­als will switch to brands that sup­port caus­es and issues that align with their beliefs. They’re also will­ing to pay more for prod­ucts and ser­vices that are social­ly respon­si­ble. As a brand, it’s crit­i­cal to under­stand how your core con­sumers feel about spe­cif­ic issues and to find ways to align your­self with their views by sup­port­ing rel­e­vant caus­es and orga­ni­za­tions.

Kristian Rivera, Digital Marketing Specialist, Fit Small Business

Kristian Rivera Head Shot

Be gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed in trendy top­ics that you want to write on. If you’re writ­ing just to cap­i­tal­ize on the trend and gain expo­sure, it will come across in your writ­ing. Peo­ple can eas­i­ly sniff this type of behav­ior out. It’s as bad as click-bait­ing to get peo­ple to your site. It will turn peo­ple away because you’re not offer­ing any­thing of val­ue to them.

How­ev­er, if you have a gen­uine inter­est and are pas­sion­ate about the top­ic, it will show and will be appre­ci­at­ed by your read­ers. You want to offer them some­thing unique that they can’t get any­where else. They’re not just com­ing to your site for the top­ic but your take on the top­ic. The worst thing you can do is write gener­ic copy that every­one else has writ­ten to cap­i­tal­ize on the moment. Stand out from the crowd and write from the heart.

What are you thoughts on how brands can ensure their real-time mar­ket­ing efforts are time­ly and rel­e­vant?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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