How brands can intercept the Super Bowl – one tweet at a time

January 29, 2015

This post was written by Mike Lizun, Senior Vice President

The big game is just a few days away. Football fans are hoping for a game that isn’t over in the first half. Casual fans will tune in for the other big show, the commercials. And PR teams are refreshing social feeds in search of a trend to newsjack.

Wait, to what? If you haven’t heard of newsjacking, it’s the art of inserting your own idea or brand into current events, trending topics, or the most talked-about stories.

And some of the best examples of newsjacking occur during Super Bowl frenzy. This shouldn’t be surprising. Football’s biggest game is one of the most-watched TV events of the year, with more than 110 million viewers in 2014. Twitter, Facebook, and every other social network will produce an avalanche of comments and opportunities for content around the event’s most memorable moments.

As a topic starts trending, every brand will be waiting to add the perfect response, the newsjack that will grab headlines and spark coast-to-coast conversations on Monday morning. And while it may look spontaneous, brands are just like the players on the field: Their teams have prepared all year long to be ready for anything.

For some, it’s already begun: After the New England Patriots pulled #Deflategate, this tweet kicked off a whole new conversation:

But for every example of clever newsjacking, there are dozens that miss the mark. In the best case scenario, no one really notices, but for the unfortunate company that sends the wrong message, apologies must be issued, tweets and statuses are deleted, and the shaming is inevitable.

As a quick refresher before the game, here’s what sets the best newsjacking apart, and where the worst tends to fail.

Know what story you’re trying to tell: The best example of newsjacking in recent memory, and still the standard, is Oreo’s brilliant response to the power outage in Super Bowl XLVII.

Simple. Smart. Subtle. Silly. It fit the company’s narrative and was witty enough to garner a laugh and a retweet – thousands of times. Needless to say, it was extremely popular and successful. It worked because the narrative matched the events unfolding on TV, and it was perfectly crafted thanks to a bit of humor and a dynamite image. And even though it looked like it was created on the fly, according to the agency that directed the strategy, it was a year and a half in the making.

Ask yourself: Where does your story fit in? Does it match the narrative playing out on social media or on the screen? What are you adding to the conversation? Have you been preparing for the right moment?

Don’t force it: There’s a saying in football that you should take what the defense gives you. Too often, companies try to newsjack the narrative and make their story fit, but their message and the situation just don’t align. Think round peg, square hole.

Other times, social media gives you cues. When Arby’s saw chatter comparing Pharrell’s Grammy headwear to the brand’s logo, it drafted up a quick, and now famous, response.

There’s an organic quality to good newsjacking. You can’t brainstorm it in a conference room, surrounded by charts; it’s a spur-of-the-moment reaction to what everyone is seeing. The best newsjacks aren’t hijacking the news per se, but rather piggy-backing on an event – if the moment can’t support your story, your brand is going to hit the floor.

Forcing it elicits eye rolls and worse, so monitor the conversation closely. It’s easy to spot what’s fake and forced.

But be prepared: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. No one can craft the perfect newsjack a week before the big game, but you can build a culture that capitalizes on any opportunities.

Remember when Ellen DeGeneres ordered pizza for some friends at the 2014 Academy Awards? Pizza Hut was ready.

Foster a creative atmosphere that lets humor and wit prevail in a team that’s nimble enough to produce flawless copy and visuals in an instant. Being late is the same as not posting at all. They don’t call them trending topics for nothing.

But set boundaries and ensure proper oversight — without them, company social media accounts run astray. Social media embraces wit and humor, but also prizes decency and tolerance, so don’t skip approvals, just make them quickly.

Read the tea leaves: Not every situation is ripe for a newsjack, and a bad attempt at humor at the wrong time will garner negative headlines the next day. Remember that old adage, think before you speak? In today’s world, it’s think before you tweet.

An ill-timed post or the misuse of a hashtag can land a brand in hot water with followers and the media at large. In these cases, we can’t even see the tweets anymore – they’ve been deleted, and apologies written in their place.

What message are you ultimately trying to convey, and how will you be seen in the moment? Trust your instincts and your experience, and if you aren’t sure you should hit send, don’t, and wait for the next opportunity.

This Sunday, ready your snacks and fully charge your phones, tablets, and computers, because it’ll be a long night of waiting for the perfect moment to strike. But be patient and you might be rewarded with a great newsjack that we’ll all be talking about next year before the big game.

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