Avoiding the Temptation of Newsjacking


Few things in today’s business world are more frustrating than investing a lot of time in developing and promoting content only to hear crickets in response. You try to follow all of the advice the experts offer. You make your blog post headline a question. You end your post with two or three questions. You link to other peoples’ posts. You comment on other posts. You feel like you are doing everything right, and you are making sure that your content will resonate with your target audience—your donors. Still, you can’t seem to push the needle forward.

Then, suddenly, an event happens that is all over the news and all over social media. This past week you might consider the example of the tragic death of Robin Williams. Every post and every article mentioning the actor received tons of comments, tons of shares, and tons of likes. As a person just trying to get more awareness for your cause, you might well look at all of those posts and think, “What if we clung to those coattails?”

The temptation can be particularly strong if the event in the news relates even indirectly to your cause. For example, if your organization deals with trying to prevent suicide or helping teens in crisis, writing about a celebrity who took his own life doesn’t seem that outrageous. There are lessons there, after all.

So why shouldn’t you do it?

It sure seems like there are plenty of benefits to gently jumping on the train of a major news story. What’s the problem then? There  are a few.

  • Newsjacking can ruin your organization’s credibility, especially if you are trying to help people who are emotionally or psychologically in danger. Jumping on the coattails of a sad death can make you appear insensitive, which would be quite counter to the image you want to present.
  • Newsjacking can earn you bad press, especially if your post is perceived to be in bad taste. You should certainly have a social media crisis communications plan, but if you don’t this can really cause your organization long-term trouble.
  • If the event is not directly tied to your organization’s mission your efforts are likely to backfire anyway. Even if you succeed in receiving a lot of comments or traffic, if the post does not correspond to what your organization is all about, visitors to your website will not likely respond by asking how they can donate to your cause. They may comment or share your post, but without that 1:1 connection, you ultimately will not be growing your organization’s contribution numbers.

Have you ever considered riding the tails of a popular news story? Did your organization decide to pursue that path or did you elect not to? We’d love to hear from you!