Nov 14, 2017

How to Newsjack Effectively on Twitter

by Digital Marketing Institute

You log on to Twitter on a Wednesday afternoon and see that the conversation is dominated by one hashtag – it could be a conversation about a TV show, a sporting event or a current affairs argument.

Knowing Twitter, it could simply be a light-hearted conversation about changing a letter in film’s name.

Whatever it is, how do you know when to jump in from your brand’s account and when to leave well enough alone?

The history of brands getting involved and completely missing the tone of the conversation is almost as long and storied as Twitter, so there are plenty of examples of people doing it wrong.

But there are also examples of companies doing it right. Here, we’ll show you how to avoid being the former.

1. Trust Who’s In Charge

We have previously talked about the importance of having a good, experienced and knowledgeable person at the helm of your social media.

Do they have carte blanche to tweet whatever they see fit? Are you happy to let them decide when to jump into these conversations?

If not, ensure that a system exists to vet non-brand story tweets.

That means that your social manager has two eyes on anything that isn’t specifically linked to you, your brand or customer service. This should minimise the chances of a mistake being made.

2. Know What You’re Tagging

Hashtags can be a great way to tag a location, a brand or to organise the conversation.

But that doesn’t mean you need to use a hashtag about each of these on your posts. In fact, TrackMaven found that the more hashtags that were used in a post, the less engagement it got.

So if you want to join a trending topic, leave it at that.

If, for example, the trend is #WineWednesday, don’t feel the need to add #Dublin, #DublinBusiness, #SME, because it will actively harm your engagements.

Evan LePage of HootSuite says:

“If your tweet, post, or comment isn’t adding any substance to the wider conversation, you might want to consider leaving the hashtag off. “

3. Don’t Worry About Missing Out

For a subject to become a trending topic on Twitter used to take a lot of effort and was, generally speaking, a big deal.

Today in Ireland, it can take as little as between 800 and 1,000 tweets to get a topic trending. In many cases, these tweets can belong to subsets of 100-250 tweeters

That means that if you aren’t involved, you’re not necessarily missing an opportunity to sell because that subset might have no interest in your business or may resent their conversation being intruded on by a company.

Track the hashtag, see how many people are tweeting about it and make a decision based on that.

4. Read The Conversation

When you are in a social situation, you don’t sidle up to a group of people, hear one phrase and decide what the conversation is about, do you?

Hopefully, you don’t and you shouldn’t on Twitter, either. A hashtag is simply a word or two used to organize a conversation. If you saw #OrangeGate, you wouldn’t know if it was a place, a controversy about a celebrity throwing an orange or a serious chemical spill. Take a few minutes to read the tone and tenor of the conversation before you tweet.

The two best examples of this are old, but have entered into social media lore as cautionary tales.

Example 1:

DiGiorno Pizza Mistake.

This tweet from DiGiornio Pizza is harmless, right? Everyone loves pizza so staying somewhere for it is reasonable.

Except that the hashtag was domestic abuse survivors telling their stories of why they stayed in abusive relationships.

Twitter faux pas from DiGiorno Pizza.

The company immediately put its hands up and apologised, but the mistake was avoidable by simply reading a few tweets.

Example 2:

Designer Kenneth Cole took serious flack in 2011 for this tweet.

Designer Kenneth Cole took serious flack in 2011 for this tweet. At the time, Cairo was trending on Twitter because it was the scene of a violent revolution that would leave 1,000 dead.

Another deletion and apology followed, along with reputational damage, because reading a couple of tweets was too hard.

5. Don’t Try To Be Clever

If you are an engineering firm or a small business based in Galway, nobody is expecting you to come to Twitter with the funniest or most clever content.

They are more than likely following your brand because they have some interest in what you sell or do.

Carrie Fisher Cinnebon tweet.

In that regard, your brand isn’t expected to have the best meme about a TV show or best joke about a football match. But can you make a simple tweet about a World Cup game link to your product? Can you offer fans of a certain team or show a discount? That puts you in the conversation in a very natural way.

When Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher died at the end of 2016, US pastry shop Cinnabon tried to be clever with the above tweet.

The result? They had to delete it and apologise.

6. The Internet Doesn’t Forget

It is a truism about the Internet that has never been truer: the internet never forgets.

You may realise within seconds that a tweet is inappropriate, poorly judged or even just misspelt, but will be tweeted back to you multiple times even if you delete it.

Just ask shoe maker Crocs who, when David Bowie died in 2016, tried to clumsily turn it into sales. The tweet was quickly deleted but exists in the hall of fame of poorly-judged tweets.

Crocs tried to profit from David Bowie death on Twitter but experienced backlash.

This is not meant to make Twitter some boogeyman or make it seem like a bear pit, it is a reminder that your brand’s Twitter account is not a playground. It is a reputational management and marketing tool and what is posted there should reflect its importance.


With the knowledge of what can go wrong, it can be hard to remember that trending hashtags allow you access to a potentially massive audience, particularly during major events in sports, television and world affairs.

But how do you know when it’s right to jump into that conversation?

The keys are:

  • Know what the tone of the conversation is
  • Don’t feel the need to be too out there or clever or funny
  • Remember that what you tweet will be permanent – even if you delete it
  • Use your gut – you know your product best. If a conversation feels like something you shouldn’t be involved in, you’re probably right.

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