Here’s a great antidote for anyone who’s scrambling to find a topic for their next blog: Read your favourite news feed, find a hot topic that you genuinely find interesting, come up with an original twist that gives the story new life, and newsjack it.
I first stumbled across David Meerman Scott’s concept of newsjacking about 18 months ago, and while I haven’t practiced it nearly as often as I’d like to, I love the idea. That’s partly because it takes me back (way-y-y-y back) to my days as a freelance feature writer in Canada’s Parliamentary Press Gallery: if I could come up with two or three unique angles on a story that matched different clients’ content interests or geographic scope, I knew we’d have a good chance of paying the next month’s mortgage.
Own the Second Paragraph
Fast forward nearly 35 years to a post on the TopRank online marketing blog, where Lee Odden advised would-be newsjackers to own the second paragraph of the day’s headline news.
When a story first breaks, he explained, journalists will scramble to pick up the lead—the who, what, where, when, and why of the story. “If you are clever enough to react to breaking news very quickly, providing credible second-paragraph content in a blog post, tweet, or media alert that features the keyword of the moment, you may be rewarded with a bonanza of media attention.”
An Unlimited Source of Material
I’ll confess that I’ve never understood the would-be bloggers who complain that they never know what to write about. It’s more than likely that their organizations have years of great material in their archive, just waiting to be updated and redistributed.
One way to refresh a piece of content that is solid, compelling, but a bit out of date is to give it a new lead. Newsjackers do that by spotting a breaking story, thinking out a plausible, genuine connection to their own material, then moving quickly to seize the opportunity.
Meerman Scott points out that timing is all-important here: every story has a life cycle, often a short one, and it makes most sense to introduce an edgy new angle after the news first breaks, while reporters are still scrambling for new information.
A Standard for Content Marketers
What I like best about newsjacking is that it sets a high standard for content marketing.
To use the technique and use it well, we have to be organized enough to move quickly, nimble enough to quickly shift our editorial calendars, and knowledgeable enough to come up with a smart, genuine news angle that aligns a story with our underlying objectives.
But the stakes are high, because a newsjack that is contrived, superficial, or just silly will stand out just as much as an effective one—and for all the wrong reasons. If you try to newsjack for spin, not for substance, you’ll be better off with no coverage at all, if the alternative is to be mocked for the effort.