Blog Post

Does Twitter Newsjacking Actually Matter?


The last time I discussed Twitter newsjacking on this blog, I provided some examples of newsjacking done right and newsjacking gone wrong -- at least from a public relations perspective. But here’s the real question you're probably asking: Does newsjacking on Twitter as part of a marketing strategy actually pay off for brands? Looking at the outcomes of some of the examples I covered last time, the answer is surprisingly muddy.

Lackluster Long-Term Impacts

The most cited example of good newsjacking -- almost universally agreed upon as being a brilliant example of real-time marketing -- is the illustration Oreo tweeted within minutes of the lights going out at the 2013 Superbowl with the tagline “You can still dunk in the dark.”

But despite being held up as a textbook example of a newsjacking success due to favorites and retweets garnered, there’s little evidence Oreo actually benefitted from the attention.

As public relations expert Matt Krebsbach pointed out in a Feb. 26 article for PR Week, the industry has yet to come up with a reliable model that correlates social media follows, retweets, likes and other indicators with actual sales or brand loyalty. Entire segments of the online marketing world are focused on getting those follows, retweets and likes, but there’s no agreement as to what kind of social media engagement is meaningful in the long run.

Moreover, while the ploy certainly earned the brand some new Twitter followers, there’s no indication that there’s been any lasting impact even on Oreo’s Twitter feed. Most of the account’s tweets get only a few hundred favorites and retweets these days; that’s pretty meager, considering its 566,000 followers. We’re still talking about it two years later -- and that’s worth noting -- but it’s difficult to prove we’re all buying more Oreos.

Newsjacking Gone…Wrong?

Perhaps even more surprisingly, one of the few times a brand representative has spoken openly about the effects of Twitter newsjacking, it regarded a tweet widely thought of as a cautionary tale illustrating how thoughtless newsjacking can turn into a major gaffe. Kenneth Cole (the designer himself, in this case, not just someone managing the account) attempted to link the 2011 Cairo uprising to a run on the brand’s fashion (the tweet was deleted, but Cole made a similar move in 2013 referencing Syria). A lot of terms like “damage to the brand” have been thrown around ever since to explain why a tweet in such poor taste was a bad idea.

There’s pretty much no question that the tweet was, in fact, in poor taste. But despite the widely expressed moral outrage, there’s actually not much evidence lasting damage was done. In a 2013 interview with the magazine Details, Cole took responsibility for his “inappropriate, self-promoting tweet.” But in virtually the same breath, he continued on to say, “But our stock went up that day, our e-commerce business was better, the business at every one of our stores improved, and I picked up 3,000 new followers on Twitter. So on what criteria is this a gaffe?”

Some might point to the fact that Cole did apologize (and hired a crisis management firm) as reasoning for why the response had the opposite of the expected effect, but that doesn’t explain the immediate boost the company experienced. While it has to be handled carefully, outrage clearly can be good business.

Investing in Newsjacking

At least based on some of the most well-documented examples available, the bottom line is something we probably all know on some level: Internet “buzz” doesn’t always indicate a lasting relationship, and that means brands that invest heavily in real-time marketing like newsjacking but expect a payoff over time may simply not see a high return on their investment. That becomes especially relevant because high-quality newsjacking can be expensive. Brands like Oreo set up marketing “war rooms” during major events such as the Superbowl and the Oscars and prep their people in advance so that they’ll be able to tweet something clever just moments after it happens.

Does that mean that if you’re in charge of a brand lacking those resources, you should give up on injecting yourself into real-time events? Certainly not. It’s always important for brands to stay engaged with the latest news, especially in their respective industries. But the truth is, unless you’re actually engaging with your target audience, it may not be worth figuring out out how to cram the #TheDress debate into a pitch for your auto shop. And if you are going to dedicate resources toward newsjacking, you need to also be setting aside some money toward analyzing the results to find out if it’s actually working for you in terms of engaged followers and viable leads. Even if you are seeing those figures improving, you'll still need to do some work to figure out if you're looking at causation or merely correlation -- and that's likely to be tough and take even more resources, since there's not an industry-wide metric to copy -- but it's at least a start toward investing in meaningful real-time marketing.