Melania Trump plagiarized her RNC speech.
People are roaming the streets like zombies looking for Pokémon.
Taylor, Kim and Kanye are fighting. Again.
The new Ghostbusters movie has been released.
The world is in turmoil around us.

Every day, we wake up to new headlines, celebrity spats and upcoming holiday weekends. As brands and as marketers, we want to be timely and we want to be relevant. That makes jumping on the bandwagon, newsjacking, real-time marketing an attractive option to help get our name and our message out there to the people we want to reach.

…but how do you do it in an intelligent way? How do you use newsjacking to leverage a rising tide, rather than embarrassing yourself with something that has nothing to do with your brand message? Real-time marketing can work for your brand, but only if you have a strategy in place first. Here’s how to do it.

Get Buy-In for a Real-Time Culture

Part of what gives real-time marketing its appeal is that you don’t need a huge marketing team or a big marketing budget to do it. All you have to do is be smart enough to see an opportunity, and have the internal buy-in to be able to act.

Real-time marketing isn’t new, but it is a marketing tactic garnering more attention due in part to the 24/7 news cycle of social media. Things happen and explode in an instant and, as a brand, you have just a moment to use what’s happening around you to spur engagement with your brand. A moment. That’s it.

Acting on real-time marketing may not require a large marketing staff paid to refresh Twitter all day, but it does require a shift in mindset and the ability to act just as quickly as news erupts. Hot stories are only hot for so long, giving brands a limited time to capitalize. If it takes your design team three weeks to design a “viral” social media graphic or your social media team six hours to write and get approval on a tweet, real-time marketing isn’t going to align well with your business. It’s not for you.

To leverage real-time marketing, you need to have the processes in place to act quickly. Or at least a culture that allows you to buck the process when needed.

Have a Good Hook

This. This right here is where most attempts at newsjacking go so horribly wrong. Real-time marketing gives us an opportunity to insert our brand into already-trending stories…but you should only do so when it makes sense and when you can tie it back to your brand in an intelligent or useful way.

It makes sense for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to hop on the Pokémon craze, urging drivers to “Drive now. Catch Pokémon later.”
It made sense and was powerful when The Salvation Army inserted itself into the #blackandblue phenomenon.

It made less sense when a conversation about #TheDress became about #TeamBreadsticks.

And it made even less sense and was in bad taste when Hurricane Sandy was used to sell mattresses and generators.

Being timely and clever is great (it’s also very difficult), but ask yourself: Are you entering the conversation in a meaningful way, or are you Chris Martin at the last Super Bowl – excited to be at the big dance, but not quite sure what you’re doing there.

via GIPHY

Use Good Judgement

Here’s the thing – the core of real-time marketing means acting faster than your company is probably used to. To do that, you have to trust the person with their finger on the trigger. You have to be 100% confident they’re not going to publish something that is offensive, off-brand, insensitive or that will create a backlash. This isn’t a real-time marketing problem, it’s a hiring problem, but it’s one more apt to reveal itself when people are making quick decisions and trying to be clever. Acting fast doesn’t give you bad judgement, but it will sure show it.

Make the Content Worth It

Just because you’re acting quickly doesn’t give you permission to be sloppy. The content you’re putting out – be it a tweet, a graphic, a video, an application – will forever be aligned with your brand. That’s why you’re creating it in the first place, right? To grab attention and build awareness? Make it something you’ll be proud of (this includes making note of pesky things like grammar and proper spelling). Create a process now that allows you to spin out creative on the fly — whether it’s a video, a graphic or a blog post. Don’t wait until you need it to figure out how it’s going to get done.

Know When to Shut Up

Not everything is a marketing opportunity.
Not everything is a marketing opportunity.

It’s so important we said it twice.

When a terror attack happens at home or abroad, unless you are the American Red Cross capable of offering assistance, sit this one out.
If it’s Memorial Day and you sell shoes, no one is looking at you to say something clever or, heaven forbid, to have a punny hashtag to insert into your latest promotion.

Whether real-time or not, we all have a responsibility to be just that – responsible in our marketing. That means having good judgement as noted above and knowing when it’s time to speak and when it’s time to shut up and sit this one out. If you’re not sure which is appropriate, err on the side of being human first.

Opportunities for newsjacking and real-time marketing are powerful, are out there, and will continue to reveal themselves if you’re smart enough to look. You can either put a strategy in place now for how you’ll handle them, or risk the fallout that occurs when you don’t. We’ll keep an eye on Twitter to see which one you choose.