If you follow the online marketing industry, chances are you’ve heard of newsjacking -- and even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen it happen. Marketing strategist and author David Meerman Scott, who coined the term, describes it as “the process by which you inject ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.”

Twitter Trends

Unsurprisingly, a special subset of newsjacking has developed on Twitter, the real-time giant of the Internet. Here, newsjacking includes not only injecting one’s brand into real-life events as they happen, but also engaging with trending hashtags.

A good example of the latter emerged recently with the hashtag #RuinA90sBand, in which Twitter users change part of a famous band’s name (ex: “The Red Hot Chili Lepers,” “Boyz to Baldmen”). When the humor turned scatological, Charmin jumped on the opportunity to engage with users by adding “Fiona Apple Bottom,” “Buns-N-Roses” and “Poo Poo Dolls” to the mix. Soon, Charmin was going back and forth with followers, who were tweeting suggestions like “Bowling for Poop” and “Turd Eye Blind” directly at the company. By watching trending hashtags, the company was able to build its fan base without making any overt attempts to sell its product.

But not all newsjacking efforts have been so innocuous. Perhaps the most famous example of newsjacking run amok occurred during the uprisings in Cairo, when footwear retailer Kenneth Cole tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at https://bit.ly/KC–Cairo — KC.” Popular reaction to the tweet was overwhelmingly negative.

The Mechanics of Newsjacking

So what makes for successful newsjacking on Twitter? Here are my top picks for the good, the bad and the ugly, along with what we can learn from them:

  1. The Good: Oreo’s Super Bowl

    When the lights went out for a half hour in the middle of the 2013 Super Bowl, Twitter lit up (in fact, there were far more tweets during the outage than during the game itself: 231,500 per minute). Minutes after the blackout, Oreo tweeted an illustration of an Oreo and a tagline that read “You can still dunk in the dark.” It was retweeted more than 15,000 times in about 12 hours. The lesson to be learned from this tweet -- which was so popular that it actually got newsjacked in turn -- is that simple strategies can work if they’re timely. Oreo was able to create the ad and get it out quickly because it had a creative team actually standing by during the game and looking for newsjacking opportunities.

  2. The Bad: Royal Baby Fails

    When Prince William and Kate Middleton were awaiting the birth of their first child last year, many brands had teams ready and waiting to newsjack #RoyalBaby. But some of the efforts were underwhelming (especially considering they’d had months to prepare). A particularly lackluster attempt came from Chobani, which tweeted, “Boy oh boy, the wait is over! We can stop the stress-eating now. An empty fridge is truly no way to celebrate. #royalbaby.” The lesson: Don’t try to force your brand into news that doesn’t fit. It ends up looking, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, desperate or bizarre.

  3. The Ugly: Boston Marathon Breakfast

    The day after the Boston Marathon bombings, when the nation was still in shock and collective mourning, Epicurious tweeted the following, along with a product link: “Boston, our hearts are with you. Here’s a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today.” The outpouring of anger directed at the food site that occurred in the following hours and days demonstrates a simple but invaluable lesson about newsjacking: It’s never a good idea to try to sell a product using a tragedy.

How would you respond to these tweets? Can you think of other notable examples of newsjacking in the Twitterverse? Share them in the comments.