• Steve Saleeba

A Wild Bear and a Quick Lesson in Newsjacking

By Ryan Curley and Steve Saleeba

Last week, a fantastic video clip popped up on Twitter (reportedly shot by Scituate resident Samantha Sargent) of a bear sprinting across a salt marsh in Scituate. A few other sightings had been reported across a handful of South Shore towns over the course of a few days.


What was so fantastic about it? We’re not really sure, but it’s a bear, and it’s running through a salt marsh on the South Shore. Awesome, right? There’s an undeniable urge to keep watching it over and over and to share it. Note that wayward bears do show up on the South Shore every couple of years or so, and they always make news just for being a bear. It also is not uncommon to hop on social media or turn on the news to see a coyote trotting through a Boston neighborhood, a Great White shark swimming near a beach, an urban turkey or even a moose out for a stroll in the northeastern part of Massachusetts. But for whatever subconscious reason, it always gets a lot of people’s attention, including those who work in media.

The point of this post isn’t about wild animals. But it is about understanding what catches people’s attention. It is the actual job of marketing and communications professionals to figure out how to catch people’s attention in a way that will benefit their clients’ goals… which brings us to the term “newsjacking.” It sounds devious. But newsjacking is when a person or a brand co-opts (or hijacks) an event or a news story to promote their own, probably unrelated agenda. I could give you a bunch of examples, but google “newsjacking,” and you’ll find plenty of listicles detailing recent examples. But this is our blog and we’re here to talk about us (at least for this post).

On June 11, Hello! South Shore went live. Hollywood Agency and South Shore Chamber of Commerce had been planning and working together on a traditional website roll-out and marketing campaign to get South Shore residents out and exploring their region. But when the bear showed up in Scituate a few days prior to the launch, we immediately recognized that its presence would generate a lot of news and social media buzz. We seized on the opportunity to co-opt this visitor’s travels by creating the @SouthShoreBear Twitter account, following South Shore residents and local media personalities, and developing a bucket of content that balanced bear puns, cute quips, and some message-based movement toward our goal of promoting the launch of Hello! South Shore.

With the South Shore Chamber, our overarching goals were to develop the Hello! South Shore website and marketing campaign, and to build some regional awareness around it. The fortunate timing of the bear’s arrival was critical to our success. The website wasn’t launching for four days, but had we waited, it’s likely that interest in the bear would have faded and our efforts would have been dead on arrival. As of Thursday, local police departments were discouraging residents from reporting new sightings.

Flexibility to respond in a rapid-but-strategic manner set us up to achieve the goal of awareness, and it happened before the campaign even officially launched. We had no plans to get the word out ahead of time, but with this opportunity we immediately put our creativity and understanding of traditional and social media news cycles to work.

While the campaign could have been executed on any social media platform, there were a couple of reasons we chose to focus on Twitter: the ability to engage people publicly without having to “friend” them and it is a platform where local journalists tend to be most active.

A few rules to consider for newsjacking

Beyond what we’ve discussed, there are a few rules that brands should consider when weighing an idea to newsjack something: Balance and subtlety in the messaging is important. Overt brand promotion turns people off. “HI I’M PRETENDING TO BE A BEAR ON SOCIAL MEDIA IN ORDER TO PROMOTE A MARKETING CAMPAIGN.” No thanks.

On the other hand, off-script, no holds barred tweeting may collect a lot of followers and engagement, but does it translate into achieving your objectives? Probably not. In this case, the campaign was hyperlocal, allowing us to focus on engaging South Shore residents by referencing some of their favorite spots – restaurants, nature hikes, local businesses, farmers markets and performing arts venues, giving the sense that “the fake bear is one of us.”

Decipher the news cycle

Everyone lives in a fast-paced world with an even faster paced news cycle, when opportunity presents itself, it is imperative to act instantly otherwise the spotlight will be lost to the competition. When Hollywood Agency saw this opportunity, they did just that, they moved quickly to establish the story as their own and were able to even build momentum by adding their own twist.

Be prepared to adjust and to continue engaging

To fully take advantage of the situation and successfully keep momentum, Hollywood Agency spent time responding directly to hundreds of people’s interactions, and thus keeping their attention on us. Users who became more invested in the Twitter handle’s personality were rewarded with more engagement from the account, and therefore devoted more of their time to engaging.

Break through the noise

Social media is an ever-changing landscape with a near endless amount of content. It is a great place to post thoughts, jokes, anecdotes, and promotions. The challenge lies in ensuring they are seen. Even if one has fantastic content, it can still take years to organically build a large following.

The team at Hollywood Agency knew it was imperative to engage social media profiles with large followings in order to utilize their existing popularity. To accomplish this the account began engaging targeted local news personalities and organizations with a following that overlapped the target market. The organic response from many of these influencers quickly turned a small unknown twitter page into a local topic of conversation, surpassing 500 followers in less than a week. This approach allowed the team to transition the conversation around bear sightings into a fresh, entertaining conversation that emphasized a combination of humor and awareness around local businesses in order to build momentum.

The results

In just one week, the @SouthShoreBear Twitter profile amassed:

· 600+ followers,

· 120,000+ impressions,

· 2,500+ engagements,

· 21,000+ profile views (with HelloSouthShore.com linked in our bio)

In addition, among the local journalists, media personalities and publications who followed us back and engaged with us on Twitter, a number of them mentioned our Twitter handle and/or shared one of our subtle, campaign-specific tweets in news pieces about the bear’s whereabouts:

· BostonGlobe.com - June 14

· BostonGlobe.com – June 15

· BostonGlobe.com – June 16

· NBC10Boston – June 15

· WBZ NewsRadio 1030 – June 9 & 10

· WMEX 1510 AM – June 9

If you want a team that’s creative with strong expertise in recognizing news cycle trends, contact Hollywood Agency (or DM @SouthShoreBear). You’ll be BEARy happy you did.

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Marketing as a whole is about telling an organization’s story in a manner that is going to resonate with target audiences. Here at Hollywood Agency, our team of journalist-led experts work with organi