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Online Ambulance Chasers

4304785789_cd14b62929_mLast week, the big story in the world of social media was hacking. First, Burger King’s Twitter account got hacked. Then MTV pretended they got hacked because they wanted some of the PR that Burger King had gotten. Then Jeep’s Twitter account got hacked (really). I’m not really interested in talking about these events specifically, however. Rather, I want to talk about how some reacted to these events and how this ties into a bigger picture of how we can establish ourselves as experts or “thought leaders” in an ever changing online world.

Shortly after the hacking marathon, Exact Target, a very highly respected email marketing company, published a blog titled, “What can we learn from the Burger King Twitter hack?” The post offers some sound advice (don’t pass around your password – hard to argue with that), but it also suggests that using a product like Exact Target can help your company remain secure in the face of a hacking event like that Burger King experienced. That is a stretch, especially if Anonymous was truly behind the event (that still has not been confirmed).

A lot of companies that blog use this approach. Some people call it newsjacking, or using a very important news story as fodder for a blog story. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this approach to blogging, particularly if the news story is relevant to what your company does. In fact, we advise our clients that offering a commentary on a relevant news story can be a good way to showcase their expertise. The catch is that you need to do this kind of marketing and blogging the right way.

There are a few important things to consider when you are weighing pros and cons of riding the coattails of a major news story. Here are the guidelines we usually follow:

1. Be sensitive. In the wake of tragic events like Newtown, writing a blog post with promotional verbiage attached is seldom viewed as appropriate. Even though you might get a lot of traffic, your feedback will very likely not be positive.

2. Make sure you fully understand the entire story. Give the story time to unwind, and do not just rely on blog posts written minutes after the event for your information. Make sure you can verify all of your details. Do your homework.

3. Do not make promises you cannot keep. Unless you are 100% positive your product or service could solve a problem (or prevent one), do not use a news event as an opportunity to make a shaky claim. This can ruin your credibility in one fell swoop.

4. Do not make accusations against others, even your competition, in the wake of a news story relevant to your industry unless, again, you are absolutely sure beyond a doubt that your facts are correct. That is a sure path to a PR nightmare, and more to the point, perhaps, you’ll make your competitor look more like a victim who deserves sympathy and support.

There is another point here as well. There is a tangible pressure in the online world to be the first to spot a story. Whether it’s a news story like an earthquake or whether it’s the launch of a new platform, marketers, mavens, and even regular citizens want to be the first to “break a story” to their community. This pressure can entice people and companies to publish blog posts, tweets, or Facebook updates before the true story is verified. This can be embarrassing on a personal level and disastrous for a business. Being first is not always akin to being accurate. News stories have longer tails than we think. Give the news a few days to untangle the webs, then see if you writing about it could still be of benefit to your community.

As with so many things in the world of social media, online reporting, and fast-paced business, there is a fine line between doing something well and creating disaster. When it comes to chasing an online news story, the stakes are high. Do you know how to play the game safely?

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/1stpix_diecast_dioramas/4304785789/ via Creative Commons

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One comment on “Online Ambulance Chasers

  1. […] need to be cautious about this approach, as we have discussed before. You don’t want to be accused of just writing something as “bait.” However, if […]

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