The marketing industry's fascination with "real-time marketing" reached a tipping point during Sunday night's Oscars. There was a firestorm of chatter on Twitter and even a hashtag (#oscarrtm) created to direct the conversation among the media. Brands ranging from Stella Artois to Charmin joined the conversation -- each in their own unique way.
The fascination is certainly warranted, but solely focusing on which brands succeed or fail -- or even how every brand can jump on the bandwagon -- misses the point. Real-time marketing may not be right for every brand. Even for brands that have the strategy and structures in place to warrant it, not every major cultural moment deserves a real-time response.
Selecting the right moments
Finding success with real-time content often means knowing when to let opportunities go. Investing in preparation for real-time response requires significant investment and preparation, so carefully choose moments that align with your brand and community. If the event doesn't warrant the investment, think about how you can create event-specific content in advance so you can still be timely without the inherent risks and costs of being "real time."
Having a passionate following that will amplify your brand's quick commentary is also critical to achieving success in the moment. The scale of your community matters less than its willingness to engage with your brand and what types of content it will welcome from you.
If you do decide to act on real-time opportunities, respond quickly or not at all. If you act too slowly, you may fall victim to backlash for "missing the boat." Take Poland Spring, for example. It was criticized for waiting 14 hours to respond to Marco Rubio's sip of water during the Republican party's rebuttal of the State of the Union.
Planning for the unplanned
Real-time content can be created and distributed in minutes, but putting yourself in a position to do this successfully -- and knowing when you're ready for it -- takes a lot of upfront planning. Brands need to create a strong social foundation in order to be ready for success when the right opportunity strikes. Long before the Superdome lost power, one of our agency's clients, Oreo, had already laid a foundation for real-time, responsive marketing. As a result of careful planning, it was able to capitalize on the moment within minutes.
Preparedness requires developing a social persona, tone of voice and guidelines for how your brand behaves and converses in social channels. You must also ask some hard questions. How does your social personality impact the types of content you create, comment on or share? What kinds of content and community interactions will you respond to? Brands need a clear and documented vision that all stakeholders can understand.
Even marketers with a clear understanding of their brand's social persona can falter in the moment without the right team and processes in place. Newsrooms or "mission control" centers are great for tent pole events -- key stakeholders are assembled in one room and know how the team will come together in the moment.
But what about the moments we simply don't see coming? Having a 24/7 newsroom is unrealistic and unnecessary for most brands. Instead, think about who you need to have in the fold to make things happen quickly when the time arises. Social listening can help alert you to things happening so that you can put your escalation and activation plans into effect. Create a "virtual newsroom" so you can quickly assemble and activate this team.
What happens next?
Real-time content isn't a fad; it's a natural evolution of the social age, but it's also not the only way to achieve engagement. These moments, when fueled by social, give brands an opportunity to achieve cultural relevance and an engaging, ongoing dialogue with their audience. Those that do it successfully will continue to surprise and delight their fans and the industry. But brands that jump into the game before they're ready risk their reputation.
The real challenge and opportunity for brands is to successfully structure their organization to capture these moments on a sustained basis without losing sight of their overall marketing goals.