Want to Succeed As a Real-Time Brand? Know When to Protect Yourself

You Need to Blend a Customer-Service Mindset With the Always-On Promotional Machinery

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Marketers are rushing to fuel content machines to drive search, increase engagement and unleash those hoped-for viral moments. Smart CMOs and CCOs also will aggressively fold customer service into the mix, because they know that being "always on" is only half the battle.

"Always on" speaks to the more traditional one-way communication model. A more appropriate mindset is "always on and always ready." Brands are being shaped by more voices than ever before (customers, employees, advocates, influencers, experts, partners, competitors, and yes, the brand itself), and the power of enabling technology and social media means that a once-isolated customer-service issue can get big and loud in a hurry, dragging brands into a different kind of public conversation.

Before you unleash that fire hose of real-time content, you'd better make sure your customer service mindset is seamlessly integrated. Get it right, and your brand and reputation is protected by an agile, relevant, creative and analytic mindset; get it wrong, and you're setting yourself up for a fall.

Some questions to consider:

Does your industry, brand or product naturally lend itself to controversy? The balance between promoting and protecting is much different for an airline, say, than a consumer-packaged-goods company. Airlines always need to prepare for a crisis, but in real-time they will likely be swamped by an overwhelming number of daily customer issues. A consumer-packaged-goods brand will always face crisis and customer-service issues, but not so intensely on a daily basis.

Promote or protect: Which comes first? Engage with your online community, pushing daily promotional content. Yet, if the sentiment of your social audiences is 80% negative, you need to protect your brand and address the core issues first, eventually earning the right to promote. Over-focusing on promotional messaging in social, while ignoring an accumulation of small issues, is akin to poking a sleeping bear.

Are you always ready to amplify the positive? Traditionally, media buying has been a proactive, linear effort. Today we often see reactive opportunities to promote and amplify a piece of content that is starting to get traction and go viral. But in many cases, media budgets are already committed and the client loses out on an opportunity. Brands need to have a much more agile, always-ready approach to content strategy and budgeting.

How well do you know advocates and detractors? It's vital to know if those first several embarrassing tweets are coordinated and connected, indicating a pending movement against your product or service. In one case, we found that 0.2% of social-media contributors were driving 40% of the activity around specific keywords linked to significant social volume in only a few hours, alerting the client's executive team to dial down marketing efforts and launch a broad, multi-platform, coordinated response before the aggressive movement could pick up steam.

Are you prepared to change strategy on a moment's notice? Marketing a sports team is typically a fun, minimally risky endeavor. It's all about fan engagement and interaction with a passionate audience, until your version of the Richard Sherman post-game interview/rant is shared globally.

Sometimes, saying nothing in response to such a crisis is the best thing to do. The real-time machine that you have primed to crank out gobs of content with an always-on mindset may not be coordinated and data-driven enough to know the right balance between promoting and protecting your brand.

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