Over the past year, we've seen real-time marketing (RTM) emerge as a powerful and popular social media marketing tactic. From tweets during the 2013 Super Bowl to more recent posts around the Oscars, brands have jumped on the real-time marketing bandwagon in droves.
In fact, you might even say that real-time marketing has gotten a little out of hand. During this year's Super Bowl, we actually saw brands talking to each other on Twitter. For every well-executed example, like those from Oreo and DiGiorno Pizza, there are dozens of real-time marketing attempts that fall flat or worse. While the upside from a well-done RTM campaign can be tremendously valuable for social reach and new follower growth, the backlash from a poorly executed post can be much worse.
During this year's Academy Awards, for example, The Huffington Post took Lupita Nyong'o's win for Best Supporting Actress as an opportunity to promote Chelsea Handler's new upcoming book "Uganda Be Kidding Me." This tweet was nonsensical and offensive on several levels -- Nyong'o claims dual Mexican and Kenyan citizenship and so has no affiliation with Uganda, not to mention Chelsea Handler -- and the backlash was instantaneous, with Twitter users calling out this tweet for being both irrelevant and racist.
And a brand doesn't have to be offensive to fail at real-time marketing; trying to wedge yourself into a conversation that is in no way relevant to your brand will just result in a whole lot of nothing but awkwardness and wasted time, as seen in this Oscar's effort from TGI Fridays.
There are more tone-deaf RTM attempts like this than anything else, especially during large pop culture events like awards shows and the Olympics, as in this example from Klondike that saw a grand total of 13 retweets and six favorites. That's hardly the level of engagement most companies aim for on Twitter. Sometimes it might make more sense to not post anything at all. Oreo smartly sat out this year's Super Bowl and Progressive Insurance made a similar call. Just because RTM is the hot marketing tactic of the moment doesn't mean that it's right for every brand at every event.
So, what else can we learn from these less-than-stellar examples? Here are a few real-time marketing do's and don'ts.
Real-time marketing do's
Recognize that certain events make more sense for your brand than others. Please don't try to force a connection when one doesn't make sense. TGI Friday's and Klondike are certainly not the only brands to make this mistake; Regus USA -- a flexible workspace provider -- decided to try and jump in on the birth of the royal baby. This tweet just isn't even relevant at all. And it's probably safe to say British royalty don't need the same kind of flexible workspaces as the rest of us.
Set up a strong social media monitoring strategy, so that you know when something happens that you should react to. Listen for opportunities, and don't be afraid to take them. A fantastic example of doing this right was Arby's at this year's Grammy's. By staying attuned to the events onscreen, Arby's was able to jump in on something relevant and make it snappy and funny, just as Oreo did with their now-famous dunk-in-the-dark. The engagement on the tweet speaks for itself -- more than 80,000 retweets and 48,000 favorites.
Be fun or funny
One of the great things about social media is that it gives brands a platform to be a little more human. For many brands, this is a chance to post funny or silly content, which typically does very well in channels like Twitter and Tumblr. However, for brands that might not be used to a more casual tone, this can easily go wrong. Be sure your content is actually funny or you might just make it worse. For example, Charmin's royal baby tweet effort just came across as awkward (at best) and not actually funny.
Real-time marketing don'ts
Do not real-time market during a crisis
The easiest way to be legitimately offensive on social media is to try to sell something when people are hurt, dying, or experiencing pain. Never, under any circumstances, try to sneak in a marketing message during a crisis. This includes catastrophic weather events, accidents, acts of violence, and any similar tragedy or event. For example, American Apparel sent out an email blast for a sale during Hurricane Sandy, and it was not well-received. Promoting the sentiment of "bored shopping" during a storm that caused billions of dollars in damage and killed several hundred people is callous and downright offensive.
It's not nearly as offensive as trying to take advantage of an emergency, but don't try to jump in on conversations with an unrelated post. On social media like Twitter, users include hashtags to engage in a conversation with others. It's perfectly appropriate to use hashtags in your tweets, but be sure the hashtags are related to the content of your post. And make sure your content is relevant to the conversation happening around a hashtag. Twitter was unamused by Denny's efforts to jump in on Ellen's Oscar Selfie bandwagon, for example.
Don't post and bolt
One way to show that you're not actually paying attention to a conversation as it unfolds is to fail to engage with your fans. When your followers respond to your tweets, you should reply. Don't just schedule a tweet to go out during an event; be sure someone on your team is there to monitor and engage in the conversation. At best, you're missing out on the chance to connect with fans, followers, and potential customers. At worst, you're setting yourself up to return to a column of confused or angry mentions the next day if something is misinterpreted, miscommunicated, or something unexpected happens during the course of the event.
Real-time marketing recovery
So what if you mess up and your RTM post fails? Sometimes, even if you think you've planned for every possible eventuality, things can go wrong.
Make fun of your post
Depending on your brand voice, it may be best to poke fun at the bad post and show that you don't take yourself too seriously. Humor is a powerful social tool. Brandish it carefully and you'll have the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.
Ignore it and let it blow over
In some cases, you may just want to move on from a bad case of RTM. For posts that simply fall flat or garner low-level negative response, letting it go will make it go away faster than any other option. The good news is that social media moves fast; generally, something else will come up and people will move on.
Own up to your mistake
Sometimes, you'll accidentally incite something bigger than you anticipated, and you may need to take a larger action to recover. In these cases, apologize, remove the offending tweet, and try to do better next time. Hopefully by now, you've got a solid crisis communication plan, so hunker down and accept the consequences.
When done well -- keeping in mind how important authentic engagement is on social media -- real-time marketing can provide a big boost to a brand's social presence. But when done badly, the potential for negative sentiment and loss of followers is huge. Just like with any other social marketing campaign, be thoughtful about what you post, have a plan, and stick around for the follow-up.
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