Boy trying to keep up with media on laptop

Keeping up with Real-Time Social Media Engagement

By: Joel Heckaman

It seems like there’s always something going on that everyone is talking about. Especially on social media, trends can appear out of almost nowhere every day. If you’re a marketing director, community manager or anyone with the task of monitoring and growing a brand’s digital presence, keeping up with these conversations is incredibly important, but it can seem daunting, if not impossible.

Many of these trends, especially major media events such as playoffs, award shows and even television season finales can draw massive followings. To a keen marketer, this means a broad audience looking for ways to engage. In the past (by which I mean within the past half-decade, because social media changes that fast!), large companies built dedicated rooms called Command Centers with advanced software and multimedia displays for tracking conversations around their brand.

This hit its peak with the “Oreo Moment” during the 2013 Super Bowl, which saw such success that it led to the swell of interest in Command Centers and real-time marketing. While the Command Center hype has all but deflated, creative marketers continue to prove that real-time social media marketing thrives as much, if not more, on ingenuity than it does on big-budget resources.

Put simply: great ideas can come from anywhere, and social media is a great equalizer.

Herein lies the opportunity for digital marketers. Social media provides the amplification to turn anyone into a rockstar overnight — even your brand — with a bit of luck. And, as the ancient quote goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” So I can’t promise to make you an internet sensation, but I can provide you with some tips to help you find your opportunities and prepare you to take advantage of them.

Here are four tips for businesses of any size to benefit from real-time social media engagement:

Start with events that resonate with your customers.

The first thing you’ll want to do once you’ve made the commitment to engaging in real-time social media is determine when you’re going to utilize this form of content and engagement. Anything can happen on live TV, and it can be tempting to want to be part of every conversation just in case. But every business has a finite amount of resources, and every audience has a threshold for how much branded content they want to see. Your audience is much more interested in what you have to say about things that they also care about – and things they are also engaged with. Being mindful and particular about which events you choose to comment on can save you manpower and potentially lost followers.

Listen to the broad and local conversations.

Once you’ve chosen an appropriate media event to participate with, it’s important to keep an eye on the pulse of the overall conversation. Trending topics on Facebook and Twitter can help you anticipate the type of content your customers are seeing and engaging with, and they can be geographically targeted if your business operates in one particular area. Both Facebook and Twitter also allow you to organize the accounts you follow into lists, which you can use to limit or segment the flow of content. This can help you get an idea of either what they’re saying, by tracking a sample of customers and influencers, or what they’re seeing, by tracking the brands, celebrities and media they likely follow. This can also help keep you from misinterpreting the context of a topic and posting something accidentally offensive.

Maintain an appropriate identity and relevancy.

With an event unfolding live and a firm grasp of the context and conversations surrounding it, your team is ready to post real-time reactions on your brand’s social media channel. The purpose of engaging in the real-time social media conversation is to draw positive attention to the brand. The first part of that, and one of the most important things to check before publishing anything, is that the content should align with the identity and voice of the brand. The personal opinions and sense of humor of the CEO or marketing director are not always exactly the same as the brand’s persona and audience’s taste. In this case as much as any, it always helps to have someone else review any piece of content before it’s published. The other concern is that the content should connect back to the brand in some way. A nice, generic comment will help humanize your brand in most cases, but it will not have the same impact as something that ties cleverly with one of your well-known products or services.

Have fun and be human.

Although your ultimate goal is to improve the brand’s reputation and gain more customers, this is not the place for a sales pitch. Social media has revolutionized the level of transparency consumers have come to expect, and in most cases they want to buy from people who align with themselves. The biggest gains for your brand from a real-time social engagement will come from the personality that the brand persona portrays. Brands that seem like they’re having fun (while staying appropriate to the audience) will seem more approachable – both online now, and later when the consumer is shopping for one of your products or services.