While there are many advantages to a real-time content strategy, it’s important to understand the challenges involved when marketing in a real-time environment. Here are three challenges brands must address, along with some tales of common pitfalls.
1. The Approval Process
Most established marketing operations have approval processes that are too complex to support real-time content marketing. If the staff who work directly on your brand’s Twitter account, for example, are required to send every tweet up the line for sign-off before it’s posted, your real-time strategy is dead before it begins.
A better way is to empower front line staff to make decisions about customer engagement and follow a rapid response strategy. Without a sense of urgency, your competitors will always get their voices out ahead of yours, and by the time your sanitized, approved content is released, your audience will have moved on.
Take care, though, to invest in quality training for front line staff. Be sure they are fully educated about relevant content topics and your brand’s core messages. This will help avoid unhappy situations of the type experienced by American Apparel on July 4th, when an employee too young to be aware of the 1986 Challenger disaster tweeted a photo of the shuttle exploding, mistaking it for smoke and clouds.
2. The Creative Concept
In the world of real-time content marketing, the greatest sin is being boring. A competitor is just a click away and a prospect will be long gone if she’s not intrigued by your content in the first few seconds of seeing it. You need to create useful content that people want to watch, read and interact with. This doesn’t mean you have to deliver a Hollywood production, but you do have to educate, entertain or help solve a problem for the customer.
Focus on what your audience needs or wants to hear, not on what you want to say. Put yourself in the customers’ shoes. If you were a busy mom or a teen looking for ideas for the term paper that’s due tomorrow, what kind of content would you respond to? If your content meets the customers’ needs, then it also meets the needs of your brand. The customer gets to decide what’s important, not you and your PR team.
Be careful about engaging customers in real time without first thinking through possible hazards. If people feel that your ideas are contrived or lack authenticity, it could mean trouble. McDonald’s found this out when they launched a Twitter hashtag, #McDStories. Instead of the positive tweets they expected, the fast food giant watched consumers hijack the tag to complain. There were protests saying the chain abused farm animals. One woman said she chipped a tooth on a burger. Someone else claimed food poisoning. You get the picture.
3. The Coolness Factor
Let’s face it. Some brands just aren’t cool. Yours might be a solid performer with loyal customers, good products and excellent customer service, but if it’s a plumbing supply warehouse or a commercial laundry, real-time content marketing may not be your best investment. Even if customers love you, trumpeting one’s association with Joe’s Plumbing Supply isn’t the hippest way to attract fans to a Facebook page or burnish a reputation as the Instagram funny guy.
If your brand isn’t cool, you have two basic options: choose other marketing strategies or partner with a brand that is, or could be, cool. Sponsor a Little League team, and engage customers who are parents in sharing funny stories about their family’s experience with kids’ sports. Donate a portion of a day’s revenue to a local charity and invite people to talk about why they give to the cause. Real-time content is about what customers want to see and hear, remember? And the business people who use your laundry or buy your shower heads have families, lives and lots of interests, so capitalize on them.
If you use a partnership tactic in your real-time content marketing, take care not to be perceived as exploiting a charity for commercial gain or making a paltry donation just to generate store traffic.
A few years ago, carmaker Kia partnered with World Vision to provide food to famine victims in Africa. Intending to build followers for the company’s Facebook page, Kia used the slogan “1 Like = 1 Day’s Food for 1 Family for 1 Day” under a photo of a tearful African child. People were outraged. “You disgust me, fishing for likes on this basis,” wrote one woman. “Either donate or don’t,” commented another, “the emotional blackmail of [this campaign] is sickening.”
You can learn more about real-time content marketing in Rob Garner’s excellent book, Search & Social: The Definitive Guide to Real Time Content Marketing. Download the first chapter of it for free on our site.