Are You Communicating in Real-Time?

Are you communicating in real-time? This question has been on my mind a lot since I heard David Meerman Scott present at the 2010 Vocus User’s Conference. David presented different scenarios where individuals had a choice to make – do something now, do something later, or do nothing. He encouraged us to ask ourselves the question, “what would you do?” Most communicators opt to do something later (or do nothing).

This isn’t exactly how David presented things – it’s my interpretation. So much of our work (and personal) time is filled with talk of things we’re going to do or plan to do, but little talk revolves around what to do right now. There’s a lot of us that would like to operate with more of a real-time mindset. If only we could get away from the endless stream of interruptions that masquerade as work and limit our productivity (i.e. emails, meetings, instant messaging, surfing the Web, and reading rants on blogs like this one).

The brands and people winning in the marketplace today know how to develop and execute communication strategies in real-time. What can you do right now to move your brand forward, get ahead of a crisis or latch onto some breaking news story to get the lion’s share of the publicity? Those questions aren’t asked enough, because few people have the courage, desire, or skills required to act on the answer. Communicating in real-time is not easy. You need power and influence in your organization and you need buy-in to a concept few are comfortable with.

I hope we’ll find some answers in Real-Time Marketing & PR, David’s latest book due out in October that focuses on this concept. For now, I think we can all benefit from thinking more about real-time communications. It’s at the heart of everything you’re doing these days as a communicator.

Make the Shift to Real-Time

What if you’re not working in real-time? What if your organization still has meetings to plan meetings to talk about what you’re going to do next week/month/year? What if your lawyers step in and tell you not to say anything – not to respond to complaints or reporters looking for your comment? If this is the case, you’re going to have to be the change agent. You’re the one that’s going to help your organization adapt to the realities of a real-time communications environment.

While I’m advocating for reacting and communicating in real-time, I’m not discounting the need to plan and develop a strategy that makes it easier to do so. Start there. Develop your plan for communicating internally and externally, across both new and emerging channels. You can’t be prepared for everything, but you can prepare for everything you can think of. Ask yourself the “What if?” question as often as possible (i.e. “What if one of our rigs explodes and we can’t stop the leak?”).

One of the examples David presented at the conference was the [now famous] United Breaks Guitars incident. This is an incredible example of the power consumers have today, and what happens when you don’t respond and take care of things in real-time. One of the things I found most interested from David’s presentation was how other organizations saw the building interest in the United Breaks Guitars video and jumped on the opportunity to get in on the action – namely the guitar manufacturer mentioned in the video and a company that makes heavy-duty guitar cases. These individuals were rewarded for reacting in real-time. Slow-to-react United continues to get beat up about the incident today. What if they had reacted in real-time?

What now? What can you do right now to insert yourself into stories that are going on out there? If a crisis happens in your organization this morning, how will you handle it at lunchtime? There’s no easy answer. This post isn’t intended to give you a cheat sheet for real-time communications, because I don’t have all the answers you’re looking for. The point was to get you on board thinking about things too – so we can figure it out together.

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