It’s Time to Get Real About Real-Time Marketing & PR

When David Meerman Scott was kind enough to let me review his first pass at Real-Time Marketing & PR a few years ago, I remember thinking how amazing some of the stories were in the book. There was case study after case study about how powerful the consumer has become in the age of social media – and how ill-equipped most brands were to deal with issues in real-time. David has since added to the real-time discussion with his Newsjacking book, which further reinforces the need for brands to respond quickly to breaking stories or trending topics, to insert themselves into the news cycle when appropriate to earn incredible brand awareness.

Over the course of the past year, I believe we’ve started to witness brands getting the hang of this real-time and newsjacking trend, most obvious with the example of Oreo’s social media team capitalizing on The Super Bowl’s power outage to gain a ton of social media love and earned media impressions. I believe the Oreo example pushed a lot of brands over the edge in terms of thinking about their real-time readiness – and it’s now time for the rest of us to get real about real-time marketing and PR. Before I explore this topic further, I encourage you to read David’s Real-Time Marketing & PR or Newsjacking books – he’s clearly the leading expert on these topics and these books are your best bet for getting up to speed on what these trends are all about.

Let’s take a look at your brand (or your clients for your agency readers). How ready are you to deal with a real-time marketing & PR event? If a story breaks tonight, that’s relevant to the business you’re in, how easy would it be for you to line your experts up for interviews tonight or first thing in the morning? What about your ability to respond to an issue that’s spiraling out of control on social media? There is example after example in David’s books about brands that were caught off guard by the speed of social media and the global news cycle, and how not having a quick response put the brands at a disadvantage. There are also many examples of brands that were up to the task and were rewarded handsomely for their preparation.

Let’s explore this topic further with some tips for how you can prepare for the realities of real-time marketing and PR.

For Starters, It’s Still About Communications

If you’re in a business that’s always been a risk of a crisis happening or an organization that has to regularly deal with all types of issues across the audiences you serve, the preparation needed is still the same in some ways. You’ll still need to anticipate all the possible things that could go wrong, and have a response plan in place, should any of those issues become a reality. You’ll still need somebody on your communications (and possibly legal) teams available around the clock for a response – and a plan in place for who needs to be called in the middle of the night should something happen. That’s the best place to start in terms of real-time marketing & PR planning in my opinion. If you’re fortunate enough to have an expert on your team that’s worked in crisis or issues management, that person needs to be on your real-time marketing & PR workgroup.

Adding In Your Newsjacking Strategy

With real-time marketing & PR, you need to have a solid reactive plan in place for dealing with issues that may come up that you may want to address in real-time. This is all about preparation, monitoring, waiting and swift action when the event occurs (that is, executing on your plan or improvising around the unexpected). With newsjacking, you’re going to leverage a proactive plan for inserting your brand or pre-planned stories into the conversation. This again includes preparation, monitoring, waiting and swift action, but also requires a bit more creativity and innovation on the part of your communications team. With newsjacking, you have to evaluate each news story or trending topic to determine if there’s a good fit for your brand to get included in the conversation.

Some opportunities will be obvious, such as posting a patriotic message on your Facebook page around the 4th of July. Some brands have been quick to act on natural disasters, offering their support or condolences, or helping to mobilize their online communities to support a cause. Some brands have executed on similar opportunities poorly and faced the wrath of their audiences for trying to capitalize on a crisis for the sake of brand awareness. Without calling out any of these brands, it’s a bad idea to post about your brand using a hashtag for a natural disaster, unless you’re using that hashtag to sincerely help that cause.

Building Your Rapid Response Team

This is the most important aspect of making real-time marketing & PR or newsjacking work for your organization, you need to have the right team in place – don’t try to transform your current marketing team into a real-time, rapid response team overnight (unless your team sounds like the list I’m about to provide). If I were building a rapid-response team today, here’s who I would want on that team (my suggestions for building your team):

  • A senior news professional – this is a journalist who has worked in a real-time news environment like CNN for example. Somebody who is use to news breaking and acting quickly to get the story on-air. This is the quarterback of your real-time team, and the person most likely to be able to find your opportunities to join the conversation faster than anyone else on the team. They’ll see the relevancy and be able to develop news angles on-the-fly.
  • Social media strategist – this is the person that best understands all your online communities – and has a firm grasp on the pulse of the community. Leveraging one-part gut feel, and one-part social listening tools, this person will know in an instant whether or not the suggestions of your news professional will fly or not. They’ll also be able to work with your team to develop engaging social content that communicates your real-time messages (or develop responses to community outreach) in the best way possible. In some cases, your news professional and social media strategist could be the same person – but that is rare from my experience.
  • Public relations professional – if your news and social media experts don’t have a PR background, you’ll want a PR professional on the team. This individual will understand the nuances of developing communications for different publics, and they’ll have a basic understanding for best practices for issues management or crisis response. They’ll also be able to ensure your messaging is in-line with the communications goals of the organization, and they’ll typically have all your primary spokespeople on speed dial.
  • Social Analyst – somebody on your social media team should be monitoring all your online conversations, trending topics and breaking news around all the markets you’re active in. This person should be providing regular briefings to your team about issues they’re seeing, and help your team to evaluate issues or breaking news that require action. You’ll need to determine how dedicated this effort is, based on the type of business you’re in and the reach of your business geographically. I know some organizations that monitor things 9-5, while others have a team of analysts that monitor the global communications 24/7, like a news organization.
  • Copywriter – one of the people above should be able to write the words you need to communicate. In some instances, it might be a difficult task to do on the fly – and the people above may be dealing with other issues at the time, and not be able to focus on writing great copy. For example, if your PR person is at the podium delivering your company’s official statement or responding to reporter questions, and your social media strategist is online responding to your social communities, you’ll need a dedicated writer who can be working to craft your messages.
  • Designer – some messages are best delivered in a visual format, such as photos related to the issue, a detailed infographic, an edited video of your press conference, etc. You’ll want a designer or multimedia specialist on your team to help you add the visual element to your communications. Don’t overlook this need on your team, it’s becoming even more critical in the age of visual storytelling.
  • Legal – you can’t avoid legal – legal needs to be in the loop. When you need to respond or communicate in real-time, you’ll need real-time approval of your messaging from legal. Somebody on your legal team needs to be available around the clock to approve your real-time communications – or be a dedicated member of your rapid-response team. In some organizations, the public relations, social media strategists or news professionals may be empowered to communicate without legal approval (this is the best-case scenario).

That’s my take on the real-time marketing & PR dream team. If your organization can support the headcount for this team, I suggest making the investment. If this isn’t an option, consider hiring an agency that will give you this capability.

Building Your Social Newsroom

Having the team in place is only part of the battle. You can’t learn about an issue three hours after it starts to spiral out of control online – and you don’t want to learn about a trending topic from your Twitter feed when you wake up in the morning. Your rapid-response team needs a social newsroom in your organization. Some brands have started to build out listening stations or hubs where their teams operate from. This looks like a newsroom environment, with everyone sitting or standing around monitors, reviewing information in real-time, and managing the responses from one place. Whether you have a homegrown system for monitoring your online channels and breaking news events, or you leverage existing products in the marketplace, I suggest you are at least equipped with the following:

  • Newscycle – one monitor or set of monitors should be dedicated to showing breaking news – a good start is CNN and trending topics on Twitter; you’ll catch most major events this way
  • Custom Alerts – most organizations with an active community management effort are monitoring a variety of topics or issues important to the business – this information should be streamed real-time on another set of monitors – most likely in a dashboard display of some kind
  • Real-Time Interaction – as your team is responding to issues or monitoring inbound messages from your community, your team should be able to monitor those in real time as well
  • Video conferencing – you should be able to leverage Google Hangouts, Skype or some other form of video conferencing to pull in any of your team members from where they are, to help your team deal with any issues that come up
  • Measurement – you need to be able to measure the impact of your communications in real-time. Is your communication working to improve sentiment? Are you increasing brand mentions around a particular topic? Do your followers and fans like your response? Being able to evaluate your communications in real-time helps you to improve your communications in real-time.

This is the starting point for your social newsroom. You’ll evolve this approach based on the needs of your team, but you should have a room or area within your organization set up for your team to work from on a dedicated basis, or around issues and news events you’re acting on (it’s the place everyone goes when something significant is going on).

The bottom line with a real-time marketing & PR effort – or a newsjacking effort for that matter – is that you’ve got the strategy, plan, team, and tools in place to enable your team to take advantage of these communications opportunities that ultimately impact your business. If you’re not willing to manage your communications in a 24/7 news cycle, your community will manage your message for you – and that’s not always a good thing.

What do you think? What would you add to this planning? What do you think is most important for enabling your organization to take advantage of these trends? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

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