Oreo’s infamous Black Out tweet at the 2013 Superbowl resulted in major brands making big investments in real-time marketing for 2014. Ultimately the brand that generated the most buzz was JCPenney with their “real-time” drunk tweeting stunt. They planned ahead to leverage the power of real-time marketing, but ended up just leaving many consumers and critics confused. Almost three quarters of social network users think real-time marketing is effective, but as JCPenney learned, simply producing content on the fly isn’t enough to have a memorable impact. So when it comes to social media, what is the true value of speed?
Timing isn’t everything, but when you decide to share content is just as important as what you’re sharing. Looking at the maturation of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, the pattern suggests that the newer a social network or feature, the greater the premium on speed and sharing content in real time. But as a social network matures, and inevitably more brands join, the quality bar is raised, and users begin to place a greater premium on quality over quickness. While Twitter saw a spike in brand participation at this year’s Superbowl, real-time marketing on Facebook decreased, despite effort and investments from Facebook to turn it into a forum for real-time conversations.
In a recent keynote address, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel related real-time sharing to an evolution of human communication, saying that “traditional social media required that we live experiences in the offline world, record those experiences, and then post them online to recreate the experience and talk about it.” People used to go on vacation, take photos, choose their favorites, and then post them in a Facebook or Flickr album when they returned home.
Spiegel’s opinion is that because of this ex post facto photo sharing, a person’s identity slowly became the sum of their published social media, also known as “pics or it didn’t happen.” But with the advancement of smartphone cameras, affordable data plans, and sophisticated apps that come with them, “we no longer have to capture the ‘real world’ and recreate it online—we simply live and communicate at the same time,” he says. Now when your friends go on vacation, it’s more common to see them post a photo to Instagram on the same day without waiting to recreate the experience. Snapchat’s recent populartiy and growth has rested on its claim that it’s “the fastest way to share a moment,” with users finding it’s unfiltered, low quality, and “real-time only” visuals refreshingly appealing compared to Instagram, where time and effort is put into sharing a quality photo.
What Snapchat is to Instagram, Instagram was to Facebook. (Which might be why Facebook bought it.) Instead of carefully curating an entire Facebook album of photos to share with your friends, the creation of Instagram allowed you to share a single photo instantly with your friends: you took a photo inside the app, selected a built-in filter, and that was it. But as the social network has matured, quality is now taking precedence over speed. Users and brands are focusing more on sharing beautiful photos, taking the time and care to edit them through multiple apps and avoiding the built-in filters that anyone can spot.
So what can brands learn from this evolution of communication? To be successful, they need to tailor their real-time marketing strategy for each social network just like they would their social media strategy. Brands need to invest in content creators with the ability to know when to act fast, when to focus on quality, and how to manage the content for multiple social networks and audiences.