Posts tagged social media

Why It’s Okay to Grow Distant from Social Media

The other week, I was at a Toronto FC game with my good friend Sam Fiorella, who shares my passion and love for the beautiful game and is also a die-hard TFC fan.

As we sat on the train on the way home from the game, we chatted about numerous things, but one conversation that came up was our reduced use of social media.

Given that we were both early adopters of the various channels, as well as fairly active on them, we spoke of how very different our usage is today, compared to our “busy time” between 2009 and 2013/14.

For Sam, a personal tragedy made him reevaluate where he wanted to spend his time and energy. Time and energy that is now focused on what’s truly important to him, and helping thousands of others in doing so.

For myself, I guess I first started spending less time on social when first my son was born in 2010, and definitely after my daughter was born in 2012.

Since then, I’ve reduced my own use of social media to very specific networks. Facebook remains my constant, and I’ve rediscovered Instagram again after not using it that much for the longest time.

I deleted my Google+ profile, I rarely use LinkedIn, and I’m on an extended Twitter break (truth be told, I’ll probably just delete that account too).

As far as blogging goes, I switched up my content to move away from business and marketing posts, to more personal and introspective ones. And it’s been far more satisfying for me.

What’s been interesting/funny/curious (delete where applicable) is how online friends have asked whether I feel using social less will impact my “relevance”.

I guess it depends.

You Don’t Need to Be Social to Do Social

As someone whose job means I’m on social a lot from my employer’s point of view, that doesn’t necessarily mean I need to be on social constantly on a personal level too.

In fact, at least for me, it’s probably the opposite. Even if my kids weren’t the reason for me reducing a lot of my online time, the fact I’m “switched on” through the day means the last thing I want to do is continue that in the evening and on weekends.

It’s a bit like a friend of mine in the UK, who’s a senior video game tester. After spending 6-8 hours doing nothing but trying to find bugs on the latest video game, the last thing he wants to do is play more video games in his free time.

But even if that wasn’t the case, for me one of the biggest misunderstandings (or perhaps false advice/incorrect thinking) is that you have to have a developed, strong social presence to remain relevant.

To a degree, you do – but only to a degree. 

If you’re a consultant or business person, what do you think’s going to get you more clients – being super-active on social media across multiple channels, or the results you’ve attained for previous and existing clients?

It’s not just businesses and consultants that don’t need to be as active front-end on social, either (at least for the wrong reasons).

As a blogger, I’ve often been told that if I don’t have a strong social media presence, my content won’t be shared.

That may or may not be true – after all, if you’re not around to encourage sharing, how will your content be seen?

Do you really need to have a strong presence on social media to get your content seen? Click To Tweet

Yet social media is just a small part of the visibility picture, especially for content creators/bloggers. Yes, it can bring extra eyeballs – but what happens when a network disappears and you’ve spent so much time cultivating social sharing?

Take Facebook, for example. It’s a well-known fact that visibility is down as far as organic posts are concerned, and you really need to pay-to-play if you want to be seen.

If you can’t afford to promote your posts, is Facebook as viable an option for you?

Or how about Friendfeed? Remember that? At one time, that was up there with Twitter and Facebook as a viable traffic source from social – until it disappeared, that is.

If I look at my own analytics, I see much of the social sharing I receive comes from browser tools like Buffer and Pocket, as well as manual copy-pasting a post’s URL and sharing that way, as opposed to the sharing buttons I have on each post.

All of this without me being really active on social.

So, yeah – you need to have a strong presence on social if you want to remain relevant as a blogger, too….

Your Social, Your Way

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t meant to say you should stop using social media as much as you are, nor is it meant to suggest that everyone has the same needs when it comes to how important social media is (or isn’t).

Your business may need to be really active, or you may need to have more than a couple of dedicated networks in use to meet your own goals.

But ask yourself a simple question:

If you were to cut back on your own social media use tomorrow, would it really have a negative impact on your life?

For me, the answer has been simple – no.

Instead, I’m hopefully a more involved father, a better husband, and a friend who’s available more to those who need me than I was a few years back.

I don’t feel the pressure/faux pressure of maintaining a “persona” just to try and attract attention and eyeballs, and I genuinely enjoy the channels I am active on a lot more for it.

The tagline of my blog is, “There’s more to life than social media.”

That may or may not be true for you, and only you’ll know. But let that be a decision you make, as opposed to those who say they know better making it for you.

Trust me, you’ll feel better for doing so.

Is Social Media Turning Us Into a Bunch of Voyeuristic Assholes?

Back when I was in high school in the UK, whenever there was a fight a group of kids would create a circle and encourage the combatants.

This was primarily for two reasons – one, to egg the fighters on and hopefully see blood (yeah, we were a civil bunch) and two, to ensure no-one would interrupt until the end of the fight.

We got so good at enabling this “circle of doom” that even teachers struggled to break up really good fights, and sometimes didn’t even try – they’d simply wait until the fight was done, and then dish out whatever punishment was relevant.

As mean as this might sound, one thing I recall would happen every single time is that, once the fight was done, the two combatants would usually smile and be friends. Kids, eh?

The point being, there was no ongoing damage from that moment of carnage.

Jump forward 30 or so years, and now social media is enabling us to return to that schoolyard environment, but with one key difference – now we’re just being voyeuristic assholes, and the damage isn’t being limited to a few bruises and cuts.

It’s Social Media, There’s No Such Thing as Privacy

Earlier this week, Twitter (and the subsequent social web and entertainment rags) lit up with the live tweeting of a couple’s break-up on a delayed flight.

While waiting on the tarmac for the flight to take off, allegedly a guy broke up with his girlfriend, and their 90 minute exchange was shared across Twitter by New Yorker Kelly Keegs.

The live tweeting started with the image below (I’ve blurred the heads of the couple involved):

Kelly Keegs 1

This was followed up by a whole bunch of tweets that gave a play-by-play account of what was happening.

Kelly Keegs 2

Kelly Keegs 3

Eventually, according to Keegs, the couple started making out and ordered a round of drinks for the flight when it finally took off.

But this wasn’t the end of it.

As Twitter users got hold of the “story”, it started trending, and people started following Keegs to get updates. By the end of the “event”, her Twitter followers had at least doubled (stats by Twitter Counter).

Keegs twitter growth

Which kinda says a lot about the kind of people we’ve become, when we see a young couple’s emotional distress as entertainment fodder.

Yet should we be surprised? This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened.

I’m Bored, Let’s Stroke My Ego a Bit

Back in November 2013, TV executive Elan Gale live tweeted his exchanges with a passenger on his flight.

Much like the flight Keegs was on last week, Gale’s flight was also delayed. By his account, a female passenger named “Diane” became agitated and demanded special treatment.

This frustrated Gale, and once they were on their flight, he started sending notes to Diane about how awful and selfish she was.

As it turned out, this whole “exchange” was a complete fabrication (many people are thinking the same of the Keegs example, too) made up by Gale.

Much like Keegs, Gale’s Twitter following during the event jumped from 35,000 followers to over 175,000.

Clearly, social media enjoys a humiliating sideshow, real or otherwise, as evidenced by the amount of favourites and retweets both Gale’s tweets about “Diane”, and Keeg’s tweets about the emotional couple, show.

Elan Gale 1


Of course, these are just simple passive endorsements – anybody can like, favourite or retweet.

It’s when you look at some of the commentary around these things that the assholery of our current love for social media voyeurism comes to the fore.

Karlee Kanz

Kanz 2

So, not only are we moving from an encouraging-the-chaos-to-continue-to-be-shared mindset, we’re actually laying the blame for all of this on the victim(s).

Like when others decide to stand up for those being humiliated further in the name of social media entertainment, and the peanut gallery tries to deflect this empathy by (once again) blaming the victim.

Keegs 5

Because, yes – public place and all that jazz. Except there’s a very big difference between a public place that’s limited by confinement, and public on social media.

Forget Empathy, Give Me My Internet Fame!

Jumping back to Keegs and her live “commentary” of the couple breaking up opposite her, she seems to have taken all the recent attention in her stride and celebrated it.

From getting all giddy at her Twitter count jump, to saying the worst part about the whole affair was having to apologize to her nana for the profanity in the updates, there’s very little empathy or sympathy on display for the couple in question.

(Note: I haven’t watched any of her TV appearances, or listed to any of her radio interviews, as I have zero interest – she may well have shown sympathy then.)

Which does seriously make me wonder if she didn’t make the whole thing up to get attention – after all, you’d need to be a pretty shitty human being to take joy from someone else’s suffering, right?

Internet fame can be alluring, after all – just ask the countless number of people who try and create viral Vines, or share outrageous memes and social updates in the name of stoking follower count (even through controversy).

But let’s take the viral side of things away for a moment, and look at what’s really happening.

It’s Not Following Along, It’s Voyeurism, And It Can Be Damaging

In the case of the alleged break-up shared by Keegs, this is about a young couple going through one of life’s toughest moments – a romantic break-up.

If you’ve ever broken up with someone – or, more specifically, been broken up with by someone – you know the pain and anguish you immediately feel.

Your heart is broken. Your soul feels empty. Your skin feels like it belongs on someone else. Simply put, you cease to be who you were just a few seconds before.

Now, as bad as that is, we (eventually) get over that. Our friends help us forget and move on, and our family provides the emotional cushion that only they can truly give.

And the reason we’re able to get on with our lives is that the pain and fallout has been kept in a very limited and reasonably private bubble.

Social media assholes

Now consider one of your worst moments in life being shared to thousands on Twitter. Not only described in words, but “enhanced” by a picture of you and your soon-to-be-ex breaking up.

Then think of all the abuse coming your way to protect the sharer of your break-up, just so the voyeurs of that break up can justify it by saying it’s in a public place.

That’d suck, right? So why do we encourage others to share the very thing that would break our hearts if it was us?

Why do we encourage others to share the very thing that would break our hearts if it was us?Click To Tweet

Take it just one step further.

Someone is emotionally raw, vulnerable. They’ve just had their heart broken. They feel life is over. And then they learn that it’s been not only shared but celebrated on social media.

Mainstream media too, going by the interest in Keegs’ little Twitter adventure.

And then the abuse starts piling up. And the shame, and humiliation, and strangers saying you deserved all you got because clearly you’re highly strung and your boyfriend (or girlfriend) is well shot of you.

You already feel life is over, because the love of your life no longer wants to be with you. So why not actually make it over?

A little far-fetched? Examples around the web would suggest otherwise – all so we can get our voyeuristic kicks.

It’s Not the Same As When We Grew Up

In drafting this post, I shared on Facebook that I was writing a piece on how social media has turned us into voyeuristic assholes.

One of my friends who I respect a lot for his measured take on things is Ike Piggott. He suggested something that I’ve heard a lot of in the last 12 months or so, when this kind of topic is raised.

“Rubbernecking” always existed before automobiles, it just got more pronounced and easy to spot when we were all lined up and going the same way.

The point Ike makes (and it’s correct) is that assholes have always existed – it’s the environment that determines how many assholes are visible.

Social media, by its sheer raison d’etre, merely enables assholes to have the kind of audience they could only have dreamed off pre-2006.

And yet… does that really offer an excuse? Does that essentially agree with the premise that, hey, it’s in the public so it can be shared?

Perhaps, at least legally. Different countries have very different viewpoints on what’s classed as an invasion of privacy versus something along the lines of “fair use”.

And maybe that’s what we, as a generation, have signed up for when we openly share the private moments that otherwise would only have been seen by family and friends. Pictures of our kids on Facebook, for example, or that goofy vacation photo.

But that’s the difference – we choose to share, as opposed to some attention-hungry stranger who gets their kicks out of the misery of others.

Yes, we’ve all seen something happen in the supermarket, or at a bar, or in a park, and we’ve talked about it with our partners, our work colleagues, our friends.

But that’s always been within a very closed circle, with zero targeting of, and abuse to, the person or people in question. That doesn’t make it right, necessarily, but it does “protect” them.

Today, there’s no such protection. Today, everything is fair game. Today, everything and anything can be shared so we can claim our 15 minutes of digital fame.

If you think that this isn’t a big deal, and that it’s simply fun and will soon be forgotten, ask yourself this:

If it’s your son or daughter that’s the object of the voyeurs of social media, would you laugh at them and tell them to stop being such drama queens?

Think about it.

Tell Us Your Social Media Story

What’s your social media story? If you could have the space to say exactly what social media meant to you personally, how would your story unfold?

Would it be about the fantastic job opportunity you got?

Would it be about the great connections you’ve met and how they changed your life?

Would it be about how a cause dear to your heart was suddenly launched into the stratosphere?

Would it be about friends you’ve made that have no real interest in social media, but simply use the tools to make new friends themselves?

Would it be that love story that wouldn’t have happened?

The reason I ask is simple.

We all hear about the social media success stories, but they’re usually the same companies (JetBlue, Zappos, Dell) or the same practices (marketing, PR, customer service). And while they’re great examples, there’s much more to it than this.

There’s the human side and the people stories. The things that we can really relate to. So here’s a request/offer. I’d love you to share your social media story with us. Here’s how.

In the month of August, I want to feature four personal social media stories. It could be any of the reasons featured in the introduction to this post – job, connections, cause, love, friends – or how your business succeeded. Or your blog growth. Or your skill sets. Anything.

Each story will be in the shape of a guest post. This can be normal text, or podcast, or video – the choice is yours. However you feel most comfortable. All it needs to be is either around 300-500 words for text, or 5-10 minutes for audio or video.

If you’re interested, here’s what to do:

  • Send a Word document, audio file or video file to my email address.
  • Title the post, and if it’s text, highlight where you’d want any sub-headers.
  • Reference any links you wish to.
  • Include a picture of you and a 2-3 line bio with up to 2 links back to your blog, or social profile.
  • Send it in by July 15.

That’s it. I’ll choose four that I feel really show the people, personalities and cool success behind each social media story. If there are more than four posts come in, I’ll do the same in September, then October, and on.

The cool thing? This isn’t just another “guest post opportunity”; this is about going deeper than that and showing the real social media stories – YOU.

What say you – in?

Brands and Marketers Won’t Ruin Social Media – Consumers Will

There’s a popular saying that marketers ruin everything. As a marketer, I agree and disagree.

Yes, crappy marketing by brands, or crappy marketers in general, ruin social media. Yet that’s been true of any crappy marketing, and it’s not restricted to social media.

Let’s face it, crappy anything ruins something.

  • A crappy experience with a customer service adviser who’s having a bad day can ruin your perception of a brand;
  • A crappy meal can ruin your special evening;
  • A crappy update of your favourite movie series can ruin your fond memories of what came before (I’m looking at you, George Lucas!!!).

But for some reason, marketers and brands are coming in for special attention recently, with many articles across the web decrying how social media has been ruined by brands and marketers.

For me, though, it’s not marketers of brands who have ruined social media – it’s consumers. Specifically, consumers who say they want brands to be a certain way on social media, but their [consumer] actions don’t back that up.

Why Are Marketers Being Blamed for Social Media’s Descent?

As I mentioned at the start of this post, the belief that marketers ruin everything, especially social media, is pretty popular and widespread. Run a search on Google for the term “marketers ruined social media” and you’ll get almost half a million results.

Some of the posts and articles include titles like How Marketers Ruined Social Media, What It Takes to Succeed at Social Media, Is Marketing Ruining Social Media?, and Don’t Pee in the Pool: How Digital Marketers are Ruining Social Media.

Spot any recurring themes there?

In addition to these posts, my friend and co-author on Influence Marketing, Sam Fiorella, published an interesting post the other day titled Social Media Has Killed Consumer Trust.

Sam uses graphs from Student Monitor that shares how US college students make decisions. The most trusted resource was still friends and word-of-mouth, with “information on the Internet” coming in at less than half the word-of-mouth percentage.


The takeaway was that social media, because of brands and marketers and their method of sponsored content, placing importance on numbers of followers, and using fake influence scores to determine authority, has been ruined by lazy marketing and poorly implemented tactics.

And on that, I agree. But do the actions of lazy marketers (and I use that term loosely when speaking about some of these “professionals”), who put more emphasis on quick hit, low return campaigns speak for all of marketing and brand engagement strategies?


Much like you wouldn't blame the dog for the stink coming from the cat litter box, don't blame the wrong people for social media's perceived downfall.Click To Tweet

But it’s not just lazy marketing that’s to blame for social media’s so-called fall from grace – it’s consumers, and the demand for more personal and human interactions, and then crucifying the brands that do this.

Be Human, Except Don’t Be

One of the reasons social media was seen as turning point in the relationship between consumers and brands was that it finally allowed us, as consumers, to have a one-to-one conversation (or as close as) with the brands we do business with.

Yet, much like anything that affords people extra power, this can be (and is) abused. For example,

  • In 2011, social media guy CC Chapman went after Ragu in not just one blog post, but three, each one escalating a little more, because Ragu had reached out to Chapman about a new campaign they were doing involving dads, and Chapman took offense to the approach.

These are three early examples of consumers not only reacting to brands and their faux pas, but reacting in a way that essentially placed the brand in a no-win situation (just ask GAP when they crowdsourced a new logo on social media, and the response they got, for another one).

What each one does is show while consumers (even marketers are consumers away from the “day job”) want brands to be on social and be receptive, it’s actually more about being on social and on the consumer’s terms.

Does that sound like the kind of two-way interaction/relationship that social media was originally lauded for?

We All Need to Be Responsibly “Social”

Of course, times change. While social media may have been celebrated for its ability to connect consumers with brands, and vice versa, that relationship goal (or the perception of a relationship) has changed.

Eager to avoid a “social media fail” like the 89 million results a search for the term results in, brands lost their voices, and subsequently acquiesced to any and every little bit of criticism online. Even when brands were in the right, they’d apologize and advise they’d try do better.

The only thing to fear is fear itself. That, and being a brand on social media when the cards have been stacked against you before you even sit down at the table.Click To Tweet

Sensing this, consumers have become more vocal, and even when they’re in the wrong, the groupthink mentality kicks in and the social media consumer “wins” pretty much every time.

When this happens, we all lose. Brands pull back from social, and the research and intelligence that can be gathered to improve the customer experience is lost.

While we, as consumers might celebrate the fact our publicly available data and updates aren’t being mined by brands, is it actually a victory? If it means crappy marketing strategies and questionable approaches to privacy are concerned, yes, it is.

But if a brand is answering queries on social media, and the consumer still craps on them for daring to provide the right answer, is it really the brand at fault?

Is it really the marketer who’s at fault for tailoring ads, offers and campaigns that a consumer has specifically said they want, and then that same consumer complains about seeing the promotion in their social feed?

Like I said earlier, it’s become a no-win situation for both brands and marketers on social, even when they’re doing things the way consumers say they want things to be done.

Ironically, perhaps the lazy marketers have got it right. After all, if brands spend a sizeable amount of money and personalized approaches to please the consumer, and still get beaten down for it, why bother? Why not just spray and pray like the crappy marketers have been doing for years?

Why indeed.

If we really want social to be the place it can be, we need to stop crapping on brands that try to do it right. Otherwise, it won’t be marketers and brands that ruin social media – it’ll be us, the consumer, by turning it solely into a soapbox for the loud and brash bully.

And that never works out well for anyone…

Customer Service is Not the Same as Being Customer-Centric

Last year, for an ongoing period of three months, I tried to to resolve a payment issue with a national water heater service provider here in Canada.

When my wife and I moved home the previous summer, we switched from our current provider to Reliance, and took advantage of a special introductory offer that would see us receive nine months free rental.

Unfortunately, the sales guy completed the form incorrectly, and we only received eight months. Additionally, the payment amounts on the paperwork didn’t tally with the payment taken (early) from our bank.

So I contacted Reliance customer service – or attempted to. That’s where the fun began.

Why Would You Make Your Customers Dizzy?

On attempting to call Reliance, I was placed in the phone tree from hell.

  • Did I want French or English?
  • Did I want customer service, sales, technical support, billing, rental, overdue payments, or arrange an appointment?
  • Did I have an account or did I wish to create an account?
  • Did I wish to speak to an operator or automated message?

A-ha – the last option meant I was going to finally get somewhere, right? Wrong.

  • Do you wish to speak to a sales operator or a service operator?
  • Is this for your current bill or are you inquiring about payments?
  • Is this your account?

WTF?? Why would I call up to pay someone else’s account? This is getting ridiculous. But then the magic statement:

We are transferring you to an operator, please hold.

And, kudos to Reliance, they actually placed me through to an operator. Who promptly asked me for the account number I had just entered previously using the touchpad buttons on my phone that Reliance had told me to use!

Sense any frustration here? And this was the exact same process I’d gone through every time I’d called for the previous three months.

Add to that the fact that no-one called back with a resolution, even though that had been agreed between myself and Reliance’s customer service resolution team, and you might wonder about how customer service is defined at Reliance (or any other company that believes phone trees are still the answer).

What’s even more ironic is Reliance’s customer service statement on their website:

Our Vision:

We will change the way people think about our industries by providing vital products and services in innovative ways. Working together, we will lead the market in customer satisfaction.

A worthy mantra – except using a phone tree with about 100 branches isn’t exactly innovative, nor does it encourage “…leading the market in customer satisfaction.”

While Mandy Champagne, a supervisor on the Customer Solutions team, eventually reached out to me and credited the account with a goodwill gesture of an extra month’s usage, the whole experience was frustrating and made me reconsider our decision to move to Reliance.

It doesn’t need to be this way, either.

Becoming Agile With Customer-Centric Service

Back in 2010, I was tasked with a client’s customer satisfaction rating. They were a call centre for a leading smartphone provider, and their rating was awful. Since I’d led customer service teams back in the U.K. with leading mobile telco O2, the client was hoping I could improve their own team’s performance.

After reviewing their set-up, the problem became instantly clear – they were wasting too much time on the little things, and the big issues were being left unresolved because of this.

Add in the fact their phone tree was even more archaic than the Reliance example I used earlier, and it wasn’t too surprising customers were hanging up and going elsewhere.

The solution was simple – become agile and use better tools to provide a truly customer-centric experience.

The social media solution

My team discovered that around 80% of the problems were simple, relatively minor calls. How to set up voicemail, how to access the app store, etc. We also discovered that many of the customers were on social networks, especially Twitter.

So we allocated around 20% of the call centre team to Twitter to answer these questions, and we had direct links to FAQs and graphic guides to direct the customer to. The result – dropped call stats fell by half, and customer satisfaction rating went up by 67%.

The channel solution

As well as the social media approach, we implemented a survey of our client’s customers, either when they called in, by direct email, or via Twitter (sharing a link to the survey). This was to determine how they would like the resolution team to contact them.

This ensured two things – the social team could concentrate on the small stuff while the resolution team not only worked with the customer directly, but on their preferred channel (phone, email, letter, etc.). This was a key moment in the strategy, and saw the client win an award in both customer rating and escalated call resolution.

The pro-active solution

As well as using Twitter for dealing with simple issues, we also trained the technical service team to use social monitoring platforms. This allowed them to take control of any mentions of the brand negatively, and jump into the conversation to see how they could help, as well as arrange a solution.

We also monitored how the customer had been treated at one of the client’s resellers; and we monitored competitor conversations and directed the sales team to potential leads.

The result – new activations increased by just over 30%, and better education tools were sent out to resellers. Additionally, tech calls dropped by 14% in the first six months, since the tech support team were handling and solving issues online.

And the client phone tree that had previously been in use? That was restructured to three simple choices – customer service, tech support and sales. Simple, clean, and direct to a relevant company agent.

Since 2010, the client has continued to improve processes and is regularly cited as one of the best in class in the mobile communications market for customer service and best practices using social media.

Your Customers Are Your Brand

The example with the mobile client isn’t a unique one, nor were the solutions anything majorly innovative – it was simply a matter of looking at what was going wrong, and turning the company into a truly customer-centric one.

We can talk all we want about great marketing initiatives, and crisis communications, and how cool our products are – but if none of that rubs off on our customers, we won’t be talking about the cool stuff for very long.

Customer service, and how you treat your customers, is the biggest, most organic method of marketing your brand will ever use. Frustrate them, and you will lose them. Work with them, and you will build advocacy more effective than any marketing or customer acquisition budget could ever hope to offer a return on.

Your customers are your brand – and you wouldn’t let your brand suffer, would you?

Why We Shouldn’t Confuse Real Time Marketing with Data Driven Marketing

When I was a teen, back in the 80’s – yes, I’m old – there was this bakery just off my local high street.

It was a family-owned bakery, and had a mix of fancies, pastries, bread and sweets (candy, in North America). While the goods being sold were a great mix, and kept the bakery successful, it was what the owner did to keep it that way that interested me (and probably instilled the first concept of marketing to my subconscious).

If there was a sports match on, he’d make small cakes in both team colours. Nothing new there. Except when a team took the lead, he’d quickly put little sad faces on the cakes of the losing team, and sell those at a discount to cheer the losers up.

It didn’t hurt that the bakery was two doors down from a pub, and he’d send his help into the bar to sell the new cakes, with the challenge to make the other team wear the sad faces.

When the game finished, he’d invariably give the remaining cakes away to the losers, and he’d have baked a bigger cake in the shape of the winning team’s mascot for them to eat for free when leaving the bar (for afternoon games).

This is just one example of some of the cool things he’d do on the fly. Royal weddings? Check. Huge charity events like Live Aid? Check.

For every major event, as well as local sporting ones, he and his bakers would be on the ball, making something essentially on the fly to take advantage of the occasion. Sound familiar?

Real-Time Marketing or Old School Initiative?

In February 2013, the lights went out at the Super Bowl. Oreo Cookie famously took advantage of it with a quick creative that they posted on Twitter.

Twitter   Oreo  Power out  No problem. ...

As you can see from the image, it received almost 16,000 retweets, and was favourited 6,400 times. It received praise from various publications, and was used by many social media consultants as the dawn of real-time marketing.

Except, it wasn’t really real-time.

While there’s no doubt it was a masterful stroke of quick thinking and marketing on the day, it was more than just that. The Oreo team and their social media agency had been strategizing for the previous 18 months on how to effectively use the medium, in order to celebrate the brand’s 100th birthday.

Cue the power outage, cue the result of being ready to act and the ensuing praise.

Yet as deserving as Oreo and their team was of the praise, it wasn’t the start of real-time marketing, despite the best efforts of those consultants trying to capitalize on the new darling phrase and charge clients more for the benefit.

Real-Time Marketing, Before Social Media

The funny thing with social media is it often makes marketers – or at least, digital marketers – forget there was ever a time before 2006, when the words “social media” and “marketing” were beginning to be used together more.

Yet for those purporting real-time marketing as the latest new child in the social media-led school of business firsts, they might want to look a little bit further back.

Over at the evergage blog, Rob Carpenter shares his thoughts on where real-time marketing first became more visible, based on search terms and traffic spikes on Google Trends.

Real time marketing web search

The blue line relates to “real time marketing” while the red line relates to “web personalization”, or the ability to personalize your business website based on traffic, demographic, cultural offers, seasonal specials and more.

As digital marketing via e-commerce and landing pages was growing (personalization), so was the need to be able to quickly put together offers that would initiate your desired call to action (CTA). This speed to create was the same as today’s real-time marketing, except today we have better tools to do it with.

As the blue line shows, there was a huge initial spike back in 2005, then a steady rise since 2007 (as social media filtered its way to the mass market).

Real-Time or Data Driven Marketing?

You only need to look at the clamour by brands to offer the coolest celebration of the Royal birth of Prince William and Duchess Kate’s baby to see how big the “business of real-time marketing” has become.

Yet the problem with real-time marketing – or at least, the version brands are trying to emulate but often failing at – is it’s too fast for its own good, and is simply trying to take advantage of a major news story without thinking through how that brand fits.

The beauty of the original Oreo tweet at the Super Bowl is it had been planned meticulously. Perhaps not the tweet itself, but certainly the message, the way it appeals to Oreo aficionados, and the execution.

Because it was based on data the brand knew about its audience.

And this is where the real value of real-time marketing comes into play, and has been used for as long as the first business owner thought on their feet on ways to beat their competition, and bring customers to their store versus a competitor’s.

It’s exactly the point David Meerman Scott makes in his book, Real-Time Marketing and PR, published in 2010. In both the book and on his blog, Scott shares examples of the best types of real-time marketing that don’t hype themselves by using the phrase.

Just look at how the airlines adapt to ensure there are rarely empty flights, and how they can change pricing on the fly to sell unsold seats. Or look at the way Amazon has redefined the customer experience to ensure every visit is optimized to offer products and services that truly interest the visitor.

This isn’t the result of some buzzword – instead, it’s taking years of data and research about customers, their buying patterns, their purchase life cycles, and their value to a brand, and utilizing it into offers and timely promotions that make sense.

It’s like my hometown baker with his winning cakes, regardless of the victor on the sports field that day.

There’s no doubt that real-time marketing, when done well, can provide a mix of viral buzz and sales success. But let’s not be mistaken that it’s a new tactic, nor is it the saviour of marketing today.

The saviour of marketing today, much like the saviour of any business strategy, is and will remain simple – know your customer, understand what makes them tick, use the data you have on top of the data you’re continuously gathering, and integrate all of that into something called “marketing strategy”.

You might be surprised at the results, real-time or otherwise.

image: evergage