Today’s digital world is all about the here and now – the right now. This immediacy brought on by the rise of social media and all things digital has led to real-time marketing (RTM) becoming one of the biggest industry trends in recent years.

What social media guru Ekaterina Walter aptly called the “newsfeed mentality” at last month’s FutureM conference lies at the very heart of RTM. This mentality involves a complete change in the way we consume information and created a demand for real-time, up-to-the-second news unlike we’ve ever seen before. As Walter also noted at the conference, the average modern adult’s attention span is between 2.8 and 8 seconds (that’s less than a goldfish, folks), so it should come as no surprise that the general lifespan of a tweet is no more than an hour.

Thus, brands have been forced to place a premium on keeping pace with this demand, and many have risen to the challenge and garnered impressive results. One of the classic examples comes from my favorite cookie brand, Oreo, which took to social with this tweet spoofing the notorious 2013 Super Bowl blackout.

With Oreo and many others having successfully joined the RTM fray, the challenge has gone from jumping on the bandwagon to doing so in a way that is both authentic and original. With that in mind, SHIFT has developed a “RAISE” framework for crafting your RTM strategy. Following it will help your company gain the authenticity and engagement you desire.

Research. The first step in planning out any strategy is to actually have a plan. Having a plan may seem counterintuitive when it comes to marketing in real time, but doing your research in advance is a must. It’s important to have an understanding of the ins and outs of the event so you appear knowledgeable when it arrives. One of the most popular RTM events annually is the Super Bowl, so in this case brands should familiarize themselves with the basics – location, venue, teams, star players, fundamentals of the game, etc.

Many companies have social editorial calendars and should take the time to incorporate their RTM efforts into one– what’s going to be said on various platforms inside the event. The Onion takes this kind of systematic approach very seriously, mapping out hundreds of cases and situations for every major cultural event well in advance. Taking a page from The Onion, think through events and prepare copy that you can then tweak depending on what takes place, leaving room to be impulsive when unexpected events like the Super Bowl blackout happen.

Align. A cardinal rule with any strategy is that your message must always tie back to your brand. RTM is no different. Sure it’s a proven method for connecting with your audience around popular events and trends, but never lose sight of your message along the way. Don’t force a message for the sake of getting it in front of a large audience. The same applies for not being overly self-serving. People can sense desperation and self-promotion in advertising in much the same way as when we watch The Bachelor. So be true to your brand identity, authentic in your message and remember: if your product or service has nothing to do with an event, don’t stretch it!

Interest. RTM will have little effect if it doesn’t capture the interest of your audience. A tremendous upside of marketing inside popular events and cultural trends is that it creates a natural opportunity for companies to have fun. One of the most successful instances was Arby’s tweet at Pharrell asking for its hat back. Another great example comes from Starbucks, which saw the potential around the worldwide sensation of the Royal Baby and rode the wave on Twitter with this clever tweet celebrating his birth. Some brands have even engaged in “feuds”. A personal favorite was between Old Spice and Taco Bell, which drolly duked it out over the merits of false advertising.

Leveraging humor and wit can clearly drive engagement and even take your content viral, but remember to be conscious that what you believe to be witty could come off as just plain awkward.

Smart. One of the best aspects of RTM is a brand’s ability to be impulsive. While we all know that great risks can lead to even greater rewards, being smart in your approach can’t be emphasized enough. Don’t react to anything and everything and always maintain a cultural awareness and sensitivity, a point that is particularly true when dealing with controversial or tragic events — just ask Kenneth Cole’s social team. The absolute last thing your company wants is to be seen as exploiting anything of this nature.

If an RTM effort backfires and your brand finds itself in the middle of a sensitive matter, own up to it and apologize. It’s also important not to ignore negative feedback. Honey Maid nailed this video response to the negative feedback it received after running its gay-friendly “This Is Wholesome” commercial. Brands take note!

Expect. If you’re planning to become proficient in RTM, expect to make it a practice. As with any other marketing strategy, there will be plenty of trial and error involved. As Walter reiterated, brands like Oreo wouldn’t have achieved the success they’ve had without consistent practice. Here are several key takeaways about preparation that she shared at FutureM:

  • Practice engaged social listening to leverage natural openings.
  • Keep flexible editorial calendars that leave room for the unexpected.
  • Use social management tools like Buffer or HootSuite, but be ready to turn off scheduled posts at any time.
  • Empower employees and agencies to be impulsive and take ownership of content.
  • Gather meaningful data to form actionable insights and further inform your approach.

Taking these tips to heart and keeping this overall framework in mind will not only help your brand connect with your audience, but do so in a meaningful way. If done right, RTM has the potential to go beyond other strategies and generate the kinds of authentic interactions and relationships that ultimately lead to brand ambassadors.

As Walter stressed at the end of her session, “Don’t just create marketing campaigns. Build Tribes! Inspire Movements!”