Commentary

Real-Time With Huge's McCaffrey On Real-Time Marketing

At MediaPost’s recent Mobile Insider Summit in Lake Tahoe, Calif., I had the opportunity to meet Joe McCaffrey, planning director and head of social at Huge, a marketing and advertising agency. Our discussion centered around real-time marketing as it relates to using social media during large -- usually televised -- events. McCaffrey shared some of his thoughts with Real-Time Daily after the event.

Real-Time Daily: You gave a presentation on real-time marketing back in May. Your definition then was “marketing performed ‘on the fly’ to determine an appropriate or optimal approach to a particular customer at a particular time and place.” Do you still believe this is a suitable definition?

Joe McCaffrey: Yes, I do think it is still an accurate definition, but keep in mind that “real-time marketing” is a bit of an umbrella term and can mean something different depending on who you talk to. My focus on real-time is as it relates to social media and the notion of acting in the moment. If you were to talk to an email marketer, they would likely have their own interpretation of what real-time marketing means to them -- for example, email triggering following a particular action or behavior. 

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RTD: It has a cool name, true. But is the “social media war room” overrated? Why or why not?

McCaffrey: At the end of the day the “social war room” is used to describe a physical space. The question of what is overrated or not should pertain to what takes place in said room.

I think there is a bit of “they have one so we should have one” going on, but we might be getting toward the end of that wave. Ultimately we should be talking about the function or the purpose of the room if we are judging importance. Obviously, social media moves at lightning-fast speed, and as marketers we can’t afford to miss an important brand mention or moment.

The social war room was designed to equip us with the tools (screens, dashboards, etc.) to be best prepared for “real-time marketing.” I personally think there is a long way to go in this area. Everyone has access to the same open API’s, but I have yet to come across the perfect solution or piece of proprietary software or technology that really give us a significant leg up on what is already widely available.

RTD: In your opinion, what is the biggest problem with real-time marketing via social media? There are two major problems that I see: brands having conversions with other brands, and brands falling flat on their face while attempting to "newsjack."

McCaffrey: There are a number of problems with real-time social -- I mean, there is no rule book, so I can’t knock anyone for experimenting and learning by trial and error. To be innovative we need to be willing to have some failures, but it's important to identify those early on, learn from them and move on to better practices.

Newsjacking is probably one of the earliest and most obvious issues, leading to some well-known PR disasters. It stems from brand’s social marketing managers trying to ride the coattails of a trending topic to gain some extra impressions (for “free”), but generally a lack of empathy/context make the effort appear (and very publicly) in poor taste. I think most have learned that lesson by now, fortunately.

Whether it’s brands talking to other brands or chiming in on cultural events that have little or nothing to do with the brand, the real question is: “Where is the value to the user?” If brands aren’t focused on providing real value or utility, they are simply contributing to the noise in an already noisy environment. That is probably the greatest lesson and biggest challenge for real-time.

Another challenge with the social media war room is that once you have this nice new shiny toy, what’s the next thing you want to do with it? You want to play with it. Well, the reality is that the large majority of a brand’s time relative to real-time marketing should be spent listening and evaluating opportunities, as opposed to being trigger-happy and eager to participate wherever and whenever possible. Again, it all comes down to providing real value to the end user. Marketers marketing to other marketers is not interesting to anyone (except for perhaps those 2-3 people involved).

RTD: Are some brands better positioned to “hit it big” on social media with a real-time marketing message than others? Does the vertical the brand is in matter all that much, or is it a relatively even playing field?

McCaffrey: Good question. I know I sound like a broken record here, but it comes back to the brand’s opportunity to be relevant and provide value to the user in the moment. That value can certainly come in the form of entertainment or cultural context, but it needs to be relevant. It should also be relevant to the brand and the promise that they stand for.

That said, I'd say there are inherent challenges for brands in regulated industries like financial services, which require compliance and legal approvals before posting. Quite a different situation than a CPG brand, right?

RTD: Speaking of “hitting it big” on social media with a real-time marketing message, what does that even look like? How does an agency/brand set up KPIs for something like this? What’s the overall purpose of real-time marketing on social media?

McCaffrey: I don’t think the KPIs would typically vary that much from what would normally be measured for social marketing activity. The usual suspects of volume, reach, impressions, engagement rates, sentiment etc. Maybe referral traffic if that is relevant.

I guess you could say hitting it big could be measured by the sum of all of those things, but it’s important to consider that a very negative response to a marketing message can be even farther-reaching. I think it is pretty obvious when a message resonates well with the audience.

RTD: Do the benefits of successful real-time marketing outweigh the risks of failing?

McCaffrey: A bit of a subjective question, but I think rather than success vs. failure, I’d think about showing up and trying vs. not being there at all. As they say, you have to be in it to win it.

Risks are fairly easy to mitigate so long as you have a clear plan for how, when, where and most importantly why the brand should participate. Before attempting to participate in real-time social marketing you should have a clear and strong answer for the question: “Why are we doing this?” That is the first step toward a successful outcome.

RTD: I’ve sometimes wondered if the whole fad of real-time marketing via social is mostly just about having fun and maybe getting a few extra people talking about brand. Am I wrong? Why or why not?

McCaffrey: I would say that it is not a fad mostly for having fun because the core of it should still be about trying to reach an audience at the right time, with the right message, in the right channel. When done properly, this can and should be working toward specific marketing objectives (awareness, etc.)

RTD: Any other comments?

McCaffrey: It will be interesting to see how this practice evolves and matures as we move forward through new sports seasons, TV premieres, finales, award shows, etc. It is a great time for marketers to explore new tactics and continue to learn from each other and create better experiences to be shared between the brand and the user. 

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