Dave Hanson

Don’t confuse a rapid social media response with a relevant one

By Dave Hanson on May 24, 2013

February 3, 2013 at 7:48 p.m. It’s the moment when NOW became the new black. When countless marketers simultaneously decided rapid response was the same as relevancy. It’s the moment this happened:


The buzz resulting from Oreo’s timely Super Bowl tweet resulted in an endless stream of imitators. While rapid response wasn’t new, the number of companies attempting to gain engagement with it has grown considerably in the months since Oreo’s tweet. Unfortunately, many of these companies have floundered at it quite visibly, with ham-handed executions and, occasionally, disastrous backlash. The companies who have been doing it well are mostly the same companies who were winning the battle for NOW before February 3.

A few months ago, several of my coworkers and I attended the Insight Summit Series Digital Summit. It was a full-day seminar packed with great content from digital thought leaders from across the country. While I soaked up a lot of knowledge throughout the day, one little tidbit keeps coming back to me whenever I see a company that seems to be confusing a rapid response with a relevant one.

The tidbit came via Matthew McGregor, the digital rapid response director for the 2012 Obama presidential campaign. It was really quite simple, actually: the key to rapid social response is all in the planning.

McGregor gave an excellent example that has stuck with me ever since. When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate, the Obama campaign had a Paul Ryan response video posted to the web within seconds. There wasn’t any magic to it; they had done the due diligence on each of Romney’s potential running mates months ahead of time, producing response videos for the most likely potential candidates.

When the moment came, they were ready.

They took the same approach to other key events in the campaign, identifying the timeline and the likely conversation, so they could be armed with the appropriate response. But this strategy isn’t specific to politics, any business with a social presence can apply the same tactics to deliver responses that are both rapid and relevant.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to ensure you’re not only getting in the conversation, but using it as an opportunity to strengthen your brand:

1. Create a “social” media plan. Start by sitting down with your whole team and pulling out the calendar. Instead of looking at this month, or even next month, look 2 or 3 months ahead. If you want great content, you need time to execute it. If it’s June now, ask yourself: “What will be happening with our business in August, September and October?” Will you be at a tradeshow? Are you releasing a new product? Is the competition releasing a new product? Are industry regulations changing? Identify the opportunities to connect with your audience and build out your “social” media plan just like you would for any other media plan.

2. Predict the conversation. Say you have a tradeshow in September. Perhaps your standard media plan includes a direct mail piece and some banner ads. Build on it with a solid social engagement plan. Think through the conversations surrounding the show. What interesting thoughts, graphics, videos, etc. will engage your audience socially? What will people share? The opportunity to connect is fleeting, so you need to be ready. A tweet saying, “Hey, we’re at the #tradeshow!” does nothing for you. With proper planning, you’ll have content that draws people to your booth and creates social followers at the same time.

3. Nail the content. Social media is a conversation. Nobody wants to listen to someone who is boring. The number one problem with a poorly planned social strategy is hastily developed, dull content. With more time and better planning, you have better opportunities to generate content that strengthens your brand. Good things happen when you bring your PR/social and creative teams to the table together. Together, they can give you content with a “wow” factor that will help you own the conversation.

4. Execute early. Deliver on time. Figure out what the likely variables might be in your world and plan for them as best as you can. Being great at rapid response means timing your execution to hit when the conversation relevancy is at a maximum. As I pointed out in McGregor’s example, when the VP announcement came, the team had several contingency plans in place. You may only need one or two, but it might include shooting alternate takes for a video, building some flexibility into a design, or preparing multiple responses to a situation. Be smart about it so you’re not fumbling at the last minute.

5. Be flexible. Like any PR discipline, success in social media requires flexibility. Be ready to identify and take advantage of opportunities quickly. Points 1-4 won’t matter if you’re not listening to and understanding your landscape. And let’s face it – the landscape changes quickly. Once the big moment arrives, be ready to follow through and connect with your audience in a two-way conversation that builds positive associations with your brand.