Is Real Time Marketing Actually Worth The Time? Finally An Answer

by Chris Kerns on Nov 07, 2014
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It seems like everywhere you turn these days, you’re reading something about real-time marketing.

Whether it’s yet another mention of Oreo’s Super Bowl moment, or a marketer poking fun at brands trying to capitalize on the latest trend, RTM has been a hot topic in digital and beyond over the past few years.

Kitkat’s tweet about #Bendgate showed an 65,000% bump in retweets and 31,000% bump in favorites vs. Kitkat’s previous 3,000 tweets. As I looked through all the press about real-time from every big event, I realized something was missing. Everyone had an opinion about RTM, but nobody had any data.

Real-Time Data > Real-Time Opinion

As a Director of Analytics & Research, I spend my days knee-deep in social data from all different types of sources. I look at patterns and trends to find insights that will make us all better marketers, and connect us with our audience in new ways.

So naturally, I started diving into the data and analytics behind RTM to figure out if it’s worth the hype.

I looked at real-time marketing trends across 100+ of the world’s largest brands and how they take advantage of all types of events—from big events to daily topics. And the data shows that RTM doesn’t just work, it works extraordinarily well in almost every situation when executed correctly.

Here’s a recent example to show you what I’m talking about.

Happy Little Trends

Last week, a daily trending topic appeared on Twitter around the hashtag #MakesMeHappy.

It was a trend that got people tweeting about things that brightened their day, and in addition to all the Twitter users out there joining the conversation, I saw 22 brands jump in with their take on the trend. That’s right, 22.

Now at this point if we were to believe the critics of real-time marketing, we’d expect to see 1, maybe 2 brands that “won” the trend and saw a bump in social performance.

That should leave about 20 brands looking silly for trying to be relevant.


But those critics never bothered to run the numbers, so we’ll fix that.

Breaking Down The Numbers

Let’s pull the data for each of these 22 brands (each brand’s last 3,200 Tweets) and see how their audience responded to their #MakesMeHappy tweets vs. their normal levels of performance.

Here’s what the distribution of success for retweets looks like:


Each of these bars represents one brand, and it shows how well their #MakesMeHappy Tweet did vs. their own historical averages.

As you can see, 17 out of the 22 brands that joined the trend saw increased performance.

On average, they saw a bump in retweets of 143%.

And what about favorites?


Favorites saw roughly the same performance, with 18 out of the 22 brands seeing a bump by leveraging a trending topic, almost doubling their average favorites numbers vs. normal levels.

That’s weird, right?

This isn’t what we’ve been hearing, in fact it’s the exact opposite.

Real-time marketing isn’t a winner-takes-all event, it has a huge long tail of success when you look at the data behind it.

Sure it’s kind of weird and new, but it works.

Universal Success

It doesn’t just work for a few types of brands, either.

Brands that saw success with the #MakesMeHappy hashtag ranged from Applebees (almost 1,000% bump in retweets) to Orbitz (557% bump in retweets) to the TV show Portlandia (who saw a 200%+ bump in retweets).

In my research, I’ve found a wide opportunity for success across almost every vertical and business model out there.

I’m seeing this same pattern of success not only for daily trending topics, but also big events like the Super Bowl and the Golden Globes. And for planned events like the iPhone Launch announcement and (yes) National Cat Day.

When brands jump on relevant conversations that are top of mind for their audience, the audience loves it and responds by sharing and engaging with that content like crazy.

Solid Planning Results in Great Spontaneity

But RTM doesn’t happen on it’s own.

Brands need a solid data-driven methodology and team in place to seize the real-time opportunity while managing the risk of a fast-paced process.

I believe that having a solid approach to people, process, technology, and analytics can help keep your real-time program constantly learning and aware of every opportunity.

I believe that the shift to more relevant, real-time messaging for marketers is just beginning.

The data shows me that audiences respond with incredible enthusiasm to brands joining public conversations—brands that are making themselves more topical, more relatable, more human.

Relevance is Just Starting to Trend

Don’t believe the critics when they say that real-time marketing is a winner-takes-all event, and that you should throw in the towel because “there will never be another Oreo moment.”

Social trends, both big and small, are a huge opportunity for brands to join a relevant conversation with their audience.

And the data tells me this trend isn’t stopping anytime soon.

Post Author

Director of Analytics & Social Data Research Spredfast. I wrote a book on data-driven real-time marketing called Trendology and you should read it. I also like bourbon....

  • johndodds

    That all assumes that retweets have value.

  • While it’s great that you assessed the number of retweets and favorites, how does that affect a brand’s business goals? What I’m failing to see is how they tie this back to the broader objectives. Because in my experience, reporting the number of retweet to your executive team is completely meaningless.

  • Love this deep dive into RTM data Chris. I would love to see replies and longer, conversational engagement from these as well. I wonder if RTM is a useful tool for building 1-on-1 conversations, increasing the strength of relationships with influencers, etc.

  • I have come into contact with plenty of executives that attach a lot of meaning to retweets, likes, etc. For better or worse.

    Scott, if awareness is the top business goal, are these not valuable KPIs? Say for a Red Bull or Intel or TV Land?

  • It’s a start, but remember KPIs are indicators, not the end goal itself. RTs are directional at best. I’m sure KitKat wants to do more than just let people know it exists.

  • Chris Kerns

    Agreed, we always want to tie the social program back to business goals. I believe that social shouldn’t be monetized on a post by post basis, but with the overall impact of the program.

    What I discuss in the Trendology book is that the data shows that RTM can help a brand build an engaged audience faster that non-RTM tactics, but each brand then needs to include monetization tactics in their social program to take advantage of that growth.

    I’ve worked with brands on a few different approaches to this, including equating the impressions to ad spend (as Jason mentioned), creating scheduled offers via social channels that are peppered in every few weeks (but not overwhelming the social audience), and doing higher-level customer lifetime value studies for social vs. non-social customers.

    I’d also argue that many forms of RTM, like the Kit Kat example, are very simple/cheap to do with the right process and mindset, so the “I” piece of the ROI equation is extremely low to begin with.

    So yes, I see retweets and favorites as an indicator that this content is resonating (in pretty significant ways), but I’d never throw a dollar figure on either metric.

  • Chris Kerns

    yes, and I’m doing more research to get more insight around the impact of real-time (with data to back it up.)

    My favorite example of the strength of relationship that RTM can build was the response from the audience when Digiorno (obviously a huge RTM brand) returned after their hashtag mistake in September.

    Check out the replies on their first Tweet back after two weeks off of Twitter:

  • Be interesting to consider the other side of real time marketing, that is using real time data to optimize the content of your day to day social marketing, and to track the results vs those all important business metrics.

  • Tom Dennis

    This really does work. I work for a software company that has a tool for identifying and responding to tweets at that “moment of intent” and the click through rates are above 30% (and up to 60% in the food space). Both big brands and small businesses are finding success by shortening the sales cycle.

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