I’ll spare you any more jokes about #covfefe—we already have thousands more than we need. But the firestorm of comments, memes, and half-baked conspiracy theories launched by President Trump’s accidental tweet was a powerful testament to the allure of real-time content. Timely, topical content is always a hit on social media, especially when the lifespan of a single tweet, Snapchat, Facebook status, or other update is limited to hours, sometimes even minutes.
What does President Trump’s tweet have to do with your social media strategy? Many brand marketers might say nothing at all. Especially at a time when the political spectrum is so sharply divided, many brands prefer to steer clear of any subject matter that might alienate some of their customers.
But Trump’s mysterious misspelling seemed exempt from the traditional rules of political engagement. With everyone positing their own theories about what “covfefe” might mean—and with Trump even encouraging people to try to figure it out—riffs on the year’s most famous made-up word spread like wildfire, and brands were not content to sit on the sideline.
The viral impact of some of those tweets demonstrated the potential reward of creating content that relates to topical events and conversations. Brands have an opportunity to use the news cycle to engage with a larger conversation taking place among their consumers. But this is a strategy easier described than executed: Branded tweets based on topical events can also be perilous terrain and require an iron-clad procedure for identifying opportunities, creating content, and running that content through several layers of approval.
The challenges are complicated by the short time frame brands have to work with. While the “covfefe” trend was a big hit for a day or two, it quickly fizzled out, and brands who arrived late to the party would have risked looking like slow-footed fools delivering the punchline way too late. For brands determined to create engaging social content that responds to opportunities in real-time, there are steps that must be taken to give marketers a system for fulfilling this objective. It all starts with understanding which news stories are a prime opportunity, and which ones are a brand disaster waiting to happen.
Knowing Where Your Brand Belongs
When it comes to newsjacking—a marketing approach that inserts your brand’s ideas into a topical news story—the fit has to make sense, even if it’s not direct. An automotive brand can certainly insert itself into conversations that extend beyond the scope of automotive issues, but there still has to be a justification for their presence.
The appeal of newsjacking Trump’s covfefe tweet was that the subject matter was fun and relatively benign. As AdWeek reports, brands were able to use the tweet to crack a joke and get some visibility without drawing harsh condemnations for inserting themselves where they don’t belong.
I can’t believe it. The final secret ingredient has at last been revealed… A sprinkle of #Covfefe
— KFC UK & Ireland (@KFC_UKI) May 31, 2017
Did someone say #covfefe ☕☕☕
— Costa Coffee (@CostaCoffee) May 31, 2017
A similar phenomenon occurred during the blackout that shut down Super Bowl XLVII for more than half an hour. During that break, some brands were so fast-thinking that they were able to create content that capitalized on an event within a very limited window of opportunity. The most memorable of these is a tweet from Nabisco brand Oreo:
Power out? No problem. pic.twitter.com/dnQ7pOgC
— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) February 4, 2013
But there are risks to overstepping your boundaries, and they can be brutal. One of the more recent examples is Pepsi’s ad starring Kendall Jenner, in which the company inserted its brand into the conversation surrounding Black Lives Matter and other social and political protests. The company was lambasted for trying to turn a social movement into a branding opportunity and the ad was quickly pulled.
Consumers have seen brands attempt newsjacking for their own marketing gain plenty of times, and they are very attuned to whether a company is inserting itself in a place where it doesn’t belong. According to David Beebe, a content marketing expert who paved new trails as a VP with Marriott by establishing a “brand newsroom” to manage content operations for the hospitality company, these errors can likely be traced back to a case of poor judgment from within a marketing department.
“The risks are that you might have an opportunity that a content producer identifies with some of the data,” Beebe says. “Mistakes can happen, especially when you’re trying to be funny. Or a brand trying to insert itself into a conversation where it doesn’t belong.”
What’s most alarming about Pepsi’s misstep is that it wasn’t the result of fast-tracked approvals and creation under pressure. Their ad likely took months of development and planning—yet it still burst into flames immediately upon release. That example could easily discourage other brands from launching their own real-time content production operations, figuring that the risks are even greater on a compressed timeline.
While there is some validity to that concern, these risks can be mitigated by investment in preparation and planning. If you want to up your social content game, you first need to draft a blueprint for managing this workflow.
Image courtesy of David Beebe
Preparation is Everything
Beebe is quick to emphasize the importance of an organized, streamlined workflow that passes content through several layers of approval.
Typically, a real-time content workflow would begin with marketers or analysts using social listening tools to identify trends or opportunities that represent a chance for the brand to insert its voice. This opportunity then gets passed on to the content manager overseeing the newsroom or real-time content workflow. Content creators then brainstorm and create this content, which is then presented to management for approval. The specific procedure for these checkpoints will be pre-established, but the content should pass in front of multiple sets of eyes, ideally gaining approval from both the content manager and another manager or executive. Once the content is approved, the creators will work with social media teams to finalize packing and publish the content.
“The idea is a newsroom: one centralized place where data technology and creative come together to listen to what’s happening on social media, trending topics, etc.,” Beebe says. “It’s a mix of content producers, analytics, social media teams, and they’re all working together. In order for it to work, you have to be all in one room.”
But most brands have neither the budgets nor the executive support to create an entire brand newsroom. Instead, they will look to build a leaner approach to creating this social content, delegating the work to some members of their marketing team and carefully watching the results. If ROI is strong, they can advocate for larger budgets and greater buy-in from executive leaders. Until then, they have to prioritize their wish list.
“The first thing [brands should do] is identifying which technologies you need. There are so many out there. You need that to listen,” Beebe says. “How deep do you want to go into data? First, [ask yourself], ‘At what level do you really want to listen, and how much do you want to know about the people?’”
In an ideal world, Beebe says the entire process for creating fast-tracked content should be trimmed down to 45 minutes. Again, that mark may not be realistic for every company, and marketers should never rush content through approvals or bypass steps in order to seize the moment. That’s how PR crises are born. But marketers can still build a procedure that serves their resources and their limitations, shortening the process from conception to publication and creating a social media strategy that’s more responsive to news events than ever before.
When responding to current events, speed is critical. But speed can’t come at the expense of efficiency and thoughtful content creation. That’s why a well-oiled machine is essential to creating this short-order content and serving it to a waiting social audience.
For more stories like this, subscribe to the Content Standard newsletter.
Featured image attribution: Marjan Grabowski