51% of brands find extracting insights and data from real-time social marketing a challenge.

Almost two-thirds of brand marketers say that monitoring trends and headlines is essential for best practice real-time community management in social media. Yet over half say getting real-time data and insights is the biggest obstacle.

This finding comes from a recent survey carried out by immediate future asking B2C and B2B brands how they are managing real-time communications in social media.

Whether you believe that real-time social engagement is the future of marketing or just a fad, right now there is no greater means of increasing brand perception and building customer relationships then through social channels.

Here we’ll be looking at immediate future’s survey, followed by insight from our own Real-time Marketing Report

Challenges

Brands that are able to respond quickly to consumers needs and build one-to-one rapport gives them a competitive advantage. As does being able to monitor cultural trends or news stories in order to create timely agile marketing. 73% of brands plan for spontaneity. Both planning in advance and posting on a daily basis.

Of course to be truly ‘agile’ and achieve the best results from real-time marketing, brands have to change the way marketing teams work. Possibly adopting an ‘after-hours’ strategy, where a social media manager is always ‘on’ and ready to respond.

Other challenges include the efficient management of multiple social channels. There’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to finding the right channel for your brand, and tailoring a brand’s ‘voice’ or output to fit the audience that uses that particular network.

You also need content to market. Well-made, useful and relevant content that can be created quickly but of a high value still fits the brand identity.

Just because a certain method of communication or strategy works on Facebook, doesn’t mean it will work on Twitter or Google+. There needs to be specific training for each one, and skills developed based on the data received from each channel.

Two-thirds of brands manage social media in-house, but only 50% do so in a dedicated role. One in six brands outsource real-time social engagement to an agency, although many more work with specialist partners in creative, analytics and campaign support. 

I talked to our own head of social, Matt Owen, about this trend.

There are obviously pros and cons to both approaches. Personally I’m in favour of an in-house approach. An embedded social manager will have far greater affinity with the brand, and will be better placed to make use of audience information and adopt an agile approach. 

Outsourcing adds another layer of complexity to social efforts, meaning it can slow communications down considerably – particularly important if the brand is using social as a CRM channel. 

With that said, agencies are experts in platforms and creatives, so they may be far better at designing an effective strategic approach for a brand and producing creative, and often have staff on hand with greater channel-specific technical expertise, which allows them to explore the possibilities of various platforms in more depth. 

The most important skill required for real-time engagement is creativity, according to 75% of brands surveyed. The other important best practices are in listening, flexibility and speed.

Customer service however is rated quite low in terms of necessary skillset, with only 42% of brands stating its importance in real-time marketing.

When it comes to analysing data, only 27% consider it best practice to use monitoring tools. 

When tools are used it’s the free ones that come out tops. Google Analytics is the most popular (62%), followed by the analysis functions on a respective social channel (53%).

Is social marketing ‘real-time’ marketing?

In the article Just how fast is real-time marketing? David Moth discusses what our understanding of real-time marketing actually constitutes.

Marketing is never a completely spontaneous activity. By its very nature, communication with target audiences requires a level of knowledge (stemming from data and insight) about what the audience wants and how the product or service offered meets their needs. 

This processing of knowledge to decide on how to engage with audiences cannot happen without planning. 

In our own Real-Time Marketing Report published in February 2014, we asked 900 marketers how they defined real-time marketing.

12% of company respondents said that real time was the ability to respond to consumer behaviours in less than a second.  

This is quite an extraordinary practice that I imagine would only make a consumer question whether they really wanted to deal with a company that practices such immediate automation. This sort of response time would perhaps not best suit marketers on social channels, where users expect a more natural, personal approach. 

This leads into the question mark hovering above whether personal, non-automated responses by brands on social media are instantaneous enough to even merit the description of ‘real-time’.

This is how our respondents answered the question Do you or your clients currently employ any of the following real-time marketing methods?

‘Real-time’ or not, social media marketing is only increasing in importance and relevance. Companies need to stategise accordingly, whilst keeping in mind the above challenges.

While it’s clear that real-time marketing is an exciting opportunity for marketers, most focus on social channels as the sole output channel for their endeavours. Often merely copying what worked for other brands without thinking about how it fits with their own brand and messaging.

Real time is not just about social, it’s a different way of approaching marketing through any given channel.

For more insight and guidance, download the Real-time Marketing Report.