To have any real hope of grabbing and keeping the attention of even a fraction of the 2.3 billion active social media users worldwide, brands and professionals need to add real-time into their social media strategies.

It might seem that planning for real time social media is a slightly waked notion, considering all the time and budget you need to invest in people, tool, and process management. Well, it’s not and here’s where the planning comes in.

Pick your topics

There are a few of situations in which real-time isn’t optional. The first step in managing these conversations is figuring out the topics that you can contribute to and what you stance is on each of them.

Let’s say you own an exotic tea shop. An obvious topic for you is the health benefits of drinking tea and you can almost always find someone preaching them around the Internet. A less obvious, much more fun and a lot less done-to-death topic could be how certain celebrities take their tea. The best bit is you can connect them to articles like this one or, even better, use a popular media piece to generate spin-off content such as Traditional or Modern? How the Royals drink tea and add matching products from your own shop into the mix.

Once you’ve defined your approach, start to monitor and join conversations around these topics. You can invest as much or as little time as you’re comfortable with. Just like on a city tour bus, you can hop on and hop off anytime. The tour will go on with or without you.

Sometimes, the content you create and the comments you post are harmless fun but if you truly want your audience to trust you, you can’t shy away from difficult conversations. Knowledge is power so list all the topics related to your product that you’re knowledgeable about, build and continuously add to that knowledge base.  Your social media mangers can then use it to keep an eye out for opportunities and engage your audience in real-time.

Think in chess-moves

Since we’re talking about controversial topics, they can get particularly tricky for those of us who dabble in products that have to be consumed in moderation. Even something as seemingly innocuous as sweets.

In the context of today’s global obesity epidemic, it can be tough to responsibly advertise products that contribute to it. Not only that, but there can even be quite the social media backlash if people discover there’s 3 times the daily recommended intake of sugar in a single slice of your cakes. Setting up a crisis communication framework is going to help you keep these situations from spiraling out of control.

truth in advertising

Geared up with your crisis communication framework and your knowledge base, you can start to think about influencing these conversations to work in your favour. Since both of these imply a process of what we respond to and how, you can produce content that supports your position on the topics in question.

Meaning that if people are talking about the benefits of drinking green tea instead of coffee, you can jump in and advise on the need to still be moderate and link to an infographic you’ve put together, a video you’ve made about what happens in the human body when you subtract coffee and add green tea, or a blog post where you talk about the 5 much healthier, herbal teas that can act as a substitute for coffee.

Use smart tools

There’s really no hope in putting together any social media strategy worth a damn without using tools that allow for listening, scheduling and analysis. Trying to do this by hand, or God forbid through Excel,  is not only grossly inefficient but, as you expand to multiple networks, it becomes impossible.

My favourite social media tools are Buffer and SproutSocial. They’re wonderful insight power-houses that cover all major social media networks, they correlate mountains of data to help you schedule your posts more effectively and many other nifty features. I definitely encourage you to check them out as they can quickly become the Robin to your social media Batman.

Plan to improvise. Plan to rinse & repeat

Once you’re relaxed that you have a plan and you don’t have to scramble all the time to figure out how to handle the simples of challenges, you’ve got a lot more room to think creatively. Just because you have 15 follow-up options, with the posts neatly written and ready to go, doesn’t mean you have to stick with them no matter what.

If you can think of a better approach on the spot, go with it and keep the posts you already have for another opportunity. Especially in the beginning, invest your time and resources in smaller pieces of content. That way, if you think there’s a better way of doing things you won’t be so married to the initial idea just because you’ve invested 5 hours in producing it.

The Bottom Line

Social media takes creativity, strategy, and adaptability. You can’t wing it but you can’t script it either. Our best option is to create a solid foundation, consisting of topics, approaches and information and throw them at real-time conversations our audience is engaging in, allowing ourselves enough wiggle room to keep challenging and improving our content and strategy.

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