Every year, there are a handful of events that present unique real-time marketing moments. From March Madness to the upcoming birth of the Royal Family’s newest member, these events aggregate audiences in the millions. With so many people united by a single event, and participating in the conversation on social media, there is a clear opportunity for nonprofits to create their own real-time marketing moments, here’s how:

 1. Plan ahead

There are some events that come and go like the rising and setting of the sun. Predictable and known, nonprofits should have them on their radar and plan for these opportunities. For example, March Madness is an annual, weeks-long opportunity. In planning ways to join the conversation, be creative in exploring how you can create posts that connect your cause and mission to the overarching discussion. However, in the process, make sure that your message stays intact. Remember, the goal is to introduce your cause into the discussion stream in such a way that your message will be amplified through sharing.

Planning ahead also allows you to join the conversation without a big campaign budget spend. Create a repository of assets (a shared folder of images, videos, copy, links, etc. that you and your team add to and pull from at any time) – preferably those that have performed well in the past, whether in social or elsewhere – that align with your brainstormed posts. To help assure that they are shared and given the opportunity to go viral, focus on posts that people would want to be connected with, posts they would want as part of their personal narrative. While these can be funny, inspirational, or even educational, they must above all be shareable.

Last, conduct research. Watch what is trending in pre-event buzz, if applicable, and use it as fodder in your brainstorming. Think about both potential post topics and potential responses for what could occur. Look at what others (nonprofits and brands alike) have done in the past. And, most importantly, fold in what has worked most successfully for your organization. For example, you might take a page from the Philadelphia PD who planned for this winter’s snow storm with a great Frozen riff, or Make-A-Wish who had planned this overt post and real-time image at the Grammys:

Philadelphia Frozen

Make A Wish Grammy

2. Be perfectly timed

This is where planning meets opportunity. If it’s an annual happening like March Madness, be sure to watch the event and social reactions to it. Even the advertisements can spark potential opportunities! In the case of events like the State of the Union address where there may be opportunities to join the social discussion, you’ll need to watch the event carefully to decide when and if the topics and timing are right to participate.

You don’t need to cull together a war room full of people for this task. Dedicate a couple of people to your real-time team and assign them the responsibility of watching for the opportunities you’ve already planned for. For example, the March of Dimes, whose work focuses on helping moms have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies, could dedicate a resource to watch for the birth of Will and Kate’s baby, using the discussion stream to celebrate healthy babies and underline the importance of their cause. They could even spin up a social action and invite people to sign a congratulations card and in the process grow their email list.

 3. Watch what is trending

While some trending topics are often known entities, sometimes news just breaks. In either case, trending topics and trending hashtags can play a substantial role in helping your team stay on top of social conversations. Make sure that you not only watch for what’s trending, but include that verbiage in your posts to secure your inclusion in the discussion.

To watch for what’s trending:

  • Create a Twitter List and a Facebook Interest List. These lists will automatically capture the content streams of organizations and topic areas you designate. Having this stream at your fingertips allows you to quickly scroll through and find relevant content that people are already talking about.
  • Pre-planned events will almost always have established hashtags, such as #MarchMadness, which will be a rich source of pre-event planning and trending conversations. News-driven events also tend to settle into a hashtag-driven conversation stream. #ICantBreathe and #Handsupdontshoot, for example.
  • Tools such as ActionSprout Inspire and CrowdTangle can also help automate and streamline the process of finding the best performing trending content.

While it may sound like a no-brainer, I can’t say it enough as Facebook recently changed its algorithm to further favor posts that reference trending topics. As a result, doing so will help include your post in the conversation stream AND will increase the likelihood that your post will appear in the newsfeed of your fans and followers – where the vast majority of all posts are seen.

These approaches can be used year-round across news, events and trending discussions. Take a look at how OurTime.org took advantage of Jared Leto’s speech at the Oscars. Following a nod to the HIV/AIDS community and those targeted because of who they are and who they love, OurTime worked quickly to type out Leto’s speech and post the following call for action.

OurTime Leto

4. Join in!

When the time is right to join the conversation, keep your voice consistent and in sync with what supporters have come to expect from your organization. Be genuine and true to your mission. If a real-time moment doesn’t allow for this, sit it out. Trust me, another opportunity will present itself.

Join when you have value to add to the conversation. A well-timed, smart addition to a trending topic can garner positive feedback and help you capture the attention of new supporters. Take for example this witty, shareable post from The Smithsonian that played off of hype surrounding AMC’s The Walking Dead:

Smithsonian Zombies

Importantly, real time marketing is an ideal time to request supporters take a social action, such as signing a petition or a card, or joining a newsletter, effectively transferring engagement into action. This is the tactic that OurTime took with the Oscar post, which garnered over half a million likes, 27 million views and thousands of new email subscribers.

5. Follow-up

Following the real-time marketing exercise, take time to measure your results, what went well and what could be improved for next time. Although it’s marketing in the moment, it is certainly not a point in time exercise and there is always room for improvement. Feed your results into future planning sessions and keep your eyes open for other organizations excelling at real-time marketing, learning from their best practices.

There’s a reason marketers are starting to call real-time marketing “right-time marketing”. Done right it’s about getting the right message to the right audience at the right time. As a result, real-time marketing is at its best when preparation meets opportunity – hitting publish at the moment your message will resonate most.

Drew Bernard

Drew Bernard

Founder and CEO at ActionSprout
Drew Bernard is the founder and CEO of ActionSprout.com where he helps nonprofits and political campaigns engage supporters in social media.
Drew Bernard
Drew Bernard

Latest posts by Drew Bernard (see all)