Does your brand content really need to be 'always on'?

The year 2013 was a lightbulb moment for social content. It all started, innocently, when a blackout unexpectedly stopped play at the US Super Bowl.

Ditch the 8am caffeine-fuelled war room and get smart, advises Susi O’Neill
Ditch the 8am caffeine-fuelled war room and get smart, advises Susi O’Neill

Within minutes, a bright spark at Oreo tweeted: ‘You can still dunk in the dark’.

Faster than you can say #newsjacking (using trending news to elevate your message), many major brands revved up their ‘real-time’ bandwagon, hired journalists and launched a ‘newsroom’.

And so began the ‘always on’ content revolution.

Coca-Cola set up ‘Coke intelligence centres’ for real-time publishing where "speed trumps perfection".

Heineken hit the news – from social posts to print ads – cheekily declaring that cricket victories through to Star Wars Day could probably be made better with Heineken.

So, in 2017, does your brand really need to be always on?

For every in-the-moment story, like British Gas flipping mascot ‘Wilbur the Penguin’ on pancake day, many others were bewildering.

Pornhub celebrated Martin Luther King Day with a request to ‘only use the ebony category’.

Reebok’s stories included Halloween costume workout gear and how to get your pulse racing for the launch of an unnamed (due to legal reasons) sci-fi sequel. 2049 marketing this is not.

Real-time publishing has jumped the shark. Elvis has left the building – and he’s logged off Instagram. Rejoice! Brands do not have to be, literally, always on.

But it wasn’t the frenetic pace that killed real-time; it was the networks themselves.

As social moves to a ‘pay to play’ model, and Facebook reach for organic brand posts freefalls to zero, a more traditional model of high-quality creative plus paid media has replaced the need for speed.

Real-time publishing has jumped the shark. Elvis has left the building – and he’s logged off Instagram. Rejoice! Brands do not have to be, literally, always on.

Susi O’Neill, content strategy director for MSL

So how do we get noticed at the crowded social party, particularly without a big media budget?

Somewhat predictably, it’s how brand marketing has always worked: with good planning and relevancy.
Oreo and Heineken’s ‘spontaneous’ moments were carefully orchestrated events.



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Assembling a live team, creating templates, getting advanced legal approval… sounds like any good PR campaign, right?

‘Always on’ is far more than reacting to trends; it’s about being timely and relevant with a different communication mindset.

Shift from campaign-led to a regular drumbeat of content with consistent themes, formats and topics.

Identify upfront what stories your audience loves; the channels and formats they engage with (hint: it involves video and rich media, whether you’re selling chocolate or an investment bank).

Use insights to identify your sweet spot: themes that marry audience interest with topics you have authority to talk about.

Create content that feels ‘native’ by reflecting the stories that your audience shares. Consider macro trends more than specific moments.

Do real-time well with a small core team – including legal – who can put ideas into action quickly.

Ditch the 8am caffeine-fuelled war room: activate the model only for specific events or opportunities.

Listen to social conversations about your brand and your ‘sweet spot’ topics, but before joining in, think about crafting stories rather than making news.

It’s more ‘story lounge’ than ‘newsroom’. And it’s a far better space to craft great work.

Susi O’Neill is content strategy director for MSL

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