The Wow of Now: how social media strategies must embrace the need for speed

By Paul Marsden

Digital technology is making our world an impatient place. Digital signals can travel at the speed of light, and so we expect digital delight at the speed of light.

In a world where instant gratification takes too long, we’re all live-streaming, fast-shipping, peri-scoping, multi-tasking, speed-dating, selfie-snapping, meer-katting, hash-tagging, geo-tagging, time-shifting, heart-beat tracking, paycheck-checking, net-flixing, home-automating, instant-messaging, insta-gramming, we-chatting, yik-yakking, you-tubing, whats-apping, snap-chatting…  It’s exhausting, but we’re ‘Generation Now’: We want it all and we want it now as we ‘Carpe’ the tech out of ‘Diem’.

When we look at this effect that digital is having on our lives, we realise that it’s less about the ‘New Economy’ and more about the ‘Now Economy’.  Digital both makes us impatient, and solves our impatience. And it’s why ‘convenience tech’ has become the new black in Silicon Valley, delivering instant gratification and saving that most precious commodity of all, time.

For example, check out the latest winners of the digital innovation Oscars, known as the ‘Crunchies’ – they have little to do with doing anything new and everything to do with doing stuff now. Overall winner Uber is the real-time taxi app that’ll get a cab to you now. Runner-up Tinder is a real-time hook-up app that will, well, hook you up now.  Finalists Stripe and SnapChat deliver in the now through real-time transactions and real-time ‘ephemeral’ messaging. The quick-fix for winning in the Now Economy is to deliver the quick-fix.

Live Communication

For professional communicators, today’s ‘Cult of Now’ means that real-time is the new prime-time.  When only the current has currency, brands need to live in the ‘Now’. This means doing things differently.
Most importantly, we need to change how we communicate, moving from an old ‘batch-processing’ model to a real-time model.  Like early computers, we are used to processing things in batches, carefully planning and producing campaigns in batches in advance, and then releasing them in batches according to a carefully scheduled media plans.

Batch processing may have been fine in yesteryear’s world of broadcast mass media where media schedules ruled the airwaves and our lives. But in today’s world of on-demand digital media, batch communication is as useless as a cathode ray tube in a tablet screen. As with computing, the future of communication lies not in batch processing but in real-time processing.

Newsjacking

A popular solution for delivering PR magic in the Now Economy has been to dust off defunct social media departments and rebrand what they do as real-time content marketing.  The sell is simple. Social media is real-time media and so to reach audiences in real-time, use real-time social media. How? Simple again. Use the tried and tested PR technique of ‘newsjacking’; hi-jacking live news, sports and celebrity stories with entertaining branded commentary.

For example, Adidas offered live commentary and images on Twitter during the 2014 World Cup. And when Uruguayan star Luis Suárez took a World Cup bite out of the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, Mars scored nearly 50,000 retweets with an image of a Snickers bar captioned “More Satisfying than Italian”.

Done right, real-time newsjacking delivers positive publicity for a brand in social media and beyond.  Last year’s ‘Billion Dollar Tweet’ at the 2014 Academy Awards is a case in point. Samsung, a major sponsor of the Oscars to the tune of $20m, reaped rewards as host Ellen DeGeneres prominently showed off her white Samsung smartphone during the live broadcast to 43m viewers. Picking top stars and award nominees from the audience, DeGeneres challenged them to gather around her Samsung device and snap a group selfie that would break the record for the world’s most re-tweeted image.
And it worked.

The Samsung selfie stunt scored nearly 3.5 million retweets, the most ever, garnering 32.8 million impressions within the first 24 hours. And the story was widely picked up by news media. Maurice Levy, CEO of Samsung’s agency Publicis, valued the overall publicity at $1bn. Of course, how much a retweet or a media mention is worth is up for debate. Nevertheless, Samsung showed how to get real-time value out of a sponsorship deal.

Minority Report

Remember Minority Report? The Hollywood movie showcased a future where ads would follow us around in real-time and in real-life. It’s happening today, and it’s another way PR can win big in the Now Economy. Location-based surveillance technology such as iBeacon can track us in real-time and ping messages to our mobile devices as we pass by.  For example, the AT&T football stadium in San Francisco uses this kind of surveillance technology to follow fans’ movements and send them mobile ads and offers at opportune moments and places.

Similar real-time surveillance tech means billboard ads can adapt in real-time as we pass by.  For example, the British Airways ‘Look Up’ digital billboard PR stunt features a boy who points to real-world BA planes as they fly overhead in the sky. And back at the desktop, real-time surveillance is helping eke out efficiencies in display advertising by tracking people’s browsing habits in real-time and buying up ad inventory accordingly.  Through real-time programmatic bidding and real-time ‘retargeting’ brands are optimising both the efficiency and effectiveness of their communication budgets.

Uberfication

But it’s perhaps a third digital approach to delivering the ‘Wow of Now’ that is most exciting.  And that is digital innovation.  Connected mobile technology is giving brands an unprecedented opportunity to service people’s needs at their precise point and place of need.

Uber is the disruptive innovator of record here, leading the charge on the digital transformation of taxi and delivery services. But with its $40bn valuation, Uber is far more than a taxi service. Uber is a new framework for winning in the Now Economy with innovative on-demand mobile services that deliver instant gratification.

Today, there’s an Uber for everything, from on-demand child-care to beauty services, cleaning to marijuana delivery. Touch screen, get service. Now. Through Uber-style services, marketers are putting the ‘now’ into marketing know-how.

The Wow of Now

It is through this kind of digital innovation that communication professionals can deliver the real ‘Wow of Now’.   By digitally enhancing products and services, we can offer the Now Generation what it wants; instant gratification and immediate satisfaction.

For some, this innovation focus to winning in the Now Economy may appear beyond the messaging remit of their communications brief. But good communication should not only communicate value, it should offer value. As digital communicators, we are in the value-creation and value-delivery business. And through on-demand digital technology, we are uniquely placed to deliver delight for the Now Economy.

This is exactly what industry legend Regis McKenna meant when he coined the term ‘real-time marketing’ two decades ago. For McKenna, real-time marketing had nothing to do with advertising or PR communication, and everything to do with digital service innovation ‘focusing on real-time customer satisfaction, providing the support, help, guidance, and information necessary to win customers’ loyalty’.

In today’s Now Economy, this original real-time vision of marketing as a service has never held so much transformative promise and potential.  And our first step is easy. As marketers and professional communicators, we will begin to own the Wow of Now when we place a single simple question at the heart of everything we do – ‘How can we help you, right here, right now?

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This article draws on the knowledge base from ISOC courses on social media.