#Blizzardof2015: Real-Time Brands Bury the Snark and Embrace Utility

As the Super Bowl approaches this weekend, brands have been flexing their real-time muscles over the past few weeks with playoff Tweets, #deflateGate mentions, and #AustraliaDay. Earlier in the week, as news of a potentially historic winter storm spread across the country, social media teams tried a different approach to being more relevant to their audience—one that focused more on utility than humor.

Real-time marketing is often associated with humor and snark in a one-to-one fashion. And yes, many of the famous real-time Tweets from the past few years have been humorous viewpoints on a trending topic. When iPhones started bending in pockets, brands had some fun with the situation. When Kim Kardashian appeared on the cover of Paper magazine, brands came back with snark and jokes. And some brands are just known for their consistent, anti-corporate voice and tone on social media.

The 2015 blizzard saw many of the same tactics to make light of the situation. Car companies showing off their four-wheel drive capabilities, and others embraced the upcoming snow day as an excuse to dive into their Netflix queues. But many brands took a completely different tactic, and saw a great response from their audience.

Real-Time Utility

Let’s be honest—Tweeting about the lighter side of a potential disaster, one where lives could be at stake, is a risky situation for brands. In many cases, snowstorms bring memories of hot chocolate and snowball fights, but in this situation, when winter weather was reaching dangerous levels, brands needed to adjust their messaging.

This time, brands jumped on the trend— a trend they knew was grabbing lots of attention—to provide advice, insight, and assistance before a potentially dangerous situation. Here are a few examples:

Travelers Insurance

The Travelers brand posted tips to prepare for a winter storm across their Twitter and Facebook channels, including information about how to check supplies, get ready for a power outage, and stay warm. Fans and followers responded with a good amount of engagement: more than double the normal level of Retweets that the brand usually sees.

Verizon News 

Verizon News, one of Verizon’s Twitter handles, posted instructions on the best way to communicate an emergency when speaking to 911, such as providing your location, using clear language, and not sending media along with the details of your emergency. Followers responded by sharing the content over 230% more than other Tweets posted by the mobile provider.

The Hartford Group 

The Hartford Financial Services Group Tweeted winter driving tips to their followers and received a huge response. The Tweet received six times the brand's normal level of Retweets and 44 times their normal level of favorites.


The animal right’s group posted a series of social media messages that reminded people how to keep their animals safe in winter conditions. The above Tweet, reminding people to knock on their hood before starting their cars, experienced more than a +1800% bump in Retweets and +900% bump in Favorites vs. historical levels.

And More…

Other social content from Toyota, and New York Life, and also saw higher than normal levels of engagement from their audience, all while side-stepping the jokes and sticking to utility.

Real-Time is About Relevance, Not About Humor

While many brands use RTM to embrace the funny side of current events, what we’ve seen this week is that a humorous approach isn’t the only way to make your brand more relevant. Serious situations can provide opportunities for brands to help, inspire, and inform—all while staying relevant with the topic of the day.

Sure, we’ll see brands return to more light-hearted content with this weekend’s Super Bowl, and with more brands adopting real-time strategies every day, it should be a great event. But as the year goes on, keep in mind that many brands see great performance bumps with real-time by informing and inspiring instead of going for the punchline.


Chris Kerns's picture

Chris Kerns

Chris Kerns has spent more than a decade defining digital strategy and is at the forefront of finding insights from digital data. He currently leads Analytics and Research at Spredfast. His research has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, USA Today and AdWeek, among other publications.