Too Much of a Good Thing: Examining the Saturation of Real-Time

Ahoy, social marketers. Today we’re going to tackle a subject that’s been generating a good amount of conversation industry wide, and that’s figuring out when you might be doing too much posting on a certain topic or trend. That's right, today we're going to talk about when to hit the brakes with real-time marketing.

As the practice of RTM has grown over the past few years, more and more brands are jumping in on big events, daily trending topics, and other types of trends to join social conversations. These brands are seeing big engagement bumps by talking about relevant topics with their audiences.

But won’t all these brands entering consumers' social feeds cause users to say “enough is enough,” and break the experience that is boosting our social performance? Are we going to overload the system with brand conversation and push the people we’re trying to engage in the other direction?

Well, yes and no. To start, let’s talk a little theory about how RTM might saturate a Twitter feed, and how it might not.

Clap if You Believe in RTM

In most cases when a brand jumps on a trend that isn’t centered around a big event, it takes the form of a single post that mentions the hashtag and the brand’s take on the topic. But for certain larger events (like the Super Bowl or the Oscars) or even some smaller events (like last week’s Peter Pan Live show), brands end up posting multiple times to follow the storyline as the event plays out.

When multiple brands jump on a trend with a one or two posts, saturating the audience with too much content is a pretty low-risk situation. The Twitter newsfeed only shows Tweets from handles you've elected to follow, so if 10 brands jump on a trending hashtag, odds are that I don't follow more than a few of them. In that case, I’ll only end up seeing one or two brand Tweets and those aren’t levels that I would consider to be ‘social overload.’ The number of brands jumping in on the conversation doesn’t necessarily matter, because it’s conversation that individual users will only see a small slice of, by design.

But there is a way that the audience could become saturated with real-time messages, and that’s if individual brands are posting multiple times during the same event. In that case, the followers of each account will see each message coming across, and we risk overloading our followers with too much of a good thing.

Let’s look at a saturation example from last week.

Caution: Avoiding the RTM Multi-Dip

Last week, the Peter Pan Live show took place, and Twitter was well aware. While many celebrities and other notable figures live-Tweeted the event, a few brands also jumped on the opportunity to converse with a captive, social audience using real-time marketing.

Specifically, the Twitter accounts for both Digiorno Pizza and Ritz Crackers attempted to hook their audiences as they posted a series of Tweets throughout the show. But while we already know that real-time marketing can be an effective tactic to become more relevant to a brand’s audience, something interesting happened during the Peter Pan event. Both brands saw a decreasing marginal return in their RTM efforts after a certain point. Or said another way, they posted too many times about the same trend. Let’s take a look.

Ritz Crackers

I saw the @RitzCrackers Twitter account post six different Tweets over a 3-hour timespan, all in relation to the live show. They used plenty of images and content that merged the story of Peter Pan with cheese and cracker references which, we should admit, takes some creativity.

Overall, Ritz saw more than a 400% bump in retweets and 700% bump in favorites by joining the Peter Pan discussion vs. their own historical social averages. But if we look at the six posts during the event, we see a pattern form.

Retweets per follower decreased pretty consistently as Ritz continued posting about the same trend. Favorites per follower followed almost exactly the same pattern.

So was this a fluke, or is this showing that the audience starts to get a bit jaded with the same subject being discussed again and again by the same brand? Let’s look at the Digiorno data to see if the trend continues.

Digiorno Pizza

During the course of the show, the @DigiornoPizza account set sail with 16 (!) Peter-Pan-related Tweets.

It’s audience should be used to this, as Digiorno is known as one of the biggest RTM brands on Twitter. But how did they respond as the account continued the conversation over the three hour time window? Roughly the same as the Ritz audience.

Digiorno saw their level of sharing (Retweets per follower) decreasing as the fairy dust flew, with Tweets from the first half of the show receiving more than 70% higher engagement than the second half of the show. Favorites per follower saw a similar decrease.

Sure, this just shows two examples from one event, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this pattern.

At the end of the day, there is no Neverland for brands. When they talk too much in one place they quickly overstay their welcome.

RTM saturation doesn't happen when too many brands jump on a trend, instead we saw that it can happen when a brand jumps on a trend too many times. Multiple RTM posts during an event doesn’t always result in saturation, but as we see above, it can happen under certain circumstances.

How Do We Tell When the Real-Time Ship is Headed for the Rocks?

So, knowing what we now know, how do we make sure we’re not overwhelming our audience when big events are happening? The good news is that when you’re doing too much RTM, the audience will tell you. Well, they usually won’t tell you outright—you need to be listening for their silence.

Just as we walked through above, we can see via social data when we're starting to lose our audience. It’s a signal that your team should monitor and respond to as the event runs it’s course. I wouldn’t recommend simply cutting off RTM when a single post gets a lower response (there’s a chance that it wasn’t a great Tweet, right?) but use the signal to help guide your content strategy. If you continue seeing decreased engagement, maybe it’s time to hit the pause button for a bit, or even call it a night.

You'll see, if you keep an eye on the data the audience will tell you when it's time to take a break.

Alternatively, brands should be monitoring their audience's reaction to real-time when engagement is high—just because you hit a certain number doesn't mean you have to stop Tweeting. Every event, every trend, and every brand’s audience will be different. If you keep an eye on the data, the audience will tell you when it’s time to take a break.

Remember, real-time marketing is all about creating relevant content for your audience. Make sure you’re listening and responding to what your audience is interacting with, or more importantly not interacting with, and you'll have your audience hooked.


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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.