The recent uptick in Twitter, Facebook, and other real-time Web applications, which put the focus on what users are doing “right now,” has given rise to new challenges and opportunities for businesses. A crisis can seem to erupt in a moment — often during nonbusiness hours — but by taking advantage of the real-time Web, you can remotely interact with customers in a more immediate way than ever before, providing opportunities for more frequent and meaningful conversation, pervasive branding, and improved customer service. So what specifically can you do to take advantage of the real-time Web?
Respond To Your Customers
The first step to leveraging the real time Web for your business is listening. Once-a-day Google alerts just aren’t enough to keep up with what’s happening online anymore, but there are some newcomers tackling real-time searches. Sites like SocialMention, OneRiot, and Collecta pull data from multiple sources, including Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, WordPress, and YouTube, and offer real-time updates and subscription options for searches. It’s also helpful to set up custom Twitter searches, either through the Twitter site or a third-party application, like TweetDeck, HootSuite, or Nambu.
Once you start listening, it’s time to start interacting. By searching your brand name, you can provide multimedia, real-time customer service for people who have questions and complaints about your product or service. Whether it’s an answer via Twitter, a service update on Facebook, or tech support via a screencast, you can reach your customers in ways that are meaningful and accessible to them.
Though Twitter is great for short, simple questions, real-time video services, like Qik, or even Facebook and YouTube, can add even more depth when composing extensive answers and tutorials.
Whatever media you use, providing real-time responses can also help improve your perceived expertise in your field. By responding to questions about your industry and helping people with their problems, you’ll build your online reputation and gain people’s trust, resulting in more business leads, inquiries, and referrals.
Get Your Message Out Quickly
While crises can flare up quickly on real-time media, real-time platforms are essential for putting out the fires. Whether a negative video came out about your business, customers are responding poorly to an ad, or you’ve had a major product recall, you can communicate with your customers, reassure them that everything is going to be OK, and share how you’re making changes to improve the problem. A quick response on the platforms your customers use can go a long way.
Real-time media is equally important for getting your message out when times are good. Whether you’re announcing a new product, sharing your blog posts, or talking to customers dissatisfied with your competitors’ products, you can do a lot to enhance your marketing and advertising initiatives. You can also promote sales, share special offers, and hold contests, where you can encourage others to promote your business to their networks, answer a question the quickest, or go to a specific location the fastest for a prize.
Offer Real-Time Services
With the growth of the smartphone market, more people are using location-based services, like Google Latitude, Loopt, and BrightKite, so you can actually know when they’re at or near a specific location — like your store — and send them appropriate messages and offers, like a coupon code or a discount for showing the message you sent them.
Alternatively, you can share your own company’s location data with your customers to provide a richer customer experience — for example letting them track food delivery or car service vehicles as they’re on their way.
Back in the virtual world, an easy way to leverage the real-time Web is by allowing sharing on your site. Consider using a ShareThis or Tell-a-Friend button, or a more directed list of social networking and bookmarking sites, so people can easily spread the word about your business to their networks.
Keeping Up With Real Time
As you’re watching the real-time Web speed by, it’s more important than ever to keep your site, blog, and social streams up-to-date. While relevance and authority are still important in traditional search and will help you in the long run, immediacy rules in real time.
To stay up-to-the-minute with what users are doing on your site, companies like Baynote and Chartbeat offer real-time analytics to track who is on your site at any moment and what they’re doing, which can offer insights into how you should improve your site experience.
The real-time Web can be a lot to keep up with, but with the right team in place, you can stay current and grow your business’s online fan base moment by moment.