Put down the Oreos. Real-time marketing is dead.

I mean that metaphorically, of course, and in reference to the famous real-time marketing incident in 2013. If you’re eating actual Oreo cookies, please do carry on.

Why is real-time marketing dead already? For the same reason that the retail investor on Wall Street has no hope of outsmarting high-frequency traders and their automated platforms: humans aren’t fast enough for actual real-time marketing.

During the Republican presidential candidate debate, I had the opportunity to watch the “engine room” at Zignal Labs (client of my employer) real-time monitoring system scan the debate on social media, broadcast media, traditional press, and a few other data sources. It looked a bit like this:

The Matrix

The number of conversations happening at any given split second was somewhere between 750,000 and more than a million. One of their tools displays a word cloud of what’s being talked about; imagine a word cloud that changed every millisecond, hashtags flying by faster than you can see.

In an environment like that, the tradition of “news-jacking” popular hashtags and conversations is almost impossible for a human being to keep up with. Can you jump on a popular tweet or a news story when a literal million more appear every second? Watch how fast opinion changes in this animation:

By the time you make a statement about who is ‘winning’, the data has already changed under your feet a million times.

In digital marketing analytics, something usually is considered trending when it shows a growth curve, a certain mathematical change. When you look at the actual data stream flowing by with a tool like Zignal Labs that can truly display what real-time looks like, growth curves for content are measured in milliseconds. Individual pieces of content start out, grow, trend, and fizzle in the blink of an eye.

The reality is that for anything significant that’s a broad conversational topic, real-time marketing is beyond the capabilities of humans to keep up with. At best, we can look at summaries of what’s happening to pick and choose what we want to give additional focus to; the very best monitoring tools like Zignal Labs will elevate those items that need our attention most.

Beyond that, we need to leave it to the machines and stick to our strategies as best we can.

Disclosure: Zignal Labs is a client of my employer. However, I was not asked to write about their product, and I was not compensated to do so, beyond general benefit to my employer. Zignal Labs did give me a slice of pizza while I was on-site.


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