Super Bowl ad prices are on the rise. And why shouldn’t they be? For $4 million, advertisers have a shot at blasting their message out to roughly 110 million Americans, many of whom are tuned in as much for the ads as for the game itself. But with most major brands clamoring for even just one 30 second ad slot, the variables by which we drive and gauge success are few and far between.

Event-based marketing has been around for ages, and will continue as a main opportunity for brands to reach highly receptive audiences at scale. Nevertheless, it’s important not to overlook another crucial variable which has emerged as a result of the social web. Major broadcasting events—athletic or otherwise—are catalysts for cross-channel, cross-device conversations that are as much a part of the cultural buzz as the event in question. These conversations are driven by highlights, discourse, humor, and the countless other forms of expression we share across our social networks as a demonstration of interest.

The often-praised Oreo example is a case in point: With one well-timed tweet, the brand drove buzz throughout Super Bowl Sunday and managed to retain social traction in the weeks that followed. But Oreo is the exception to the rule; not every media manager can keep their trigger finger flexed for split-second deployment, nor should they be expected to.

The brands that win are those that learn to listen to the real-time social conversations and adapt their messaging strategies accordingly. We put together some best practices on how to do so:

 Start Early

Major events generate weeks of social build-up and cool-down. Take a look at last year’s Super Bowl conversation, for example, which started two weeks ahead of game day with over 20 million individuals expressing their interests over the course of several more weeks. Brands should closely monitor sharing activity weeks ahead of an event, playing on the various peaks and troughs generated by the stories that emerge over time.

Look Beyond The Obvious Topics

People don’t always share what we expect them to, and the best conversations are often spontaneous. Social engagement surrounding the World Series was replete with memes and emotional call-backs. Sure, highlights and articles may have garnered plenty of consumption, but when it comes to sharing, we’re more responsive to content that resonates through laughter and emotional connection. For the most part, the nature of these conversations can’t be predicted — they have to be listened for.

Play To The Strengths Of Each Event

For most brands, the Olympics vs Super Bowl debate boils down to national vs domestic reach. However, both opportunities present their own unique marketing opportunities. The Super Bowl is a game of reach and scale, but the structure and timeframe of Olympic events are highly conducive to real-time marketing. With events happening over the course of several weeks, and each event having its share of rising stars and surprises, brands have a wealth of stories to tune in and reach unexpected audiences at the right time, with the right message.

At ShareThis, we use a combination of social listening strategies to build tailored event sponsorship packages we call ShareBlocks. Each ShareBlock is powered by the sharing activities of over 210 million users across the web, incorporating real-time monitoring to reach the right users at critical moments. As part of an effective social listening and real-time activation strategy, ShareBlock gives brands a chance to own the conversation during key events.

In summary, real-time activation shouldn’t be limited to spontaneous reactive marketing. Effective social listening strategies should consider the weeks of activity surrounding events and activate key audiences based on the resulting conversations.  Remember to:

  •  Start early by monitoring sharing activity weeks ahead of an event
  •  Look for content that evokes laughter and emotional connection
  •  Play to the strengths of each event and reach the target audience at the right time with the right message