Are You Communicating in Real-Time?

Are you communicating in real-time? This question has been on my mind a lot since I heard David Meerman Scott present at the 2010 Vocus User’s Conference. David presented different scenarios where individuals had a choice to make – do something now, do something later, or do nothing. He encouraged us to ask ourselves the question, “what would you do?” Most communicators opt to do something later (or do nothing).

This isn’t exactly how David presented things – it’s my interpretation. So much of our work (and personal) time is filled with talk of things we’re going to do or plan to do, but little talk revolves around what to do right now.There’s a lot of us that would like to operate with more of a real-time mindset. If only we could get away from the endless stream of interruptions that masquerade as work and limit our productivity (i.e. emails, meetings, instant messaging, surfing the Web, and reading rants on blogs like this one).

The brands and people winning in the marketplace today know how to develop and execute communication strategies in real-time. What can you do right now to move your brand forward, get ahead of a crisis or latch onto some breaking news story to get the lion’s share of the publicity? Those questions aren’t asked enough, because few people have the courage, desire or skills required to act on the answer. Communicating in real-time is not easy. You need power and influence in your organization and you need buy-in to a concept few are comfortable with.

I hope we’ll find some answers in Real-Time Marketing & PR, David’s latest book due out in October that focuses on this concept. For now, I think we can all benefit from thinking more about real-time communications. It’s at the heart of everything you’re doing these days as a communicator.

Make the Shift to Real Time

What if you’re not working in real time? What if your organization still has meetings to plan meetings to talk about what you’re going to do next week/month/year? What if your lawyers step in and tell you not to say anything – not to respond to complaints or reporters looking for your comment? If this is the case, you’re going to have to be the change agent. You’re the one that’s going to help your organization adapt to the realities of a real-time communications environment.

While I’m advocating for reacting and communicating in real-time, I’m not discounting the need to plan and develop a strategy that makes it easier to do so. Start there. Develop your plan for communicating internally and externally, across both new and emerging channels. You can’t be prepared for everything, but you can prepare for everything you can think of. Ask yourself the “What if?” question as often as possible (i.e. “What if one of our rigs explodes and we can’t stop the leak?”).

One of the examples David presented at the conference was the [now famous] United Breaks Guitars incident. This is an incredible example of the power consumers have today, and what happens when you don’t respond and take care of things in real-time. One of the things I found most interested from David’s presentation was how other organizations saw the building interest in the United Breaks Guitars video and jumped on the opportunity to get in on the action – namely the guitar manufacturer mentioned in the video and a company that makes heavy-duty guitar cases. These individuals were rewarded for reacting in real-time. Slow-to-react United continues to get beat up about the incident today. What if they had reacted in real-time?

What now? What can you do right now to insert yourself into stories that are going on out there? If a crisis happens in your organization this morning, how will you handle it at lunchtime? There’s no easy answer. This post isn’t intended to give you a cheat sheet for real-time communications, because I don’t have all the answers you’re looking for. The point was to get you on board thinking about things too – so we can figure it out together.

Do you think organizations can adapt to a real-time communications model? How can we make the shift from reactive to proactive? Don’t wait to comment, share your thoughts now.

(Image Credit: *Time* Ticking away by Michel Fillon)

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.


  1. Hey Jeremy,

    Thanks for writing this. Real time marketing and PR is my new mantra, since it’s David’s and I’m down with whatever he’s down with 🙂 It’s such an exciting concept to latch onto when you really do latch onto it and “lose control” as he would say.

    I think if more PR people embrace Real Time our jobs will get way more interesting and media coverage will, too.



    • How did I miss your comment AML? Thanks for stopping by. I think “losing control” shows you are actually “in control.”

  2. Hey Jeremy

    Wow — this is an awesome writeup! I am sending a link to my publisher right now! I really appreciate you taking the time to write so thoughtful a post.

    I’m convinced that “Real-Time” is what’s changing.

    Social media are tools. Real-Time is a mindset. Those who understand and re-adjust are the winners today.


    • Thanks for the comment. I’m very excited for “Real-Time Marketing & PR”. Let me know when you book Atlanta on the tour, we’ll bring the crowd out for you.

  3. Despite the benefits of real-time communications, it amazes me how many businesses still believe the path to take is delay or no comment. My husband is a reporter and runs into that scenario all the time even when the “no comment” strategy makes no sense.

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