The real time Web is changing the way we gather and disseminate all of our digital information, thus creating new opportunities for online businesses in every sector. Retailers can offer deals on items that consumers want right now; marketers can actively participate in real-time discussions about their products, and companies can increase their brand’s awareness in a fraction of the time it took just a couple of years ago. But with all of the new doors it opens, the real time Web is also a vast and uncharted space that you will need to know your way around before you can make it work most effectively for your business.
What is the Real time Web?
In simple terms, it is a rapidly growing part of the Internet in which users can access the most timely, relevant content at any particular moment, on any particular topic, the second it is published anywhere on the Web. To see how others
are reacting to events as they happen or responding to various points of discussion, and to actively engage in those conversations themselves, has proven to be an immensely popular method of following current events and tracking the latest trends. Twitter and Facebook are the best examples that illustrate the massive social appeal of weighing in on a topic or expressing an opinion of something when the experience is freshest in our minds.
The topic could be anything from what you ate at a local restaurant five minutes ago to the immediate reaction to NBA mega-star LeBron James’ free-agency decision. The so called social relevance of the topic will be determined by the type of engagement it generates from other users, and, in many cases, by whom. An impromptu review of a local restaurant by an average consumer won’t demand the same attention as an NBA player’s reaction to LeBron James’ decision, but it could be an invaluable marketing opportunity for — or require immediate damage control from — the owner of said restaurant.
“Whatever niche you are in, the data on the real time Web is powerful data,” says Evan Britton, founder of Sency.com, a real-time search engine. “If you are McDonald’s and you see a Burger King commercial on the Super Bowl broadcast on TV, you can follow what people are saying about that Burger King commercial in real time. And it trickles down to small business as well. You can monitor conversations in your niche and tweet about that — which will lead to streams of new traffic to your site. The ability to market new products in real time and to conduct free market research can be huge advantages for any business.”
The LeBron Effect
A few years ago, Internet users who wanted the latest information on a breaking news story like James’ free-agency decision would run a Google search and filter through a handful of developing stories from sportswriters (and old stories, too.) Today a user can run the same search on Google — or go directly to Twitter or to another real time search engine — and find 10 times the information that brings them up to the very last second of the story’s development in a fraction of the time.
In addition to links to the latest news stories, commentaries and videos surrounding the decision, users could find abbreviated updates and reactions tweeted out in real time from sportswriters, other players in the NBA, team owners
and coaches, fans all over the world, and even from LeBron James’ own Twitter account — which he was compelled to set up in the days leading up to his announcement.
The subsequent streams of stories and blogs and videos then branched into thousands of different directions, and the savviest online marketers were tracking what they could to join the conversations that best suited their businesses. James’ final decision directly impacted companies in the professional sports apparel business, for instance, but the entire weeks-long process also presented opportunities for a multitude of other companies in at least four major metropolitan areas. Overall, it would be hard to think of too many businesses large and small that could not have found some marketing potential in the real-time discussions that were taking place.
How Can it Help My Business?
It doesn’t matter what your business is, the real-time Web can help it in a variety of ways. Some of the more obvious ones are identifying the latest and most important trends in your industry, cultivating professional relationships and potential
partnerships and interacting more effectively with the people to whom you hope to sell your products or services.
What may be less obvious is that simply by engaging in the conversations required to do any of the above, you will be significantly enhancing your Web content and boosting your search results and potential for traffic. “The more popular content will show up more frequently in real-time search,” says Greg Shuey of Seo.com.
“Ways to take advantage of real time in search rankings are to write lots of blog posts and optimize the titles; put lots of videos on YouTube, distribute lots of press releases and actively participate in conversations on Twitter and other sites.
It’s not that different from standard SEO best practices and it will always come back to the quality of your content.”
And to improve the quality of your content on the realtime Web, you will be forced to achieve a deeper level of engagement from users. It’s not about hitting the right keywords or even about providing something that users want to read or view — it’s about providing something they will also want to pass along to their friends and their groups.
“Content that rises to the top in real time is more democratic than traditional search,” says Tobias Peggs, president of the real-time search engine OneRiot. “It gets to the top if users really enjoy it and if they share it a lot. It all goes back
to creating compelling content that people want to share.
Making it as easy as possible for them to share it is important, too, with links and options to ‘Tweet this’ and ‘Like’ and so forth.”
Staying ahead of industry trends, engaging with consumers, enhancing your content and marketing your product are among the things you can do organically on the real-time Web, but opportunities in paid advertising are going to be the next major phase of the movement. OneRiot has an advertising platform called Riotwise that gives marketers the ability to attach their brands to the hottest trending topics, and now Twitter has launched its own version of e-commerce for the real-time Web, called @earlybird. It’s too early to tell what will happen with @earlybird, but as with anything on the real-time Web, the potential is enormous.