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Is a real-time response really what’s best for your brand?

Some social media pundits claim that we are in an age of “real-time” media. And, to some degree, that is true. But I think many of them would also agree that they don’t mean literally sharing every thought in real time — even if that’s not quite as catchy of a headline as “Real-Time Social Media, Except Please Don’t Really Do It That Way.”

True, social has changed some aspects of marketing and communication, adding tools to communicate and engage audiences. But is interacting via social networks in real time always what’s best for your brand?

Two examples of real-time communication being bad for your business or personal brand:

  • Micky Arison, owner of the Miami Heat, found himself stuck with a $500,000 fine after he used his Twitter account as a sounding board about the NBA lockout.
  • This week, former Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce implied that victims of the Aurora, Colo., shooting hold some blame for not being armed. His comments ignited a media backlash.

These are examples of the reason not everyone should have a real-time platform for random streams of consciousness. Organizations and individuals spend a great deal of time, money and effort building a brand. It can take years to develop a personal or company brand, yet social media give us a way to decimate a brand as fast as you can press “Send.” This occurs when a brand had no communication plan — or when people lack discipline to stick to the plan.

If you are doing social media right, little of your communication is in real time. Your communication should be the culmination of careful strategy and planning. If you are doing it right, you have completed an extensive exercise in developing a social media strategy, channel mapping, implementation plans, an editorial calendar, roles and responsibilities, policies and guidelines, and a scorecard for tracking results. That doesn’t feel very real time to me.

So-called real-time interaction is also touted as a great tool when you have a crisis. It’s usually not. In fact, I can’t think of a worse medium for brands to use in the heat of a crisis. Some pundits tell you that the days of having hours to prepare a news release are over. But for many companies, that’s irresponsible, and investors or shareholders deserve — and demand — more than a gut reaction.

Take Pearce’s example: He severely damaged his personal brand because he strayed from the process he normally would follow to respond to a crisis. If you communicate for a brand, you are required to act and communicate responsibly. That means taking in the facts. Make sure you have them straight, then provide an appropriate and, more importantly, measured response.

JetBlue Airways is an example of a brand that did this well. When one of its flight attendants had a “mental breakdown” and, after cursing out a passenger, quit his job in the most dramatic way possible, social networks were abuzz with the news. The brand could have been severely damaged, but JetBlue handled the crisis well. Shortly after the incident, the airline updated Twitter and its blog stating that it was aware of what had transpired, was working to verify details and would report only what it knew was accurate. The company continued frequent updates and was specific about giving only concrete information, rather than speculation. You are not required to give an immediate response. You are required to be accurate and responsible.

So when is it appropriate to use social media in real time? Some great uses of real-time tools:

  • Monitoring what people are saying about your company, brand, product or service.
  • Tracking what people are saying about your competition.
  • Generating sales leads from data.
  • Helping a customer answer a customer-service question.

Have you ever written an e-mail and then walked away to let it marinate? Ever come back to the e-mail and realize you didn’t actually want to come across that way? Think of your social channels the same way. Assume every piece of content you generate in an e-mail or on a social network has legs and can walk anywhere. Would you still share? If yes, then you have put in thought and preparation to get real-time usage right.

Leigh Dow is the founder and managing director of Dow Media Group. Dow draws on her 15 years of Fortune 100 experience in e-commerce, customer-relationship management and digital marketing to provide clients with deep expertise in crafting digital strategies that work. Her firm specializes in creating marketing solutions for technology companies and forming positive user experience.