Accessing Engaging Streamlining

Going Real-Time

Real-time content can be a powerful storytelling tool in your content marketing efforts. But as with any marketing effort, you can expend a ton of resources without getting a good return on investment if you don’t have a clear idea of why you’re producing the content in the first place.

What’s Your Goal?

There is nothing wrong with trying to create and use real-time content as a marketing test. One of the huge benefits of online marketing is the significantly reduced cost compared to print or broadcast marketing. But simply “going live” is unlikely to yield meaningful results, particularly if your production quality is poor.

Common real-time goals include:

  • Control the narrative of breaking news: Don’t rely on other outlets to tell your story.
  • New audience engagement: Younger audiences are highly visual and reliant on mobile communications. Streaming a game could build engagement with a younger demographic.
  • Call-to-action via scarcity marketing: The success of shopping channels is predicated upon scarcity marketing, and the point of having a real-time host is to build urgency around a call-to-action. Sneaker brands and even high-fashion brands like Burberry “drop” limited edition products to take advantage of scarcity marketing. Similarly, brands can use the same strategy in their real-time efforts for activities like fundraising, sales, etc.

Most organizations will gravitate towards attracting a new (and younger) audience. But audience building can be a futile exercise without a longer term understanding of what you intend to do with that demographic.

Building an audience of college students, for example, is useless if you don’t convince a percentage of them to participate in alumni activities (from social activities to volunteerism to donations). Make sure your goal extends beyond increasing followers.

Who’s Your Audience?

Identifying your audience is a crucial, yet it remains a vexing exercise for many organizations. On the one hand, unsophisticated organizations tend to think of their audience as monolithic. On the other hand, digital marketing opens up significant potential for audience segmentation, which can lead to analysis paralysis.

Real-time content is well understood for things like sports and election results – in part because the audiences are seemingly easy to identify (namely, fans). But the 80,000 people that attend a NFL game aren’t all fans. And even the fans have varying levels of fanaticism. Sports teams have experimented for years with things like the “Kiss Cam” and fan photos as real-time engagement tools that target different audiences.

You can consider your audience categorically (e.g. student, alumni, parent), or you can consider where they fit by engagement (aka: the marketing funnel which ranges from stranger to customer to advocate). Of course, these two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive, and it’s a good exercise to create an audience grid to identify areas of focus – and where real-time marketing might fit best.

Does Real-Time Have to Really Be Real-Time?

The strictest definition of real-time storytelling might conjure visions of a live broadcast. We subscribe to a broader definition that includes using elements of real-time capture as a storytelling device. This definition includes content that might be consumed by your intended audience at a later date. Instagram stories are a good example of real-time capture that has a more authentic, unfiltered feel than a fully produced marketing video.

In the same way that photos and video can enhance a written story, real-time coverage represents another option for contemporary storytelling that has been dramatically enhanced with technological advances from gear (e.g. WiFi transmitters on cameras) to platforms (e.g. Facebook Live, Instagram stories, etc). Telling a single story from multiple angles allows marketers to broaden the potential audience and create different points of engagement with a modicum of extra effort.

Choosing a Deployment Platform

Although there are numerous ways to deploy real-time content, choosing an appropriate platform comes down to identifying your audience: 1) who is the audience you have? 2) who is the audience you want? 3) where do they congregate?

If you want to reach senior citizens, then buying daytime TV ads is a pretty good bet. But if you want to reach college students, mobile, visually-oriented social media apps (e.g. Instagram and Snapchat) are the way to go.

Getting to know the nuance of each platform before deploying a larger campaign is crucial. It’s easy enough to learn about different features (e.g. Instagram Stories’ “Superzoom”), but it’s much harder to understand how to use them in a natural, authentic way that connects with a native audience. For example, older, more traditional visual storytellers might balk at shooting vertical video, but it is imperative to use when dealing with mobile devices.


The Los Angeles Times at the Toronto International Film Festival
Los Angeles Times staff photographer Jay Clendenin is no stranger to the film festival circuit with annual trips to Sundance, Telluride and Toronto. In the past few years, he’s made a name for himself by embracing a variety of media and formats – from DSLR to film to Boomerangs – shaking up the monotony of taking dozens, if not hundreds, of portraits of actors in a short period of time.

In past years, the paper would only publish Clendenin’s final images, but at the 2018 Toronto Film Festival, the team decided to tell the story around making the images in a variety of ways. Behind the scenes (BTS) video shared in a number of ways created multiple ways to engagement audiences.

Coverage started with a traditional gallery of polaroids using a vintage SX70 jury rigged to work with a studio flash.

Photographer Kent Nishimura helped Clendenin create a cheeky BTS video that also informs the viewer as well as conveys Clendenin’s quirky personality. The video was natively uploaded to the LA Times Facebook page.

The team captured the real-time development of celebrity polaroids in a mesmerizing video that was posted to YouTube and embedded in various places:

Celebrity portraits are sticky content, but building additional storylines gives the LA Times more bang for their buck (and it isn’t cheap to rent out a space and fly/house multiple staffers for a week).

President Dwight Eisenhower established NASA in 1958 as a civilian-led, scientific research program for space technology. Although its first administrators didn’t think much about building PR around the agency’s activities, the space race with the Soviets and their use of live TV broadcasts influenced their understanding and use of visuals. Ironically, it was often the astronauts’ personal interest in photography that helped galvanize the use of visible light photography as both a scientific and PR promoting vehicle.

The incredible images taken by the Hubble Telescope renewed the public’s interest in space, and the tradition of astronaut-driven photography continues today on the International Space Station.

In recent years, project managers have really embraced real-time storytelling, and have learned how to build excitement around scientific discovery. Other space-based organizations have followed suit helping to galvanize public interest around the final frontier.

Consider the following:

  • NASA’s JUNO Mission to Jupiter tweeted the availability of RAW images – encouraging the public to try their hand at processing data beamed back 483 million miles.
  • The Voyager Mission website provides real-time telemetry of the spacecrafts’ position. The prelude towards Voyager 1’s crossing into interstellar space provided an incredible real-time storytelling event.
  • The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) tweeted a first ever image sent back from its meteor landing.

  • Space X regularly livestreams their rocket launches and landings. The test flight of Falcon Heavy gained 22 million views on YouTube alone.
  • Amateur astronomers have gotten into the real-time game by documenting and posting launch timelapses.


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@spacex Falcon 9 taking off above Downtown LA. Shot at 1 second interval alongside @rajajavid and @la_reflections!

A post shared by Emeric’s Timelapse (@emerictimelapse) on

At a time when public support of civic institutions has eroded to incredibly low levels (e.g. support of Congress has hovered around 20% for years), support for NASA remains at an atmospheric 72%. A stunning 80% believe the ISS has been a good investment – no doubt driven in large part by the amazing and easily digestible visual storytelling.

A beautiful image of the earth on one day can be followed by an image of Hurricane Florence the next.

The capture and dissemination of real-time content keeps our presence in space top-of-mind for many consumers. Space agencies capture tons of data that are only meaningful to scientists, but their use of real-time visuals builds public support and keeps funding levels high.


Maintaining real-time storytelling can often feel like a frenetic exercise. In truth, many of an organization’s real-time storytelling opportunities are known and can be planned for well in advance. Developing a playbook for real-time content is essential, but the payoff for publishing relevant, brand-enhancing stories is enormous. Keep it real(-time).

For more real-time tips, check out our webinar Engage Your Audience with Real-Time Visual Storytelling.

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