During the last few weeks, my unfiltered social media (Twitter, Instagram) has been flooded with national current events, largely the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, and then the equally contentious trial of Daniel Pantaleo. In both cases the outcome of non-indictment brought a severe public backlash that flooded my inbox, phone, television and social feeds. In both cases, there was a lack of brands’ understanding that though their content was good, they failed to respond to the context of current events. Audience relevance and timeliness are important to understanding how your message is received, not just what the message itself should contain.

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Breaking news is a relic of my childhood, when regularly scheduled programming WAS interrupted for breaking news. The advent of the 24-hour news channel and the immediacy of the Internet has changed the landscape of news, making it hard to know what is ‘breaking’, and what is ‘news’. In the figure above, you can see that breaking, and news are clear here – the 24th of November represents a point at which news did break, and many among my peers and in general on Twitter were focused on one event.

Audience relevance is important, and understanding what your audience is interested in, consuming and interacting with are important as well. Current events, conversations, and trends are all important.



The most engaging audience trends need to be put into context, and you need to know what your audience cares about. Most social B2B marketers were wasting their time targeting me, and my peers with content during the height of the protest and the trends that surrounded it.

Though it was a while ago, the Red Cross did an amazing job engaging with the Sharknado premiere. This break in their regularly scheduled tweeting gave their brand and follow count a boost – so there are times where the context can make your consumers see you in a new, personal, and fun light. Be careful though, as Best Buy learned this week – you need to be sure your commentary is in good taste, and perhaps run anything edgy by your PR team.


Listening is more important than speaking, but sometimes listening isn’t just about your audience, sometimes it’s about context as well.

So what can we take away from my massive “follow” purge during recent events?

  • Cultural context matters, your ‘right’ message framed with the wrong content can make your content the wrong content.
    Timing matters as much as content in terms of driving consumption.
  • Demographics are not simply a content creation and retargeting tool – they can provide meaningful context cues.
  • Looking for the right time and day to publish content is important for improving conversion rates, but beware of forgetting to watch for exceptions.
  • If you have a PR team, ask them before you comment on current events, but also don’t be afraid to ask them if publishing a Tweet about a product during a crisis, or a news saturation on a network may affect perception of your brand.
  • However, Don’t be afraid to embrace trends that are on-brand and relevant

As marketers, it’s our responsibility to be savvy about our audience, as word of mouth marketers, it is even more important to be savvy about national, local and demographic context, or we risk being seen as out of touch or insensitive.

Originally posted at  WOMMA.org


Rachel Ullstrom

Account Director, Social Technologies