Timeshifting The Real-Time Web

Applications like Hulu, devices such as DVRs, and quick DVD launches of previous seasons enable you to timeshift TV content for viewing on your time.  The idea of having to watch pre-recorded televised content on someone else’s timetable is a dated notion, at least to those who value their schedules.  There are exceptions to this, in the case of Sports or awards shows which are far more socially-oriented and thus lend themselves to being watched in real-time.

Most programs don’t need to be viewed in this manner, however.  This is a huge shift from the past where if you wanted to watch any TV you had to do so on someone else’s schedule (yeah, VCR taping was possible but inefficient and still required work).

And yet, everything old is new again.  As the real-time web grows in popularity so has the notion that getting web content in real-time is essential.  Nothing could be further from the truth for nearly all content produced by individuals or businesses.  The only web content (or any content) you might need to get in real-time is perhaps breaking news about a danger to your physical world like a chemical weapon threat or Tornado warning.  Everything else can wait.

That’s the beauty of the web and something I’ve enjoyed since the days when forums and boards reigned supreme.  Conversations were timeshifted to the convenience of the user, who would bump old threads back to the top when they were ready to add their contribution.  For those with interests in specific subjects vs. simply an interest in what’s new because it’s new, this is still happening.

Don’t let your view of digital content consumption get skewed by early adopters.  Within industry-specific content categories it’s more about getting deeper into subjects than just flirting with the surface.  This involves threading the past with the future – in essence ongoing discussions over longer periods.  Plus, don’t forget that the people carrying on niche-specific conversations (who aren’t in the web industry) likely have commitments that take them away from their computers or even mobile devices.  To them, timeshifting is even more relevant.

Still, we can’t ignore the fact the real-time web matters.  Just a few reasons include:

  • The 24 hour news cycle and news blogs pushing quantity have set expectation to consumers what’s new matters most (even if that’s not always the case)
  • Trending topics can send a lot of search traffic – see how Glen was able to net almost 1 million visitors from Google with a 3 month-old website
  • Social media power users love what’s new, interesting and yet to be shared – while older content can still end up going hot, the tendency is to share what’s breaking
  • Real-time services are essential to conferences and real-world events – everyone at the event can participate and the rest of the industry gets the story while it’s hot
  • Reactions to news tends to break in real-time streams in short form, followed by deeper analysis (which then also gets fed back into the stream)
  • Reporters and media are fishing for content in real-time services so they’re covering topics that are at the edge
  • Continued growth of location-based services are powered by real-time updates

There are time-sensitive approaches that directly leverage the real-time web for digital marketing and PR.  And embracing real-time in this manner if you have the resources as part of your strategy to accomplish larger objectives makes a lot of sense.

But aside from the obvious approaches to leveraging real-time here are some strategies to embrace thriving in a real-time web possible on your own time.

Don’t worry about getting everything that’s new, now

For a majority of digital content, it’s not at all necessary to get it in real-time.  In fact, as Mathew Ingram noted 2 years ago:  if the news is important, it will find me.  Matthew realizes that real-time produces a perpetual churn and there is no possible way to read everything.  And that’s just fine – the most important content will always surface.

As Seth Godin observes, there’s a high cost of now:

The closer you get to the source and moment of information, the more it costs.

You can check your email twice a day pretty easily. Once every fifteen minutes has a disruption cost. Pinging it with your pocketphone every sixty seconds is an extremely expensive lifestyle/productivity choice.

Replace email in the above quote with Twitter, Facebook, your web analytics or anything else which updates in real-time and the cost is equally as high.  Realize there is no reason to feel overwhelmed and consistently check streams – filter so you’re getting just what matters.  Leave the immediately pressing issues, for the most part, to your customer service team (who should be monitoring in real-time).  If you’ve educated them properly, they’ll forward issues which require a PR response up the chain as soon as they see them.  But as a strategist, there is too high a cost of now for you to stay on top of everything about your brand or the web as a whole.  Instead, develop a workflow which involves filtering and timeshifting to view and define next-steps on your own time, and create an agile process for your social CRM team to follow to catch anything immediately pressing.

Develop truly timeless content – if it’s that good, visitors will still find it

A popular notion is that the real-time web is changing the search landscape.  This is true to an extent and for some searches.  For example, if there is a trending topic such as the World Cup – it makes sense to get information on that topic happening right now, in real-time.  Search engines provide a great user experience to serve those results.  But what if you were looking for ideas on a topic such as how to overcome writer’s block?  Not like that topic is ever going to be a trending topic or is something anyone needs real-time search results for.  Does your organization have timeless content that is forever sharable and useful?  Targeting broader, popular concepts which are agnostic of trends is smart because it puts less pressure on you to always feed the stream to generate consistent awareness.  Search is a core function of the web and is not going away.  There’s far too much value in archival content.  Anyone who declares web search dead misunderstands the function and value of information as well as the behavior of society.  This transcends technology – for a physical world example, look no further than the global investment in libraries.

Focus on growing opt-in at the source

Unless you have tons of resources, let external sources where you’re feeding content like a Facebook fan page grow organically on their own.  Instead work on getting more users subscribed directly to your source content in a place they will see it and they control the signal to noise ratio:  email and RSS are good.  I know they’re not new, but by getting people subscribed to your content in an area that is not real-time, you actually position yourself better to gain attention from real-time services.  It’s just too easy to miss something in the stream, and it’s so easy for users to unsubscribe in RSS and email they tend to balance how much they can handle. In analyzing who consistently shares content of the clients I consult for, I find in many cases their “true fans” have opted in at the source.

Aggregate industry content/category yourself

You could be the one to break news or orchestrate buzz in real-time yourself.  That’s a direct path to leverage real-time and certainly one approach.  Another approach is to be an aggregator of content in your category either via automation, manual or hybrid (i.e., what if you developed a Techmeme for your specific niche and interspersed your own content in the mix?).  The beauty of this approach is with the right automation via methods like boolean queries you could make something pretty meaningful which updates itself.  You could easily manage the manual aspects on your own timetable, freeing you of being a slave to real-time, yet still maintaining something which has up-to-the-minute value.

Build a community who is active in real-time channels

If you have a community made up of users who are active in real-time channels, you will need to do a whole lot less promotion there yourself.  Do you see Seth Godin messing around on Twitter and Facebook?  Not really, but I’d say he does just fine to have his content make it’s way into the stream organically.  He makes remarkable content, and so his community propagates it for him.

Plan ahead

You can get massive amounts of users to promote your brand in real-time channels in a way that’s not so real-time.  How’s that exactly?  Remember, much of the real-time web is an ongoing narrative that users build on.  Storytelling is something that can and does happen in real-time, but if you plan ahead  you can develop the pieces of content on your own agenda and carefully orchestrate the release.  Take care of the hard work up front and know where, when and how you’re going to push it into the stream.  Follow that plan – while of course being opportunistic as you go (that always has to happen in real-time) and work created in advance can help you permeate the real-time web even if it wasn’t created in real-time.


All content that is freshly published has an inherent advantage of being shared due to our obsession with what’s new.  Instead of always reinventing the wheel, why not re-purpose content across formats and channels (of course, making uniquely interesting each time).  I went into an example of this in my recent post on blog marketing tactics where a text-based blog post became an image-driven SlideShare. You can do this with any piece of content, for example – a webinar could become the basis for a white paper, which could be re-used as 10 optimized articles in a resource area on your site.  Then, as each piece of content is published it’s giving the stream something which is perceived-new even if it’s not 100% original.

Create the perception that your content is breaking news, even if it’s not

Even if you’re not producing content that is necessary to receive in real-time, you should create the perception your content is needed right now.  Simply position it as-such and take advantage of how the web’s users have been conditioned to receive and then share ideas.  This can be accomplished by using the right language in headlines or even simply covering topics that are known to be shared in real-time channels.

Depending on your resources and objectives, how you leverage the real-time web will be unique.  With that said, to receive benefits remember that you don’t always have to be there in real-time.