Social media marketing campaigns just aren’t what they used to be.

Gone are the days of crafting a clever hashtag months in advance, then carefully rolling out beautiful, team-leader-approved images at your leisure. Today’s social influencers move at breakneck real-time speeds. Marketers that aren’t prepared for spontaneity are left scratching their heads, while seemingly “miraculous” viral marketing campaigns come out of nowhere and steal the show (and the shares).

But how do viral campaigns come together in minutes? What are other brands doing right? Most importantly, how can your (tiny) marketing team plan for the future while also keeping up with your already hectic social media calendar?

The answer is simple: Prepare for the unexpected with a step-by-step responsive social media checklist.

To help you get ready for whatever life throws at you, here’s a ready made responsive marketing preparedness checklist with 11 ways you can prepare your social media strategy for spontaneity.

Your Responsive Marketing Preparedness Checklist

1. Always Respond

The first step to responsive marketing is… responding. The easiest way to stay ahead of the lightning-fast social media curve is to respond to the signals that are coming your way.

People who are already engaging with you on social media are a free source of information about upcoming events, trends, and breaking stories that are relevant to your brand. Some of the best marketing campaigns have been a direct response to user jokes, criticism, or questions.

Smart Automobile’s brilliant and detailed response to a cavalier tweet about bird poop totaling a Smart Car lead to a surprisingly detailed conversation about Smart Car’s safety features including the “Tridion steel safety cell that can withstand up to 9,000 pounds of pressure.” As the company details in the video below, its cheeky response to the tweet went viral, positioning Smart as a media darling by the next day.

Simply responding to a (mean) tweet led to a nationwide conversation about a car that many consumers had written off as unsafe. The timely response to a dismissive Twitter user generated more buzz about Smart Cars than any previously planned social-media strategy up to that point.

Smart tallied up how much bird poop it would take to total a Smart Car. Credit: Smart Automobile

The infographic response above measuring the amount of bird poop it would actually take to total a Smart Car is accurate, detailed, and steers the conversation in a brand-friendly way —in this case, dispelling consumer concerns about safety. Stephanie Haberman at Mashable summed it up nicely: “This might be the funniest Twitter response from a brand yet.”

One tweet and a funny graphic led to an earned media gold mine.

Stumped for ideas? Mine the comments section of your website and craft a response to some of the, uh, less savory criticism. You might be surprised by the results.

2. Know Your Product

Seriously, we can’t state it enough: Get to know your product or service. Open the user manual. Use it. Learn the specs. Memorize the size. Remember that scene in What Women Want? when Mel Gibson’s character tries on the panty hose, uses the lotion, exfoliates…everything, and volumizes his hair? Yeah, it’s a terrible movie — but getting to know the product before you try to sell it is a great marketing strategy.

When you use your product in almost every conceivable environment, and under every possible use case, insight and responses come at lightning speed. There’s a reason that companies stress-test their products before they sell it. Stress-test your product before you tweet about it.

3. Prepare Images First

Always select the image for your campaign at the outset of the planning stage. Social media shares have gone mobile where images are king. Clever, timely copy is easy to attach on the fly, but sourcing and formatting images and graphics is time-consuming.

If preparing a deck of ready-made images seems like a waste of time and resources, simply format blank color palettes to the size and aspect ratio you want for each platform and have them saved in a single place. You can easily attach copy to ready made colorful backgrounds, or no background at all, like Oreo did during the Super Bowl blackout in 2013.

“This image — attached to a tweet from the Oreo Twitter account — became massively popular on social media during Super Bowl XLVII’s now infamous blackout,” Wired wrote in 2013. Credit: Nabisco

That image of an Oreo cookie wasn’t taken the day of the blackout. They had that edited and ready to go for any possible situation. The branded logo was also ready to post, including placement, size, color, and transparency (remember to format as a .png, but more on that in step 7).

When your images are ready at a moment’s notice, text copy that highlights an ongoing event can be written in seconds.

4. Create a Sliding 90-day Calendar of Relevant Events

Make a calendar every three months that lists seasons, holidays, awards, National ____ Days, birthdays, this day in history, anniversaries, firsts and so on. Be exhaustive and work from this personalized calendar, and you’ll never be surprised.

Obviously pay attention to brand-specific holidays, but don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone to reach new customers. For instance, National Puppy Day on March 23 would logically be important to a pet-supply company, but the Golden State Warriors and other sports teams and personalities got thousands of tweets with a shoutout to their four-legged fans.

Oakland basketball team the Golden State Warriors won fans’ hearts with its pup-centric National Puppy Day tweet. Credit: Golden State Warriors/Twitter

5. A Hashtag is Worth a Thousand Shares

Social-media posts are here today, gone tomorrow — but a great hashtag can re-emerge season after season. Create an evergreen hashtag and enjoy brand recognition over and over again with almost no effort.

When digital-media professional Brad Chuck created the #EmptyDesk hashtag, he was floored by the steady stream of engagement from users on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. This one tweet aimed at starting a conversation about work perks started a massive conversation that Chuck was at the helm of, thanks to his #EmptyDesk hashtag.

Chuck chalked up this massive reception to responsive marketing aimed at conversation. As he wrote on Digital Doughnut: “Empowering consumers to interact is unquestionably the main aim of any modern marketing professional. Responsive marketing is the art of causing people to share their thoughts and feelings on a subject matter.” And with numbers like “2,952 likes, 1,055 comments, 65 shares, 682 new followers, 359 connection requests, 352 clicks on my company website and 7 new business connections,” it’s easy to see why Chuck believes in responsive marketing. That’s a lot of ROI for a hashtag.

If your hashtags are short, legible, inspiring, and universal, you’ll see results. That might sound too general, but it’s true. Hashtags are more than just afterthoughts — they’re how people who don’t follow your brand stumble across your content. If you do it right, that discovery can happen time and time again.

6. Play the Long Game: Focus on Relevant, Recurring Events

Build your responsive marketing campaign around ROI. A large investment one year will reap rewards over and over again. You can easily recycle past tweets and images from one seasonal event.

Wendy’s scored 183,560 retweets (not likes!) with this charity driven hashtag #TreatItFwd. Not only was the campaign a massive success, it continued to generate impressions with retweets, mentions and comments spanning June 2011 through to June 2014. That’s a long time on the social web.

Creating an evergreen hashtag is tough, but if you manage to capture lightning in a bottle with a hashtag that resurfaces year after year or event after event, your social media marketing campaigns will thrive.

A few simple ways to create evergreen hashtags include:

  • Hashtag Your Slogan: Sometimes great results from hashtags come from low hanging fruit. If your slogan isn’t evergreen, hashtags are the least of your problems. #JustDoIt
  • Call to Action: Adidas generated 570,000 Twitter mentions during the 2014 World Cupwith its inspiring hashtag, #AllIn. That staggering volume of engagement made it the “most-used brand hashtag on Twitter during the tournament,” according to Adage. Not bad considering there were over 1.6 million tweets during the World Cup.
  • Capitalize Each Word: Take a tip from the “Oneders” and make sure people can actually read your hashtag. Capitalize each word (if it’s longer than two words). #ThatThingYouDo
  • Keep it Short: The ideal hashtag length depends on the platform; 18 character hashtags performed best on Twitter, while 11 character hashtags were king on Instagram. #SayItFast
  • Commit to One Hashtag: Don’t dilute your social media efforts. They also perform terribly. In 2016, TrackMaven studied over 65,000 posts from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and found that “tweets with a single hashtag generated the most engagement” (avg. 90 interactions per post).
  • Describe Something Katy Perry broke the internet with her Super Bowl XLIX halftime show, but the only thing the kids remember is that dang dancing shark. #leftshark.
  • User Generated: Sometimes the best hashtags come from your users. When someone tags your brand with a great hashtag, jump on board. That’s engagement and ROI you can’t buy (because you didn’t even pay for it). #thanks

Keep the focus on your brand throughout the responsive hashtag-making process. If you nail it, the amount of work involved is minimal. Just copy, paste, and refresh next year and enjoy responsive marketing in a can.

For more info on trending evergreen hashtags, visit Websta.

7. Commit to a Consistent Brand Look

Visually consistent brand styles not only create long-term brand recognition; they also allow for split-second decisions and unmatched social media agility.

Create a simple brand look book or style guide and write it down. Create a reference file that all of your copywriters, graphic designers, and creative directors have access to view (not edit), and include the following details for each social media account:

  1. Font — The specific font family and style you want to use for each campaign.
  2. Font Weight — Which iterations are OK (italics, bold, heavy, light, etc.).
  3. Color Palette — A swatch of complimentary colors including the name, hex code, RGB, and HSL color value. It should look something like this: “Chocolate” #ec582b #f63 hsl: (13,83,54) rgb: (236,88,43). That way even people that aren’t graphic designers can simply cut and past the brand colors onto any design.
  4. Branding and Logo Placement — Centered, left-justified, foreground, etc. Decide where you want your logo and branding to appear in social media images and stick to the placement.

Make your branded social media campaigns cut-and-paste as much as you can to improve speed, branding, and consistency.

8. Keep it Simple: Use a Template

Create a blank template with your product featured in the center. Format it for your social media channels, and wait for an opportune time to deploy. Some of the most successful responsive campaigns use simple imagery focused on a single item (typically the product). Accompany this with pithy copy, and you’re all set.

Reese’s executed this idea to perfection while responding to criticism of their Holiday Tree-shaped peanut butter cups in 2015. Instead of lashing out, the company embraced the flaws of the product and made it the center of its social-media campaign.

They not only kept the images branded and simple, they focused solely on one product — the holiday peanut butter cups. Reese’s even included the hashtag #AllTreesAreBeautiful to give the campaign a positive spin, and it worked.

9. Create a Disaster Kit (of Images)

Responsive-marketing campaigns shine when things go wrong. The Oscars announce the wrong winner. Steve Harvey puts his foot in his mouth. The Super Bowl has blackouts, lip synching, and wardrobe malfunctions. People love when things go south, so anticipate the worst for any relevant events you’re already engaging with on social media.

Create a “worst-case scenario” of likely foibles for each event and prep a few (formatted) images in case. The rewards of being the first to tweet about the faux-pas is worth a little prep time.

10. Keyword Label Your Images

As Alanis Morissette once sang, “It’s like 10,000 spoons when all that you need is a knife.” When marketing is time-sensitive, you can’t waste time searching for the perfect image. Label your creative suite of images with descriptive keywords in the file names to make them hotkey-searchable. Your social-media team’s staffing will change — often. Make sure that everyone can find the images they need with a common-sense labeling system.

11. Recycle, Reduce, Reuse

The worst thing that happens if your planned campaign goes off without a hitch is that you’re prepared for next year. Save old campaign notes and images and build an on-demand suite of responsive-marketing material.
Treat this stash of images and hashtags like a social media bunker stocked with useful, evergreen content. Dip into it at a moment’s notice whenever you need something fresh. No one has to know you created today’s hot responsive marketing campaign two years ago.

Responsive Marketing is All About Preparation

Responsive marketing doesn’t just magically happen, so don’t let other brands fool you into thinking you’re doing something wrong. Targeted, engaging, responsive marketing strategies take time and energy to prepare. If you create a stable of ready-to-use images, define your brand look and style, and prepare for the best (and worst) using a rotating seasonal calendar of relevant events, your social-media team will be prepared to respond to real-time events like an ace team of elite first responders.

Top Image by Rawpixel.com