Editor’s note: Ian Cain is the manager of public relations and Cassie Johnson is director of client services at Luminoso, a Boston text analytics company.

The marketing game has changed completely in the last 10 years with the advent and mass adoption of new social media platforms. The advantages that social media brings to marketers and companies are endless – ranging from customer service support to relationship building with existing and new customers. Thanks to social media, marketers are able to connect with potential and existing customers unlike ever before. What’s most exciting is the opportunity to listen and identify new trends in real-time.

Brands should always listen to their consumers, especially during the holidays because of the heightened levels of emotion during this period. Research confirms that decision-making isn’t logical most of the time and it especially relies on emotions and instincts when it comes to deciding what to buy. Listening to consumers during the holiday could be a gold mine in the form of market research and in turn, revenue generation.

Listening to consumers also provides the opportunity for targeted real-time marketing and engagement during holidays, events and special occasions that generally drive brand awareness and affinity (think: Oreo’s famous Super Bowl tweet). Engagement on social media is about driving awareness and eventually revenue, but this starts with a connection. How can you connect with consumers if you don’t understand them?

Using Twitter to understand consumers

The key to understanding and connecting with consumers is listening to them on platforms where they’re already sharing their thoughts and feelings – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Google Plus. We recently did a study and analyzed 4 million tweets during the Thanksgiving holiday to understand consumer sentiment around the holiday and to explore the possible ways a company could create real-time marketing campaigns around Twitter data.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday – from Tuesday, November 25 through Saturday, November 29 – we used a real-time enterprise listening solution to listen for Thanksgiving-related tweets. Using only one keyword, Thanksgiving, the solution learned what was relevant to that term and built topics around those tweets that were conceptually related. Figure 1 represents how particular topics developed over that time period and what we were able to see in real-time.

In total, the system collected, analyzed and organized 4 million tweets into topics. What we discovered was fascinating and certainly germane to anyone’s Thanksgiving holiday. We took the tweets and ran an analysis in an analytics dashboard in order to understand connections among topics. Some key findings include:

  • Thanksgiving fashion is all about comfort: 13 percent of conversation around what to wear for Thanksgiving dinner was about wearing leggings or sweatpants.
  • Turkey was the most discussed food item at 37 percent of the overall food discussion. Ham was a distant second with only 2 percent of tweets out of the “food” conversation.
  • The top five most popular side dishes include (in descending order): pumpkin, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry and greens. Mashed potatoes and gravy are most associated with each other. As some may have suspected, mashed potatoes beat out turkey – so now you know on what food people are really putting their gravy.
  • Unsurprisingly, among food items we found that turkey, cranberry and pie are the most strongly associated with Thanksgiving.
  • Football was a pretty popular topic (at 2 percent of tweets). Explicitly, chatter about the Cowboys and Eagles was the most prominent. Football had a strong relationship to fun, but if someone was talking about football they’re not talking about spending Thanksgiving with a significant other (there was a negative relationship between football and significant others).

The most prominent of these topics revealed enlightening insights, which would most certainly make a significant contribution to any brand or corporate marketer’s holiday campaigns. We discovered real-time marketing trends that could have immediately turned into campaigns. Using the Thanksgiving insights from the study as an example, here are three tips on creating real-time marketing campaigns: 

Spot the trend

The key to real-time marketing is discovering, following and acting on the trend. For example, in the Thanksgiving study, we identified a strong relationship between stress and Thanksgiving preparation. Thirty percent of the conversation around stress involved specific mentions of awkward interactions or conversations during Thanksgiving Day. Twenty-three percent of stress discussion involved direct mentions of family or a specific family member.

As a result of this insight, marketers could have focused their messaging on holiday pain and stress relievers to help consumers get through the season. The key is keeping a close eye on trending topics that are relevant for your business. Generally, you’ll need to dedicate at least one person to real-time marketing in order for them to spot opportunities as they occur and capitalize on them.

Be prepared

Timing isn’t everything but when you decide to share content is just as important as what you’re sharing. To ensure that what marketers share is on-point, they need to be prepared. To put this tip into play, we’ll use the example of drinking on Thanksgiving Eve and during Thanksgiving celebrations. For the study, we were able to closely follow this trend from midnight on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, November 27) to 12 p.m. on Saturday, November 29. The peak of conversations around being “drunk” occurs 24 hours after midnight, on Friday, November 28, or after Thanksgiving Day events have taken place. People seem to significantly talk about being hungover during the day on Thanksgiving Day (or after Thanksgiving Eve), and during the day following the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

If an over-the-counter pharmaceutical brand like Advil or Tylenol was following this trend, it could’ve responded to consumers with a real-time marketing campaign around “hangover remedies” during peak hangover times. It could’ve tweeted “tips for the fastest hangover recover,” or offered a deal on its product. However, in order to make this kind of real-time marketing campaign happen, marketers need to be prepared. Being prepared with different ideas that you can implement on the fly will increase quality of content and engagement with consumers and in turn, revenue generation.

The need for speed

Marketers need to be ready to improvise 24/7 to seize the moment. In addition to being prepared, they need to be able to think, act quickly and create content on the fly. For example, we analyzed over 6,000 tweets about a first Thanksgiving without a certain family member who had passed away during the last year. Many typically spend Thanksgiving with the same people year over year, so if someone isn’t there on any given year, you tweet about how weird it feels to be without them. Brands who might’ve been listening to these consumers could have implemented a quick marketing campaign around comforting consumers who were experiencing their first Thanksgiving without a family member, providing an opportunity to connect with consumers on a personal and emotional level. Like with all real-time marketing campaigns, it would’ve required quick execution.

The keys to creating successful real-time marketing campaigns are to keep your eyes peeled for trends, think ahead and be prepared with ideas so that you can capture the opportunity when it arises. When the opportunity presents itself, act with speed and precision. While this holiday season has just about come to a close, 2015 is right around the corner. Are you and your team ready?