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Published October 16th 2019

How to Create Reactive Content That Engages Your Audience

Guest blogger Nico Prins guides you through the wild world of reactive content marketing, and how it can work for your brand

A well-planned reactive marketing strategy creates an opportunity to get your brand in front of a global audience, increasing awareness, and generating leads for your company. Plus, digital media channels have opened the field for fast-moving brands on a small budget to compete with established market leaders.

But despite the significant opportunities reactive marketing presents, it’s not without its dangers.

This article will guide you through the process of developing a reactive marketing strategy for your blog and social media channels. We’ll cover best practices and things to avoid. Before we get into that though, let’s define what reactive marketing is.

What is reactive marketing?

Outside events create opportunities to place your content in front of your ideal audience.

There are two branches of reactive marketing:

  1. Seasonal: This type of reactive marketing can be based around seasonal dates. For example, online stores might target Cyber Monday or Black Friday. They are often planned months in advance and are part of a coordinated campaign.
  2. News and current events: this type of reactive marketing can piggyback on an emerging news story. Content needs to be created quickly and is rarely part of a coordinated marketing campaign.

While these two branches of reactive marketing are distinctive, they can overlap. Below we’ll quickly review these two types of reactive marketing.

Reactive Marketing: Seasonal Events

Seasonal marketing campaigns are a prime focus for retail companies and while they are reactive, they are usually planned months in advance. For example, think about the holidays.

According to a report from the Advertising Association, UK companies were set to spend £6.5 billion on Christmas advertising campaigns in 2018. Here’s an example – the high-production-value 2018 John Lewis campaign, which ranked in first place in the 2018 Brandwatch Christmas Ads Ranking.

The campaign, which was called Elton John Lewis, consisted of:

  • Television campaign
  • Social media campaign with the hashtag #EltonJohnLewis
  • Traditional PR campaign
  • Content marketing campaign
  • In-store advertising – the brand even recreated part of the set from the advert in their Oxford Street Store

The campaign was a central part of the annual marketing calendar of the company. As a business strategy, it required a considerable investment of human and financial resources.

Reactive Marketing: News & Current Events

Reactive marketing based on news and current events generally involves less planning and is rarely part of a campaign. For example, as the John Lewis Christmas campaign was running, the marketing department at supermarket brand Lidl (who had their own Christmas campaign) sent this tweet in response.

The tweet performed great, despite it being a fairly on-the-spot reaction to the John Lewis ad. Despite costing little to create, it generated significant reach for Lidl with their target audience.

While you can generate exposure from this type of content with your target audience, the trade-off is that the execution is more time-sensitive, and content generated quickly can be risky. The remainder of this guide will focus on how to create reactive content in the best possible way, for the best possible results.

How to develop a reactive marketing strategy

There are four steps that your marketing department needs to go through to create reactive content effectively. They are as follows:

  1. Set guidelines for the kind of content your department can produce
  2. Create a system for identifying possible topics for reactive marketing
  3. Develop your content marketing angle for the content
  4. React faster than your competitors to the marketing opportunity

As you can see, the fundamentals of a reactive marketing strategy are simple. It is in the execution where most people stumble. Let’s dive into those steps.

1. Reactive content guidelines are essential

There is often a difference between how you imagine a marketing campaign will be received and the way the public reacts. Sometimes a marketing campaign can be so poorly received that it damages a brand.

These types of marketing mishaps are more likely to occur with rushed content produced to a tight deadline. For example, here’s a reactive and famously ill-considered tweet to get you thinking.

The above tweet, which was intended as a tribute but went down terribly, was deleted shortly after being posted. The brand had to apologize.

Offensive marketing can cause damage to a brand long after the campaign has ended. The example above was published three years ago, and yet it’s still being rolled out as an example of disastrous reactive marketing.

There are some easy things you can do to guard against such mishaps. To reduce the risk of offending your audience, avoid any topic that includes death, destruction, devastation, or politics, unless there’s a very good reason not to. You’d be amazed at how many bad reactive marketing stunts fall into the above categories.

2. Finding opportunities for reactive content creation

Teams who want to embrace reactive content must always be on the lookout for potential opportunities, since timing is such an important factor.

To ensure no opportunities are missed, the team must be open to lots of different sources and be able to identify the topics or events that could form the basis of their next viral social post. Here are a few ways they could prepare:

  • Set up a custom feed of news from your brand’s vertical using BuzzSumo, to make sure no big industry stories or trends are missed
  • Keeping an eye on trending lists across Twitter and the top posts on relevant subreddits, as well as the front page itself, to look out for large scale trends
  • Monitor online conversation around your brand as well as your competitors, and create email alerts so the team can react to big stories around the competition (where relevant)

3. Developing your content marketing angle

A large portion of successful marketing on social media relies on comic timing. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that you can teach. All the same, using humor can lead to great results.

Below is an excellent retro example.

Several brands have smart social media marketing teams that create light hearted content – if you’re looking to use humor in your reactive social media marketing, it’s worth following some of them for inspiration. You can learn a lot about what works on Twitter by analyzing their feeds. If you’re stuck, self-deprecation and puns are good ways to fake wit online.

Still, there’s no need to rely on humor to generate a positive reaction. What’s essential, is that you’re adding to the conversation in a way that only your brand could. For example:

  1. Be the source: Be the source of a niche-specific breaking news story for your audience.
  2. Add value: Generate more depth to the story by getting user or expert insights on the topic which the reader can’t get elsewhere. Whether you’re adding your own data or commentary, make sure your take is unique.
  3. Be topical: Add a current spin to your existing content. For example, an old piece on brand awareness might be spun into “What the Olympics can teach us about brand awareness across the globe”.

When creating reactive content for your company, it is essential to ensure that the content you produce provides value to your reader. Relevance and utility for your audience are crucial.

4. The importance of immediate action

With reactive content, the biggest sticking point is often getting the sign-off on content. To reduce the friction, you must empower your marketing and minimize red tape and sign off times. In addition to this, your content calendar needs to be adaptive enough that you can push non-essential scheduled content back when an opportunity is identified. Despite the urgency, though, it’s important that guidelines are strictly adhered to.

There are also certain times you can speed up your reactive content by being proactive. You can rarely predict the news, but there are times you can predict that there will be news. Say there’s a big event for your vertical, like the release of a new iPhone. If you want to cover the launch, it’s possible to prepare a skeleton version of your story and fill in the details as they are announced. This is a strategy borrowed from newsrooms.

You’ll also want to think about the method of distribution. Sometimes, a simple tweet will do, but you may also want to consider pay per click advertising, posting on Reddit, reaching out to journalists, or making sure your content is search-friendly. It can all help generate that initial reach that sends a piece of content viral.


Reactive marketing is an effective way to make the most of current events to create marketing opportunities for companies. With the right strategy, reactive marketing is a cost-effective way to get in front of your ideal audience.

In this guide, we provided you with a framework for creating reactive marketing for your social media channels and on your blog. The guide also highlighted some of the issues that you will face and the importance of setting clear editorial guidelines for the content you produce.

With practice, reactive content can make you the envy of your competitors and help you develop a connection with your target audience. What you need to do now is decide if reactive marketing is the right strategy for your company.

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