Realtime marketing is here to stay, and it isn’t just for big brands with big agencies. Small and mid-sized business owners can leverage the power of realtime marketing, too. By now, everyone’s heard about Oreo’s Dunk in the Dark Super Bowl slam dunk, a tweet that the Oreos team sent out during the Super Bowl power outage, and which earned more than 16,000 retweets and was covered in countless news stories. You may even have read social media case studies about how parent company Mondelez leveraged its agency, 360i, a fully-featured social media command center, and a long-standing campaign to seize the moment and capture the spotlight for its brand. You don’t need the resources of a giant consumer brand to become a realtime marketer. What you do need are some significant shifts in how you approach your marketing strategy.

Realtime Marketing Isn’t Just About Speed: It’s About Listening.

Realtime means instant, right? Yes: timeliness plays a role. But the first step to thinking like a realtime marketer is to understand that realtime marketing means you are engaging in a conversation—responding to things your customers are saying or doing, or participating in events that matter to your customers. That might mean the Super Bowl, but it might also mean the local High School’s football game, or the fundraiser for your town’s public park, or an industry conference that matters to your customers. Traditional marketing was about talking at your customers. Realtime marketing means you’re sharing an experience with them.

Get A Personality: How Can Your Business Behave More Like A Human Being?

Would you rather patronize a business that is stiff and formal, or one that has a friendly voice and knows your first name? No matter what industry you’re in, customers love it when a brand acknowledges them, responds to them, and shows its personality. If a human being wouldn’t say or do something, neither should you when you’re tweeting or posting on behalf of your brand.

The Tools Don’t Need To Be Expensive—You Just Need To Use Them The Right Way.

Yes, large consumer brands need to keep track of and respond to thousands of mentions across the realtime web. But the average small business isn’t managing nearly that volume of conversation, and the tools you use don’t need to be expensive or very sophisticated. You do need to make sure you’re using them the right way: to search for mentions of your brand, set up notifications, and maybe even create lists of key customers or prospects that you follow and then retweet or engage with in other ways.

Give People A Way To Engage

People love to share their opinions. If you have happy customers, you want to make it really easy for them to share their feedback. Make sure that you think about ways for customers to talk back, and show them that you appreciate their contributions. Facebook Pages and Communities are a great place to start, but you may also want to think about Twitter chats, or giving them hashtags, or even posting rewards for online feedback. Every marketing campaign—coupons, email campaigns or printed pieces—should incorporate some way for customers to share or participate. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the buzz can start to add up.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Mistakes: Just Get Going!

No one has this realtime thing completely figured out, so don’t be overly concerned about making a misstep or two along the way. The key is to be open and transparent about what you’re doing and why. Tell your customers that you’re experimenting with Twitter for the first time, and ask them for their input on what they’d like to see from you. If you inadvertently post a tweet from the wrong account (we’ve all done it!), just explain what happened and move on. The best way to get started is to pick one or two platforms and really immerse yourself in them. As you figure out what works there, you can add others. But don’t wait too long: odds are your competitors are already there.