NEW YORK: Websites and customer service centres remain important channels for real-time marketing, a recent survey has found, but leading marketers believe social media is the perfect place to distribute real-time content.

The insights provider eMarketer reported an IBM survey of more than 500 companies worldwide, which looked at how they were responding to the challenge of real-time marketing. This identified a group of leaders, being the top 20% in terms of their cross-channel integration and use of technology for customer outreach.

It found that 39% of leaders were adjusting their real-time offers based on customer context, compared to just 15% of the rest.

Most of the personalised messages being delivered in real-time were via websites and customer service centres. The leaders were much more likely to be doing this, with 85% engaging consumers through both these channels, a proportion which dropped to 67% and 63% respectively for the non-leader group.

Face-to-face communication remained important, being utilised by 76% of leaders and 62% of the rest, said IBM.

For all the buzz around social media and real-time marketing, this channel was fourth on the list, with 71% of leaders and 50% of the rest using it.

Mobile channels, including SMS, apps and mobile web/emails, were also much more important for leaders (62%) than for the rest (43%).

But as more of the marketing budget is diverted towards social media, this is becoming the focus of brands' real-time efforts, as reported on IRi.

"People are checking it all times, it is interactive, it is short form, and it is highly mobile," enthused Greg Goodfried, president of EQAL Media, a division of Everyday Health, speaking on a panel at the IAB's recent Social Media Agency Day.

And Dina Freeman, Senior Manager, Social Programming & Blog Editor, at BabyCenter, a division of Johnson & Johnson, stressed that real-time wasn't just about apposite tweets during big events.

She noted that BabyCenter could track mothers' online discussions down to the exact week of pregnancy or a child's life.

"This represents an enormous opportunity for brands who want to reach moms at the exact time that they are making decisions about that product or service," she said. "That's as real time as it gets."

A less often asked question was also raised by Freeman: when should brands not be engaging in real-time social? She referred to the December 2012 school shootings in Newtown when BabyCenter had not pulled pre-programmed posts and inappropriate material had appeared.

"It's as important to be prepared and have a checklist for those real-time moments when silence is golden," she said.

Data sourced from eMarketer, IRi; additional content by Warc staff