Increasingly, my friends ask me just what it is I actually do. My job title is intentionally vague – Social Media Guy. My wife tells people I get paid to watch TV and go on Twitter. Which is sort of half-true. And a great fit for me. I’m a bit of a TV junkie, and I spent a lot of time hanging out in online communities long before Social Media became a buzzword. So I know that people like to talk about what interests them. And TV is one subject about which everyone has an opinion. Even people who don’t watch TV have opinions.
Why Social Media? The Internet Changed Everything.
We live now in a world where TV audiences don’t just talk about Seinfeld around the water cooler anymore (yes, I’m dating myself). Increasingly, people who watch TV, serious consumers of TV, are meeting in virtual spaces online to talk about the shows before, after and during the airing. Nielsen recently reported that 45% of tablet owners are on their devices daily while they watch TV. 52% of people watching television visited a social network site while watching a TV show. Consequently we now have great opportunities not only to find out what the audience is saying about the shows they watch, but to engage with them directly, and in real time.
More and more, people out there in the social sphere love to be engaged; I know I do. We love to feel like we’re being heard. We love to feel like we have the inside track. It used to be enough to push our publicity out through traditional media: articles in newspapers and magazines, radio and television interviews. Now we can meet them on their own virtual turf: on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+; on websites like Television Without Pity and IMDb; and even on the productions’ official websites, where conversation is encouraged and superfans are cultivated.
So, in the television industry, we can use (and I refuse to resort to using the word “leverage” here – *shudder*) Social Media platforms to guide the conversation, to generate interest, to keep the fans involved and engaged as we build up to the premiere of a new show, to keep them talking about the show from week to week, and to keep them interested and engaged even after the initial run is over, so that we (and the producers and the networks and the distributors) can know what matters to the fans and how to “grow” the world of the show and the fan engagement with it.
How Do We Use Social Media for TV Then?
For some examples of really good use of digital, social media and web extensions, check out the site for AMC-TV’s Mad Men – if you haven’t used the “MadMen Yourself” app to make a groovy 60s cartoon character of yourself, you may be the only one — It was a huge social media craze a couple of years ago, and it’s still there on the site, along with other great content. Take the “Which MadMan are you?” Quiz, or play the “Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Job Interview” game. Check out the Episodic photos, Pics from the Season 5 premiere party, scenes from the show, behind-the-scenes video, full episodes – a wealth of content for the viewers who don’t get enough MadMen on Sunday night.
If you jump over to Facebook, you can check out the small-but-devoted following for CBC-TV’s InSecurity and Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays. These are engaged fans, some still talking about the shows months after they’ve left the airwaves. For comparison, look at ABC-TV’s Modern Family, with over 6 million ‘Likes’. 6 million people are getting updates from Modern Family in their news feed … averaging one post every two days in March, for instance.
Twitter is another story. Twitter is all about short messages in real time. And it’s the realm of the individual. So look for great fan engagement not just from official show accounts, but from actors and showrunners, like Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, or Raising Hope actress Martha Plimpton. Not to mention Canada’s own Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle), Michael Shanks (Stargate SG-1, Saving Hope) and Matt Watts (Michael Tuesdays & Thursdays). Being able to interact directly with the creative minds behind the show creates a really engaged audience. With Rookie Blue Season 1, Innovate by Day and the Rookie Blue production team had a “live tweet” event with the cast and creators through the ABC.com website – it was ABC’s most-attended live drama event to date and so popular on Twitter that it “trended” in North America and crashed the Rookie Blue Twitter feed.
What Innovate by Day does…
Working closely with the show creators and broadcast partners, we research, plan, identify and help create the content that lives on the show website and social media platforms to keep the fans coming back week after week, year after year. This content is original. It expands and extends the “world” of the show, bringing it closer to the world of the audience. To do this, we work to our digital media strategy (created in partnership with the production company and network) and aggregate as much original content (stills, stories from set, video, original webisodes) as possible while production is happening. This kind of behind-the-scenes access is what fans crave, share and talk about. And we work with the network to develop the show site so that it has the look/feel/tone of the show.
We connect with our audience on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter (and anywhere else we can find them!) and make sure that they have a curated connection to the production. I love this part. We point them to the show’s website and encourage them to share as much content as possible. The more content we generate, and the more exclusive that content is, the more engaged the audience will be, even long after the show has wrapped and the first broadcast run is over. We also encourage the cast and creative personnel to get out there and interact with the audience as well – I know as an audience member, I get more invested in the show when I feel like I ‘know’ someone involved, even if it’s “just” on Twitter. For example, I wasn’t watching Body of Proof, but because I follow Jeri Ryan on Twitter, I found myself tuning in to the last few episodes this season, and now my DVR is set (because I needed another one-hour-drama in my life!)
So yeah. I get paid to watch TV. And follow Twitter. And read scripts. And support all this fabulous digital and social media stuff. Can’t complain.