The term “engagement” has been loosely applied within the social TV industry. To date, engagement has been a sort of catch all for anything that elicits a reaction from fans of a show. For example, there has been a push to incorporate live tweets into shows like NBC’s The Voice and of course major entertainment awards shows like the MTV Music Awards, the Oscars, and others. Strictly speaking, “engagement” is the right word to use in these instances, however, there are two distinct phases of engagement opportunities during the weekly programming cycle of a television show.
Encouraging participation on live broadcasts can reinvigorate appointment viewing. It can provide unique content available exclusively during the airing. Bringing fans back to live viewing with second screen content addresses the issue of lost advertising revenue to commercial-skipping DVR viewing. Jason Falls notes in his book, No Bullsh*t Social Media: The All Business, No Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing, that “90% of people who can TiVo do and skip the ads [networks] spent tens of thousands of dollars on.” With social viewing, that trend can be addressed. It also helps feed the growing social media data mining industry that is providing “live focus group analysis.”
Participating with live content took a big leap forward this November when FOX’s The X-Factor launched the ability to use Twitter to vote for contestants on their talent show. The program started the season following a model similar to NBC’s The Voice by including live tweets from the audience and providing some insights such as how many discussions revolved around each of the judges. Tweets were sent out via the judges’ Twitter accounts during performances and breaks.
Encouraging participation in live events is one part of engaging with an audience. It is immediate, done live, and helps hit the three targets listed above. The live broadcast is when audience participation is crucial. Fans are engaging in conversations about the programming and providing that social media intelligence that allows producers and networks to know what’s working and what isn’t. Sometimes this allows producers of live TV to make changes on the fly during the broadcast and other times it can be used for intel for shaping plot lines and character development.
Engaging in the Conversation
After a broadcast, conversations take a steep dive. This does not mean that people stop talking about a show all together, in fact, this is where the water cooler conversations happen. As the days move on, conversations and mentions about a show can dip quite low only to spike again during the next broadcast. This period between airings provides an opportunity for producers and networks to engage in conversations with fans to forge stronger relationships with their shows and keep conversation numbers up.
Every major television show this season has an official Twitter account and most have encouraged the use of official hashtags to funnel conversations, which generates tens and hundreds of thousands of mentions a week. The vast majority of these occur during the airing of the program. These properties enjoy highly-engaged and emotionally-attached fans that follow the account as an act of support for the program.
ABC’s Modern Family has a Twitter account with 91,475 followers but only follows 17 back mainly a collection of official ABC show accounts, talent and producers). There is little engagement with fans, in fact, the account’s feed is full of retweets – almost exlusively – but no engagement with those tweets from fans fawning all over the program. Modern Family actor Eric Stonestreet has 208,370 followers. He only follows 280 people so compared to the official Modern Family account, he’s not much better in that regard. The truly interesting difference is the fact the Eric clearly makes a concerted effort to respond to his fans and fans of the show. The reach of Eric’s account and his followers’ accounts combine to increase the potential reach of Eric’s buzz online, and by extension, Modern Family’s.
Reports have demonstrated that buzz can effect actual viewer ratings. Fostering social media engagement between shows may be the ticket to increase viewing. (I reflected on the value of being top of mind and fostering word of mouth recommendations during CBS Social Sweeps Week here and potential impact an actors’ community can have on a program’s buzz here). Have a dedicated community manager plugged into the shows’ creative teams and talent in order to engage with viewers and provide special content (behind the scenes info and Q&A sessions for example) to further increase buzz and ratings.
Do you see a connection between social media engagement and viewership of shows? Is it time the networks consider employing community managers to build and encourage relationships with fans of the program?