Friends With Benefits
Status Update: Sponsors are finding ever-greater interest in networks’ social media connections
By Jon Lafayette -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/11/2010 12:01:00 AM
Relay is not designed to favor CBS programming, although it’s likely to get more promotion during CBS shows. “The plan is just to get people talking about the world of TV, because if we get more people to watch more TV, it’s better overall for CBS,” Soohoo says.
There are other similar TV check-in platforms: Comcast’s tunerfish app, Hot Potato, Philo, Miso—which is working with TNT and We TV—and GetGlue, which recently signed partnerships with MSNBC, AMC, Disney, HGTV and Discovery. “This can become even more popular than Foursquare because it’s such a simple action—people really like sharing what they’re watching,” says Trish Melton, senior VP of entertainment marketing for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies.
Turner is one of the first network groups to experiment with Promoted Trends on Twitter. “It allows us to start that conversation,” Melton says. “It’s part of our push into these areas, to figure out what’s working and what doesn’t work.” —JL
Networks all over the hipness scale are turning to social media to communicate with viewers and build larger, more engaged audiences for their shows. While doing so, they are getting the added benefit of accumulating enough followers to attract the interest of their advertising clients.
How much are millions of Facebook friends and Twitter followers worth? Network ad sales executives say they are only starting to consider the question of how soon social cents will add up to digital dollars.
MTV General Manager Stephen Friedman says the network is cashing in on social media in a number of ways.
First, it leads to higher ratings on MTV and increased traffic on MTV.com, which get monetized. But MTV is also cashing in on the buzz shows such as Jersey Shore generate as fans pass along videos to friends. “It used to be the buzz would happen on fan sites,” Friedman says. “We’re now trying to ensure that MTV.com is giving the tools so that everywhere our video goes, we have an opportunity to monetize this great conversation around our content.”
And then there are the advertisers looking to add social media components to their TV-based ad campaigns.
“The audiences are too big not to figure out ways to monetize,” says Bill Bradford, senior VP of Digital Media at Fox. “Because these communities are very powerful and influential, our advertising partners are looking for ways to partner with us to get their messages out.”
Fox has done campaigns with GM, Dove, Gatorade and Ford that use social media to urge fans to check out content from the show sponsors. The social media aspect is baked into the cost of an integrated ad buy. It’s making the pie seem that much richer. “[Social media] is not only a great marketing tool,” Bradford says. “It’s a revenue tool as well.”
You Gotta Have Friends
Scripps Networks has also been monetizing its social media communities. It incorporated GM’s Buick into its Facebook activity for Next Food Network Star, and talked on Facebook about the GMC Terrain, one of the prizes on HGTV’s Dream Home sweepstakes. GM is already one of Scripps’ biggest advertisers, spending more than $40 million and partnering on many of its highest-profile initiatives, including Dream Home and Green Home. “
We’re beginning to see sponsorship opportunities that we can create,” says Jeffery Kissinger, VP, digital marketing & audience development at Scripps Networks. While it’s tough to put a dollar value on it, clearly social media activity is creating value.
Network executives say they’re not directly charging clients for adding some social media activity to a seven- or eight-figure sponsorship package. In some cases, they are asking that client to increase their spending on commercials and Web ads to make it worth their while. In other cases, social media content is tossed into the pot as “value added,” much as ads on Websites were when digital marketing was young.
But once this round of early social media efforts is done and analyzed, the networks will have real results to sell, says one network’s digital ad sales executive. Then, networks will be able to start to talk about charging for status updates and Tweets. “We’re nearing an inflection point,” the sales exec says.
Even before the notion of selling Facebook posts to sponsors was a gleam in the networks’ eyes, television execs were embracing social media as an electronic version of the water cooler, the place people go to discuss what they watched last night.
But with this new water cooler, TV executives can listen in to what people are saying, respond if they wish, and even allow viewers to influence characters and story lines. A Facebook campaign, for instance, helped make Betty White a host on Saturday Night Live last season. (A new SNL campaign has been mounted on behalf of Castle star Nathan Fillion.)
Needless to say, viewers like being listened to. “There’s a great post that we saw on Facebook that said, ‘Even if it’s just some fat geek in the corner of the ABC building in a dark office, we love that someone is there communicating with us,’” says Marla Provencio, executive VP, marketing, ABC Entertainment Group.
In fact it’s not a fat geek. Mostly it’s Amanda Grant, director of digital marketing at ABC, who, along with an aide, communicates on a daily basis with almost 26 million fans.
“She is the voice of ABC as far as we’re concerned on Facebook,” Provencio says. “We want her to respond in a real and honest way, in a way that represents our brand.”
Every Little Tweet Helps
While it’s often said that TV is the best way to sell TV, social media has become a critical part of marketing shows.
“We work with the production staff to make talent available, for engaging on Twitter and also to fill us with non-linear content that we can continue to feed out to the fan communities, because that’s what keeps them engaged beyond the broadcast airings every week,” Bradford says.
Social media played a key role in the success of Glee, Bradford notes. The show was previewed in May 2009, but Fox and the show’s fans were able to keep interest alive over the summer with “The Biggest Gleek Contest” on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.
In addition to the efforts by the networks, showrunners and talent are also taking to Twitter and Facebook to support their series by interacting with viewers.
Conan O’Brien, whose new late-night show on TBS launches in November, has accumulated a whopping 1.7 million followers on Twitter since leaving NBC. “Digital and social will be a big part of the [marketing] plan” for the Conan show, says Trish Melton, senior VP of entertainment marketing for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies. “It’s key to who his audience is. This is a social media-immersed audience, and it will be a big part of our campaign.”
MTV’s Friedman credits comments on Twitter and Facebook with generating viewership spikes during MTV’s Video Music Awards. Social media also helped make If You Really Knew Me into MTV’s highest-rated new show this year and was a factor in renewing The Buried Life, which is using Twitter to find young people to feature in the towns it visits this season.
Friedman expects MTV’s social media bonds to strengthen now that Gabi Gregg has started her $100,000-a-year job as the network’s fi rst Twitter Jockey.
“It is a great example of getting closer to the audience in terms of hearing from them, but also giving them an advocate inside the building,” Friedman says.
Despite the activity, no one seems to be able to measure exactly how social media buzz translates into ratings.
“The reality is, no one has unlocked that silver bullet,” says Turner’s Melton. “What we do understand is that the value of the social media currency we have is directly proportional to the success of our shows’ overall health.”
Social media can accomplish other business goals as well. Scripps Networks gives its social media assets credit for helping to launch its new Cooking Channel and, perhaps more importantly, helping to get Food Network back on the air after it was dropped by Cablevision Systems in a dispute over carriage fees.
Social media “was an avenue for people to come in and talk about what was going on,” says Scripps’ Kissinger. “In the end, people who really cared about the brand and missed it were able to kind of galvanize their sentiment and put it out there. I think it was very helpful.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette
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