Is Yours a Social Network?

I just got back from a weekend with my redneck brother-in-law
and his wife way up on top of the Golden State near a city called Eureka.
Like Los Angeles, it’s an industry town, but the industry is growing pot. Yup, without that area, all the poor
college kids who have trouble paying attention
in class couldn’t have that legal medical marijuana
they so desperately need to stay focused.

Let me put it another way: If the Big One ever
hit up there and knocked out production, I honestly
think the manufacturers of Pop Tarts and
Cheetos would go Chapter 11 within a week.

When I was up there, during the time my
brother-in-law and I weren’t trying to manage
the wildlife population or single-handedly
prop up Anheuser-Busch’s share price, his wife
and I talked about TV. And speaking with her
about how she decides what to watch drove
home what I’ve been realizing more and more
recently: If I were promoting a TV show, I would
be spending more of my time and resources incentivizing
viewers to become your evangelists.

Buying tons of media to promote a show or
getting critics to write about it is easy; you know
how to do it and have always done it. But it’s
also becoming infinitely less effective by the day.

This is not about the divide between critics
and viewers; that’s old news. It’s an oft-ignored
fact that if you want to make a hit television
show on broadcast, you better be programming to that 54-year-old woman in Kansas City, not
that Boston University or Syracuse-trained media
member writing on one of the coasts.

It’s not about making better promos. It’s easy
to say the terrible My Generation ads killed the
show. But if you saw the show, you know better.

Very simply: social media has become the
new critic, and the new promo. The opinions of
strangers matter less than they used to, period.

My personal come-to-Twitter moment happened
with Inception. I’m not a big DiCaprio
guy, and the premise wasn’t my thing; I’d rather
laugh and look at good-looking people, like in
the French comedy The Heartbreaker, which I
saw and loved. Even great reviews, big box-office numbers and inherent peer pressure didn’t
make me want to “run, not walk” to Inception.

What did it was several of my friends seeing
it and posting about it on Twitter and Facebook.
Suddenly, people I shared common interests
with were praising it, and that had more currency
than someone I didn’t know who has a
big job reviewing stuff. So I went, and I loved it.

What does this mean for those who push
content? Go after the folks that viewers trust—
other viewers they know. Find ways to get consumers to tell their friends. Create incentives—
prizes, contests, whatever—to get them
to Tweet and update about your show.

In our cover story this week, Jon Lafayette
writes about a couple of major media outlets
that have hired a person just to work the social
media world. Hire more.

It’s no fun because it’s a chore to work the
viral world and there is no traditional playbook,
like with promos or pitching stories to critics.

And I’m not advising to stop doing a TCA session
or stop buying ads on the sides of buildings.
I get the argument you have to make a massive
splash to have a chance at sampling, or there
won’t be anything for people to Tweet about.

But I am saying all of that matters less. Critics
matter less. Promos matter less. They are
increasingly being complemented—though
not (yet) replaced—by the opinions of people
we know personally and trust.

So it’s a good question to ask yourself and
your employees: Are you doing enough to
build evangelists for your shows? Because I
promise you, they’re a bunch more effective at
getting their followers to see the light than any
media you can pitch or buy.

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and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman