When it came to promoting season 3 of Chrisley Knows Best, USA gambled that social media would work best.
The cable network decided not to buy any traditional media, including off-channel spots, print ads or out-of-home. It put money into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Periscope and forged a unique partnership with Dubsmash, a newer app that is popular with kids.
The gamble appears to have paid off. Season 3 of the reality show starring wealthy businessman Todd Chrisley, who comically micromanages his family, opened June 2 with record ratings. Nearly 3 million viewers tuned in, up 30% from season 2. The network also scored highs in both the 18-to-49-year-old demographic and the 25-54 demo.
Before the ratings came out, Alexandra Shapiro, USA head of marketing and digital, could see the social numbers heading in the right direction. During the show, #ChrisleyKnowsBest was No. 1 among trending topics and generated about 30,000 tweets, Shapiro said. Even though it’s still not clear exactly what the relationship is between social media activity and ratings, “I had a good feeling the ratings would deliver,” she added.
USA and parent company NBCUniversal have been aggressive with digital and social media, and Shapiro said the network wanted to experiment with a social-only campaign.
“I would not recommend this for all shows, but I do think a show like Chrisley Knows Best had the right combination of variables to test this out,” she said.
It’s long been a television truism that nothing promotes a TV show like television. And Shapiro is quick to point out that Chrisley was promoted with spots on USA network, one of cable’s most-watched networks.
“There’s still no better tool at our disposal than the reach of television,” she said. “If I didn’t have the platform of my own network to be able to cast a wide net and get the reach I needed, this would be a lot riskier to do than it was.”
The key is getting TV, digital and social to work together, Shapiro added.
But there were several reasons why Chrisley Knows Best was a prime candidate for a campaign focused on social media. The primary factor was that Atlanta entrepreneur Todd Chrisley and his family are big users of social media, both in real life and on the show.
“They eat, breathe and sleep this. They’re digital and social natives,” Shapiro said. “Todd has his phone by his side 24-7. He is addicted, for better or worse, to Twitter. He is responding in real time all day to his fans. He’s retweeting them, giving people a voice they wouldn’t otherwise have. And these aren’t canned responses. These are personal, heartfelt, quintessential Todd-isms.”
Todd Chrisley has 170,000 Twitter followers. On Facebook, 339,000 people like him and 633,000 like the show.
“Social media is an amazing way to engage directly with our viewers, and I’m a big believer that we are where we are today because of our extremely loyal and passionate fan base,” Todd Chrisley said via a USA publicist. “I love having the platform to reach our fans and connect with them directly and being able to answer their questions and hear about their experiences on how they relate to our family.”
Proficient as the family is with social media, USA didn’t leave the Chrisleys to their own devices in promoting the show. It hired Vayner Media, headed by Gary Vaynerchuk, like Chrisley an entrepreneur. Vaynerchuk has made himself well-known and built several businesses using social media.
“I think pairing someone like Gary and his army of specialists with the Chrisleys has been the magic in creating this social and cultural phenomenon because they’ve been able to impart their tools and best practices,”Shapiro said.
Shapiro added that one of Vaynerchuk’s mantras is that the power of social media is creating access and democratizing access to talent.
“In the case of Todd and even the [Chrisley] kids, that’s what we’ve been able to achieve,” Shapiro said. “It’s creating unprecedented accessibility, and it’s not just opportunistic when a show is on. It happens between episodes, between seasons, throughout the day, and it’s genuine. There’s an authenticity to that engagement, and I think that’s what makes this a special property.”
Social media is sometimes referred to as free media, but USA paid various social media platforms for access beyond what a normal social media user would get. Shapiro declined to say whether the network spent more or less money by using social media instead of traditional media.
“We’re spending money differently,” she said.
Some of the social media tactics included Q&As on Facebook in which Todd Chrisley answered fan questions. The network also bought “dark posts,” sent to people who hadn’t like the show but were fans of reality TV, comedy TV, daytime talk shows, competitive programming and parenting and family topics.
On Twitter, the network created a #ToddTuesday hashtag and sent personalized Twitter videos to answer viewer questions. Chrisley live-streamed to fans via Periscope and he took over the show’s Instagram handle for a day. USA created an online map of “Chrisley Nation” populated with fan photos. And memorable quotes from Todd—“Toddisms”—were turned into lip-synched videos by fans using the Dubsmash app.
All of the social media activity contributed to Chrisley being the youngest-skewing show on USA, with an average viewer age of 44.
Shapiro said what USA is learning with Chrisley could benefit other shows. “You have to use data and customize by social media platform. One size does not fit all,” she said. “And for those of us who are able to pivot and understand who the audience is, there’s no better platform than social media to do that, in concert with traditional media.”