Is Yours a Social Network?

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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.

E-mail comments to bgrossman@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman

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