Skip to main content

8 Rules to Leveraging Social Media

In a few short years social media as evolved from a few online sites designed to connect friends and family to a way of life for 82% of the world’s Internet population over age 15, or some 1.2 billion users, according to The New Age, which tracks social media usage. Twitter
itself boasts some 100 million users. Facebook
currently counts more than 800 million users
around the world, with that number expected to
reach 1 billion before the end of 2012, according
to several reports.

Social media has become — or should be — an
integral part of marketing and branding campaigns
for all businesses. That’s particularly true for TV
networks, which are increasingly using social
media to hype, educate and entice viewers to their
shows, series and events. Social-media tracker
Bluefin Labs tracked more than 12 million tweets
and Facebook posts during the 2012 Super Bowl,
up a whopping 578% over the 1.8 million posts
Bluefin tracked in 2011.

To be sure, experimentation — or throwing things
against the wall to see what sticks — is a big part
of social-media marketing these days. The sector
is constantly evolving so new tactics and ploys are
necessary to keep up with the way and why users
access social media sites.

For instance, Nickelodeon’s bold experiment to
offer free on iTunes the 20-episode first season
of its drama/mystery series House of Anubis in
advance of season two yielded than 1 million
downloads, according to network executives. The
experiment paid off: House of Anubis has become
one of Nick’s highest rated shows this season.

Twitter and Facebook postings have even helped
spawn a new breed of “after shows.” AMC created
Talking Dead, an aftershow for its zombie drama The
Walking Dead
, and Bravo did the same for its Real
reality franchise. The shows deconstruct
that night’s program, with Twitter and Facebook
posts and call-in questions from the audience.

And though the social media landscape is anything
but static, some basic rules have emerged for
networks experimenting and conducting socialmedia
marketing campaigns.

1. Ignore social media marketing at your
own peril.

Social media is the new water cooler of the living
room. It has become de rigueur for pumping up interest
and ratings. Content players must start passionate conversations
and keep them alive, AMC senior vice president of
marketing Linda Schupack said. And those conversations
can come in a variety of forms.

When WE tv launched its WE tv Sync product halfway
through the last season of reality show Braxton Family Values,
ratings for the series rose 21%, said WE tv senior vice
president of digital media and business development Jen
Robertson. WE tv Sync mixes a live experience with Twitter,
Facebook and online feeds during the series’ linear

Sundance Channel premiered the first episode of season two of Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys on Twitter. It was the first time a TV show premiered on Twitter, according to Monica Bloom, Sundance's senior vice president of marketing, and the series is now one of Sundance's most popular offerings. The episode could be viewed via the TwitVid platform, accessed by a tweet from Sundance. The episode was subsequently available on Facebook, Hulu and

Seeding shows via social media outlets has become a
routine method to drive interest in unfamiliar series. A
recent study by TV Guide found that 27% of respondents
began watching more live TV because of plot spoilers revealed
on social media — up from 20% in 2010. Almost a
third (31%) said they continued watching a show because
of an impression on a social media outlet and 17% said they
started to watch a show as a result of a social impression.

In an effort to gain 85,000 Facebook “likes” for sketchcomedy
series Portlandia, IFC incented fans with clips of
upcoming episodes in season two, IFC vice president of
digital media Craig Parks said. The more “likes” the page
got, the more content was made available. Eventually, the
entire second episode of season two was available on Facebook
before the first episode made it on the air. The number
of “likes” for Portlandia tripled in five weeks, Parks said,
and ratings have soared this season.

2. No amount of tweeting will fix a bad

A mediocre show will always be a mediocre show
no matter how much social media is used to promote it,
truTV executive vice president and chief marketing officer Marc Juris said. However, social media can create excitement
for a show that it might not otherwise receive.
Last year, truTV ratcheted up the social-media stakes for
Operation Repo by challenging viewers to “like” the show
on Facebook. If 500,000 people clicked the “like” button,
the network promised it would deliver a “fan only” episode
on the social media site. Experts had warned Juris to
expect about 100,000 “likes.” Operation Repo’s Facebook
page gained 600,000 “likes” in two weeks. And ratings for
the show rose over year ago totals making it one of truTV’s
most successful series.

3. No one makes big bucks — the payoff
is in the eyeballs.

Social media is an adjunct to traditional marketing
tactics and should be considered as much of a money-maker
as a direct mail piece, a cross-channel spot or a sweepstakes.
But the platform does give marketers and media
sales folks significant data to work with in attracting advertisers.
“Social media can be a money-maker because by
creating buzz, you are bringing more viewers to shows,”
Greg Artzt, founder and chief strategy officer of General
Sentiment, a Jericho, N.Y.-based research firm. “Social media
is not just a source of emotion. It’s a source of intelligence
and a gold mine of information that can be used to
make money.”

4. Different shows and genres require
different social-media tactics.

Sports and events rule. There were 12.2 million
tweets during the Super Bowl last February and 13 million
during the Grammy Awards a few weeks later. Angelina
Jolie’s bare naked leg spawned its own Twitter account
with more than 12,000 followers after the actress gamely
showed off her gams during the Academy Awards.

“Watching live video, including sports, is no longer leanback
TV,” Matt Hong, senior vice president and general
manager, sports digital, at Turner Sports said. “People are
embracing social media as part of their day and they want
to share their experiences. We can kick off conversations and extend them for days. We may have only game a week
but with social media we can get people to talk about it until
the next game is aired.”

Aside from making 200 college basketball games available
on Facebook this year, ESPN also created the Cheez-
It Real FanCam, allowing viewers to find themselves or
their buddies in the crowds at various games and events.
They can then tag and share the photos via various social
media outlets. As of March 18, there were 979,000 “likes”
for the site.

“Sports is inherently social,” ESPN senior vice president
of marketing Carol Kruse said.

Social campaigns must be structured differently for
each genre, Turner Entertainment Group chief marketing
officer Jeff Gregor said. Sci-fi and techno thrillers command
robust social media experiences. Dramas dictate
background and character development.

The folks at TNT figured there two types of viewers for
the upcoming remake of Dallas — those old enough to
have watched during its initial 1978-1991 run on CBS,
and those who weren’t even born when J.R. Ewing and
his family were wreaking havoc in the Lone Star State.
To educate and provide some background and interest,
TNT created a Facebook page spanning 34 years
of Ewing family history, all in the first-person voice of
J.R. himself (played by Larry Hagman). As of March 23,
there were almost 650,000 fans for the site. A string of
tweets was also recently launched encapsulating each
of the 356 episodes of the original series.

5. Pay attention to your customers via
social media.

Social media’s increased role with cable operators
is going beyond traditional customer service. Both Cox
Communications and Comcast have corporate as well as
local social-media components.

In Oklahoma, Cox used its local Facebook page to
award two, $10,000 grants to local charities based on fan
votes, Adam Naide, executive director of marketing for
social media, said. On a national level, the MSO worked
with AMC to recently launch a Facebook contest in early
March where fans can enter a contest to be part of a
panel at Comic-Con later this year. The contest not only
helps retain existing customers, it enables Cox to market
its services to those non-subs that sign up for the contest
as well, Naide said.

Comcast uses social media to keep an eye on its infrastructure,
Comcast senior director of corporate communications
Jenni Moyer said. The National Hockey League’s
Philadelphia Flyers were playing their cross-state rivals,
the Pittsburgh Penguins, earlier this season when people
noted on Twitter that they couldn’t see the game on
their TV set. They blamed Comcast. The MSO’s digital
team determined that the originating channel’s satellite
had been knocked offline, Moyer said, noting the network
was contacted about the problem and the digital team took
to Twitter, telling customers that Comcast had identified
the problem and assured viewers that the signal would be
back ASAP.

6. Encourage your talent to tweet — but
prepare them.

Two weeks ago, Jon Hamm, star of AMC’s Mad
, called E! reality celebrity Kim Kardashian an idiot
in a tweet. It went viral in record time setting off a war of
tweets of sorts between Hamm and Kardashian. 30 Rock
star Alec Baldwin’s troubles with Twitter are now so well
known that he is actually makes fun of them in credit card
commercials. Bottom line: Trouble can ensue when talent
tweets without guidelines and policies.

Turner Entertainment Group has created a socialmedia
boot camp to teach its talent how to use Twitter,
Facebook and other social media outlets appropriately and
effectively, Gregor said. Mistakes are inevitable, but they
can be mitigated with some simple guidelines and policies,
he said.

Even Oprah Winfrey got into hot water earlier this year
when she tweeted her followers urging them to watch
specific OWN shows, especially if they lived in a Nielsen
home. That’s a big no-no as far as Nielsen is concerned.
Winfrey took down the tweet and apologized.

Many news organizations will break news via Twitter,
but mandate that the news be vetted first. ESPN prohibits
its staffers from breaking news via Twitter and they must
get permission from their supervisor before they tweet.
CNN suspended contributor Roland Martin after he made
what some critics called homophobic tweets during the
Super Bowl in February. He was reinstated March 12. CNN
fired senior editor Octavia Nasr in 2010 for tweeting that
she was sorry to hear about the passing of a Hezbollah
leader the U.S. government considered a terrorist.

7. The chaos must be managed.

Social media dictates a new layer of administration
and costs, ranging from teaching talent how to
avoid social-media landmines, to hiring additional staffersto man Twitter and Facebook accounts to legal counsel
and copyright experts. Like video on demand or TV
Everywhere platforms, networks must secure copyright
permission to deliver content via social media outlets. That
includes existing content as well as additional footage created
exclusively for social media.

“We have had to hire new people and retrain existing
employees and we have shifted social media from the digital
group to the marketing group,” Turner’s Gregor said.
“We work closely with all of the departments within Turner
Entertainment Group when it comes to social media. If
someone is going to tweet at an awards show, for instance,
public relations needs to know about it. It requires a new
level of coordination.”

Turner’s Cartoon Network has self-imposed regulations
for all its social media outlets to ensure an added
layer of security for its audience of young kids, vice president
of consumer marketing Scott Thomas said. Putting
such safeguards into place is costly, but worth it, he said.

Managing Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube
video releases and the like also requires additional manpower.
Turner is not the only company that has brought its
digital media department closer to its marketing departments
to maximize impact and efficiency.

Cox created the role of executive director of social media
when it hired Naide away from CNN Worldwide. The
Atlanta-based cable operator also has field staffers in place
to oversee local Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
Similarly, Comcast created a 10-member, Philadelphiabased
digital outreach team in 2007 to work with local digital
media gurus in the field.

8. Plan for the future, but expect turmoil.

There is no question social media is here to stay as
a marketing and communication tool. “Our customers
were communicating in this way and we felt we
needed to meet them in this universe,” Comcast’s Moyer
said. “It’s not a replacement for our traditional customer
service outlets, but rather an extension of them.”

The social-media terrain will likely look vastly different
six months from now. Many media executives describe social
media in similar terms: Wild West, locomotive, brush
fire, moving target or riding the wave. New social media
sites are popping up almost weekly. Few people had heard
of Pinterest, a new social-media service, even two months
ago. Its ascent to 10 million visitors per month was faster
than the rise of Facebook, Twitter or any other site tracked
by comScore.

Social-media app GetGlue encourages TV viewers to
log in what they’re watching — a TV-based Foursquare,
as it were, for entertainment. Viggle encourages viewers
to check in to programs but and also “rewards” them with
points they can redeem for such premiums as Starbucks
gift cards, movie tickets and other tchotchkes. Miso started
out as a check-in and rewards app, but has morphed
toward off ering curated, unique content related to specific shows. HBO is teaming up with Miso to bring a second-
screen experience to viewers of Game of Thrones and
USA Network uses Miso’s second-screen technology on its
White Collar series.

“I love the direct connection we have with our viewers, WE tv’s Robertson said. “I love learning about what they’re
thinking. [Social media] is constantly changing and morphing
and I love that. But it is hard to stay ahead of it.”