Friends WithBenefits

When MTV wanted to get closer to its social media-savvy viewers,
it not only got its fans to help them hire a “Twitter Jockey,”
it brought American Express in as sponsor of the project
as part of an ad package valued at $3 million to $5 million.

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, 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 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

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

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.”

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and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.