ABC Family has effectively parlayed the marketing and interactive strengths of social media to make a direct connection with its target audience of millennials, or the generation of viewers born between roughly 1982 and the turn of the century. The network finished January as the most tweeted-about network on broadcast and cable, mostly due to its popular original shows like Pretty Little Liars — the most Twitter-discussed show of the month. ABC Family vice president of marketing Danielle Mullin recently outlined the network’s social media marketing strategy to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead. With more than eight out of 10 millennials signing up to be members of at least one social network, according to a recent InSites Consulting study, Mullin explains why it’s critical for the network to effectively communicate and interact with 15-34 year-olds on new digital platforms.
MCN: How important is it for millennial-targeted cable networks to have brand identity on digital platforms, and in particular on social media sites?
Danielle Mullin: Social media platforms are really a critical tool in this day and age to talk with our audiences. If you want to have an effective marketing strategy you really need to talk to your viewers wherever they are — whether they’re spending their time in the mall or watching TV. From a behavioral perspective we see that millennials spend so much of their time on a daily basis on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest, that these platforms have really become ubiquitous. They’re part of everybody’s routine, so if it’s part of our viewing audience’s daily routine, we want to be there. Really it’s this incredible toolbox that allows us to take a great piece of programming content and spread it to the masses of fans in a way that can be more impactful than traditional advertising.
MCN: How do you use social media to keep fans engaged in your programming?
DM: The main focus for us is making sure that we are continuing to engage our fans around our content and continuing to innovate in the way that we’re using these social platforms. When you become a fan of a show on Facebook, or you’re following a show on Twitter, you want something in return. So we work very hard to make sure that we’re not just using these platforms to push one tune-in message after another.
We want to make our fans feel like insiders, so we might be posting exclusive content or create an app that lives on Facebook around a really big plot twist coming up. We might enlist talent from the show to live-tweet during the broadcast and answer fans’ questions. Whatever we might think our fans our interested in, we’re trying to use these platforms to provide them with a deeper, more-engaging experience than they can get by just watching the linear broadcast. That’s a tremendous benefit.
MCN: How deep into the social media space do you have to go to be eff ective? Do you literally have to build a presence for every show on Facebook or Twitter?
DM: On platforms Facebook and Twitter we do have individual fan communities that we have established for each individual show — Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters, Melissa and Joey, Baby Daddy. But there’s also a Facebook page just for ABC Family. The way we reach out to those communities varies by show. One of our rules for engagement in the social media space is to treat every fan community uniquely based on what their interests might be. Facebook fans of Pretty Little Liars love to talk about the fashions and who’s hooking up with whom. On The Fosters page, there’s a lot more conversation around social issues. We definitely see our success in the social space as treating every fan community differently.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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