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Social Mavens Who Build Audiences

Every year, cable networks produce increasingly distinctive social media content that builds audience and augments their better-known linear video channels. Multichannel News got to know some of the most inventive and effective social-media wizards now working in the industry.

Samantha Barry
Executive Producer for Social and Emerging Media

Background: Barry was previously a social media producer and journalist with BBC World News, and worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in Papua New Guinea. She joined CNN in 2014. The network was a 2016 Webby Award finalist for best overall social presence.

Best Work: Barry and her social media team of journalists are an integral part of newsgathering and reporting at CNN. Their work on numerous platforms included exclusive Snapchat interviews with all the presidential candidates and Instagram portraits that became ubiquitous campaign images. With its debate coverage, CNN became the first news organization to go live on Facebook Live.

What makes a great social media effort? “Understanding your audience, understanding the platform. You can’t take content that was made for linear TV or to be seen on a desktop and expect it to pop on social.”

Who else’s work do you admire? “Channel 4 in the UK does a good job of turning very meaty international video into something that’s very digestible on social platforms. Bleacher [Report] has a very smart social strategy. Refinery29 does some brilliant and beautiful things across Instagram and Facebook.”

Jayar Donlan
Senior VP, Digital and Social Content

Background: Donlan joined WWE in 2013. The parent of OTT service WWE Network and WWE shows and events has increased its social footprint across 16 social media networks to a total of more than 750 million combined followers. WWE programming trends on Twitter every week of the year. In 2010, about 6% of the company’s business was digital; today, it is more than 30%.

Best Work: In 2016, WWE logged more than 1 billion social media engagements. Its sports-entertainment “superstars” manage their own social-media accounts and constantly engage with fans. Fans inform content, both on television and on digital and social media. Live social coverage includes superstars offering inside access to what’s happening in the ring.

What makes a great social media effort? “Engagement, discourse with fans, authenticity, and timing. There’s nothing more authentic than live social video.”

Who else’s work do you admire? “I really love what BuzzFeed is doing, filling their channels with great content for millennials and Generation Z, and I think the NBA has done a fantastic job with video, as video becomes more and more important to all the social-media platforms.”

Sarah Epler
Senior Director of Social Media And Fan Engagement

Background: Epler and her team have built a social network of more than 220 million people through multiplatform events including the MTV Movie Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards and the Woodies. The group worked with the network public-affairs department to create the “Look Different” campaign, a 2016 Webby Award finalist for public service.

Best Work: For the VMAs, MTV partnered with social-networking site to introduce the platform’s first voting category that encouraged fans to create their own videos. Within a week, almost 1 million videos had been created, with 20 million likes. During the awards, a backstage Instagram booth pumped out celebrity photos.

What makes a great social media effort? “It’s knowing your community and audience, and knowing how you can be additive to them. … All brands that succeed on social understand how important it is to put out platform-specific, high-quality content. It’s not enough to put out a post somewhere anymore.”

Who else’s work do you admire? “I really like what Starbucks, National Geographic and Taco Bell do. … National Geographic knows their audience’s appetite and puts out the most beautiful pictures on their Instagrams.”

Gineen Finch
VP, Multiplatform and Social Programming Strategy
Comedy Central

Background: Before joining Comedy Central in 2015, Finch was senior director of programming strategy for The Weather Channel. Before that, she was with BBC Worldwide and AMC Networks’s international division. She started at HBO, where she helped develop and launch HBO Go.

Best Work: Finch’s team made a social splash with Roast Battle, a four-night comedy tournament on the network. Multiplatform coverage pumped up the competition. For the finale, the team produced a Facebook Live preshow, real-time tweets, and direct fan engagement with the competing comedians and judges.

What makes a great social media effort? “Content that feels native and organic, that really engages and resonates with fans … you have to tap into some sort of emotion or sentiment to get people excited and engaged.”

Who else’s work do you admire? “What Netflix did with Stranger Things was so smart. … It really all kicked in when people started bingeing the series. They engaged viewers and extended the world onto the social platform. Right now, I’m obsessed with This Is Us. They do such an amazing job of extending that world into the social space between episodes.”

Emily Giannusa
Director, Digital and Social Media

Background: Giannusa has led social media for Game of Thrones since its first season, and spearheaded campaigns for HBO shows including Westworld and Veep. Game of Thrones won a 2016 Webby Award for overall social presence.

Best Work: For Game of Thrones, Giannusa’s challenge is satisfying the appetite of the series’ passionate fans. Twitter hashtag-driven events such as #RoastJoffrey and #CatchDrogon, an allday social media dragon hunt, encourage fan creativity.

What makes a great social media effort? “Start with a great insight. Study fan behaviors and influencers, ranging from everyday superfans to content creators to celebrities — that’s how you get your creativity and ways to engage them. … [Create] a clear path to interactivity. … If you can’t explain what the campaign is in a hashtag, it’s probably the wrong campaign. And it’s always great to have talent who embrace the space.”

Who else’s work do you admire? “ATTN: — their editorialized videos are such a compelling, snackable way to consume news and keep people informed. I think MTV is great at putting disruptive, short-form content out. And my guilty pleasure is Tasty. Who doesn’t like watching great recipes being made?”

Kim Granito
Senior VP, Digital Media & Integrated Marketing

Background: Granito joined IFC in 2011 and was named to MCN’s “40 Under 40” in 2015. Previously, she worked in marketing at Syfy, MTV Networks and USA Network.

Best Work:Portlandia characters Candace and Toni (Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein)’s live tweets during the #FeministSuperbowl are a perennial hit, racking up 9 million Twitter impressions in 2016. Granito’s team keeps an ear to the ground and jumps in when appropriate moments arise. The bird that landed on Bernie Sanders’ podium during the presidential campaign inspired a short Portlandia “#putabirdonit / #putaBernonit” video that was retweeted by Sanders and news outlets.

What makes a great social media effort? “Creating content for the specific social media platform that it’s meant to be on is key. A lot of networks fall into the trap of taking linear content created for linear TV and repurposing it for social. Look at each platform as its own creative space.”

Who else’s work do you admire? “Funny or Die. They turn out loads of amazing content, and they’re not afraid to experiment.” (IFC parent AMC recently invested in a minority interest in Funny or Die.)

Angela Megrey
VP of Social Media, Crown Media Family Networks
Hallmark Channel

Background: Megrey joined Crown Media in 2015 after leading social media for Blaze PR and its clients. At The Marketing Arm, she led award-winning social, mobile, and digital campaigns.

Best Work: Megrey and her team use social media to engage audience and promote viewership. They extend the impact of Hallmark seasonal events with core viewers while making inroads with a younger audience through Snapchat and Instagram. Social promotion of live-from-the-red-carpet events and programs like the Kitten Bowl have built the network’s audience and ratings. (Coming up in conjunction with the NCAA Final Four: Meow Madness.)

What makes a great social media effort? “No. 1: Be where people are already talking. Being able to have a two-way conversation is also important.” Responding to audience Facebook comments on its original movie, The Bridge, Hallmark moved up the airing of the sequel.

Who else’s work do you admire? “One of most brilliant things I’ve seen was Comedy Central’s change [of The Daily Show in 2015] from Jon Stewart to Trevor Noah. They bought Google AdWords against what they thought people would be searching about, like, ‘Does Trevor Noah have a girlfriend?’ Then they created videos where Trevor Noah would answer the question in a funny way.”

Rachel Webber
Executive VP, Digital Products, National Geographic Partners
National Geographic Channel

Background: Webber joined Nat Geo last year. Previously, she was with Fox Television Group, and has also held positions with Rovio Entertainment and Tumblr.

Best Work: Via Nat Geo’s ongoing “Safari Live on Facebook Live,” fans go live to South Africa’s Kruger National Park several times a day. Using the network’s Your- Shop tool, audience photographers tackle assignments and interact with photo editors on Instagram. Nat Geo has 70 million Instagram followers.

What makes a great social media effort? “Smart content execution: what’s going to work natively on the platform you’re distributing on, what is the right tone of voice to match who you are as a content creator, and the right tone of voice for that audience. Two: a very smart distribution approach. You have to be really sensitive to cadence of your content rollout, pushing out the right content at the right time. It’s not necessarily about volume. … Three: listening to and engaging directly with your community.”

Who else’s work do you admire? “The Skim … engages daily with their audience (Gen-Z and millennial women). The New York Times has done a great job with their Daily 360 content. P&G’s ‘Like a Girl’ campaign … tells stories of female empowerment.”