TV and Social Media

I spent an enjoyable morning courtesy of Broadcast the other week chewing the fat about the role of Social Media in relation to TV (and vice versa). They used the roundtable discussion as the basis of a feature which you can read here. Also involved, among others, were Deborah Rayner (Managing Editor, CNN, EMEA), Maz Nadjm (Head of Social Media, Ogilvy Group UK), Dan Patton (Director of Digital Media, MTV UK & Ireland) and Allan Blair (Director of Social at ad agency DDB), plus a few of my old muckers, namely James Kirkham (MD of Holler, who I worked with on Big Art Mob and Seven Days), Uktu Can (Creative Strategist at Mint Digital who’s helped recently with Quotables) and Rich Payne of Maverick TV (who I last toiled with on Embarrassing Bodies: Live). All fluently chaired by Lisa Campbell the Editor of Broadcast and observed by Conor Dignam (Group Editor, Broadcast). Here’s how the discussion was framed, followed by the stuff that flowed out of my gob on the subject…

Social media is now an essential tool for attracting and retaining an audience, according to the industry experts at Broadcast’s roundtable. Suzy Bashford reports on how the new technology is being used.

Social media is the buzzword of the moment. It has even overtaken porn as the most popular activity on the web, and the term is being bandied about as a catch-all phrase to sum up everything broadcasters do online. But what is it? Is it anything that allows the viewer to leave a comment on a website? Is it a marketing tool, as in Holler’s work around Skins? Or an entertainment in its own right, such as Bebo’s Kate Modern? A complementary addition to a TV show, as in Living’s Four Weddings? Or, as WPP boss Martin Sorrell said recently, is social media simply “advanced letter writing”?

AG: Social media has got different modes: the talking mode, the listening mode, the talking and listening mode, the collaboration mode. That means it’s difficult to co-ordinate in an organisation.

For the people listening to conversations in Channel 4’s Research & Insight department, social media is fantastic, free audience research of the best kind, because it’s unprompted and spontaneous. We’ve got other people using social media for customer service and showing that we’re listening and improving because of what our customers are telling us. Then we’ve got people using social media in talking mode, for promotion and marketing.

For me, social media is about collaboration, participation and storytelling. What is most exciting about social media in our industry is that it now enables a two-way conversation.

How well are organisations integrating these different modes?

AG: It feels chaotic for plenty of organisations because they haven’t really sat down and analysed who is doing what and why. We’re conscious of the different ways we are using social media and we’re thinking about different strategies for co-ordinating it, so we don’t dampen the energy but ensure we’re all moving in the same direction.

What have you learned from experience about leveraging social media?

AG: As a broadcaster you’ve got to constantly ask: ‘What am I bringing to the party?’ People will have these conversations in their own spaces, in their own ways. So what we’ve been doing with a lot of commissioning is thinking how social media can impact the editorial. Take Surgery Live – people could ask a question via social media to the surgeon who’s working live on TV, and within 90 seconds they could hear their question being put by the presenter to the surgeon. Only the broadcaster can bring that to the party. With Embarrassing Bodies Online, we gave up editorial control entirely to the users.

With Seven Days, working with Holler, we brought another relationship into play, giving viewers the ability to influence documentary contributors in real life. We created a site that became the focus of where the characters actually interact. Viewers can influence contributors’ thinking by going to the site. We’ve ended up creating strange new interactions between media and real life. Again, that’s the joy of being a broadcaster – you can bring something special to the party and really add value.

What happens to your social media strategy around a programme when you’re not on air?

AG: That’s one of the great functions of social media, it helps you deal with the troughs between broadcast periods, particularly when you’ve got something popular and returning such as Skins.

What pitfalls should you watch out for in social media?

AG: I was in a cab during one of the election live TV debates and was following it on Twitter. What struck me was how incredibly sheepish the behaviour was. The same was evident in the recent immigration discussion online on The X Factor. You see people piling into a Facebook group that then does nothing. So you have to bear in mind that social media can at times be amazingly superficial and sometimes, ultimately, meaningless.

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