3 Lessons for Social TV

You may have noticed something was missing throughout the nation’s most social sporting event of the year. The Super Bowl in-game broadcast had zero social media TV integration.

With more than a billion people on Facebook and Twitter alone, many of them watching the game, this was a missed opportunity. Why did NBC and the NFL miss the boat? Likely, the common internal social media struggles got in the way. Incorporating social media into the epic annual broadcast would have created adversity internally. It’s not the way they’ve always done it and, therefore, it’s uncomfortable.

But while the network and league lost an opportunity to innovate the viewing experience, many advertisers took advantage of integrating social media within their pricey ads. By doing this, the advertisers garnered more reach and engagement.

Slapping Twitter handles and Facebook URLs on the TV screen, however, is no longer enough for socially-savvy television. Social media users can now dictate the outcome of live TV shows, create its content, and most notably, impact ratings. Throughout the succinct two-year history of social television, successes and failures have taught practitioners three valuable lessons:

1. Keep it organic. The golden rule of social media is to deliver value when, where, and how your audience wants to receive it. With Social TV, the audience is providing value right back. Naturally, viewers are talking about their favorite (or least favorite) TV shows and sporting events. So, let them talk back when, where, and how they want to. It not only provides a temperature on opinions and sentiment, but also extends content into a perpetual conversation with social media keeping the buzz alive even after the show is over.

For example, The X Factor realized that their highly enthusiastic following on Twitter had strong opinions about the show’s contestants. Viewers didn’t necessarily care if the TV show itself was listening to their opinion; they were naturally sharing their thoughts, feelings, likes, and dislikes in the interest of a social viewing experience with their peers. After monitoring this behavior and listening to viewers, The X Factor became the first show ever to harness that conversation’s inherent power and let viewers vote via Twitter direct message. This provided a convenient and direct means for loyal viewers and tweeters to voice their opinions in a meaningful yet official way.

2. Offer low-barrier engagement. It’s not a new concept for television shows to host contests highlighting viewer submissions. However, with the evolution of Social TV, the entry process is now far more accessible.

Jimmy Fallon is one of the pioneers of this concept. In the prehistoric age of social TV, Fallon trail-blazed by providing Twitter hashtag prompts to viewers and airing the most creative and hilarious responses on-air. Why was this so innovative? It kept the viewers in their own space. Fallon’s call-to-action required little effort; a simple, witty one-liner in a tweet could be your chance at late-night stardom.

What was the benefit for the TV show? Viewers were now entertained at an incremental level. They were participating with the show — and invested in the next evening’s show — to see if their tweet was highlighted within the broadcast. Simply said, they were elevated one notch up on the loyalty ladder. Many of the hashtags even became trending topics, which garnered accelerated awareness for the innovative hashtag game and even more paramount, the show itself.

3. Measure and share real-time results with viewers. TV networks and shows can put their finger on the pulse of viewer engagement before, during, and after a show airs. It’s traditionally believed that word of mouth is the most influential form of marketing. Consensus matters because it saves time and provides clarity. In the same way we look for book or music recommendations from friends, we turn to social media to hear about the next big thing. Traditional media outlets are becoming valuable editors of the social media space, using their expertise to tell their viewers what they should be consuming according to general consensus. This strategy also proves valuable to advertisers who can make more informed decisions about when, where, and how they want to advertise on TV.

As the 2012 presidential election approaches, voters will be keeping their eyes on their own network’s opinions more than political pundits or government officials. Said pundits and officials should, therefore, provide a new form of value by packaging and delivering these organic results to their audience.

It’s important to note that experimenting leads to best practices. The entertainment offering is only limited by the imagination of the producers.

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