Social TV: Social Marketing Practices That Translate Beyond Television


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For us marketers engaging in a dialogue with your key audience and cultivating that ongoing relationship is crucial to maintaining brand awareness and loyalty. Social TV is no exception. In the largely uncharted waters of social media, Social TV is an arena marketers can no longer afford to ignore. People are using this space at a rapidly growing rate, and certain television networks, like Discovery Communications, LLC and USA Networks, are reaping the benefits. In this post, I’ll discuss what Social TV is reviving an industry, pronounced by many pundits as slowly dying. What can we as brand marketers learn from this Social TV revolution in media? Plenty.


What exactly is Social TV?

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen them on your favorite TV shows. Intruding ever so slightly, it’s there, on the bottom right hand corner of the screen, pulsing in and out of visibility: the hashtag. Those who are not well adverse in social media often dismiss or don’t even see it on the screen. But to an ever-increasing population, it signals a conversation going on that you don’t want to miss. Social TV is a term used to describe both the technology and processes that allow social interaction amongst fans, TV producers, and distributors…on the TV screen. Featured in The Social Media Monthly October 2011 issue, the article “The New Fall Season: Social TV poised to change how we find, purchase, and consume television,” by Carri Bugbee, boasts The MIT Technology Review listed Social TV as one of the “ten most important emerging technologies in 2010.” Television viewing has always been a social phenomenon, but the birth of Tivo, DVR and YouTube, has stagnated our “water cooler” moments – the “Who shot JR?” moment or the blackout ending of The Sopranos finale. Social TV has brought these moments back to us in a newer and re-imagined way with some impressive statistics:

  • According to Carri Bugbee, the #TrumpRoast hashtag was used more than 27,000 times on Twitter during the March 2011 telecast of the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump. Apparently that was the most-watched Tuesday night show in the history of the network.
  • Fox’s ‘The X Factor’ is No. 1 among new series, with an average of 94,000 social comments per episode as recorded by Bluefin.
  • The Old Spice The Man Your Man Can Smell Like campaign generated:
  • 5.9 million views on in the first 24 hours of launch
  • 20 million views 3 days after launch
  • 1.4 billion impressions over 6 months
  • Sales increase by 107% over 6 months


It seems Social TV offers a place for fans to interact over favorite programs both in real-time and on a grand scale. This type of connectivity gives networks insight not only as to how people are watching and consuming media but also their degree of engagement, insights that were previously inaccessible. Emerging from the pack, Discovery Communications, LLC is creatively engaging in the conversation with viewers and building a growing network of fans.


According to Gayle Weiswasser, Vice President, Social Media Communications at Discovery Communications, social media has made TV a social experience again. With its vast assortment of networks – from Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and TLC– the company manages 70 Facebook Fan pages boasting 40 million fans, and 20 Twitter accounts with 2.4 million followers. Gayle shared that their philosophy on social media is “to use it as a platform that enhances the viewing experience and the relationship with the viewers”.


Part of cultivating that relationship through blogposts, sneak peaks, photos from show talent and more, requires a kind of content producing powerhouse that goes above and beyond a show’s storyline or premise. For example, Discovery’s What Not To Wear Facebook Fan Page (over 800,000 fans at the time of writing this blogpost) links to articles about fall fashion trends, while the DC Cupcakes Facebook Fan Page features mouth-watering recipes (over 160,000 fans). Lauren Drell from Mashable quotes Weiswasser as saying “content may not have anything to do with the show, but it is relevant to our viewers.” Weiswasser attributes their success to four easy steps:

  • Building relationships and engaging with fans
  • Personalizing the brand
  • Strengthening fan-talent relations
  • Driving tune-in


By far, the most successful social media campaign on Discovery’s resume is the Shark Week promotion. During the week of air in July 2011, there were more than 750,000 tweets mentioning Shark Week — an eight-fold increase over last year — and the handle @SharkWeek grew to close 60,000 followers.


The Shark Week Photo Frenzy – a call for fans to submit photos of how they celebrate Shark Week, got 600,000 page views and more than 1,000 submissions, in addition to 80,000 views of the Photo Frenzy tab on Facebook (Drell). The Facebook Page accrued 30,000 fans in a single day (116,000 fans throughout the week). The result? 3.9 million viewers for opening night, the highest number in Shark Week history, coming in at a 2.8 for the 9-11pm time slot. Part of the high rating can also be attributed to a well-executed app that lets viewers participate in social conversations on their computers, iPhones and iPads.


This balance between content generation and allowing fans to shape the course of content has proven to be a powerful exchange for Discovery Communications. Because of social media, Discovery and other networks can now listen to that social discourse, the “likes” and “dislikes,” and mold their content to drive ratings. “We want the content to speak for itself,” says Weiswasser. “If it’s compelling, people will want it — that’s how we got this footprint” (Drell).


What can brand marketers learn from this?

While Discovery Communications is not the only network finding success with social marketing campaigns, they provide a good example of how brands can market successfully with social media. For a network, the outreach – the blogs, photo campaigns, Twitter postings, Facebook engagement, etc. – becomes an extension of their storyline. Using the television show as the initial premise behind their social media marketing, they broaden those topics to deliver more relevant content for viewers with intent on keeping viewers coming back to the shows.


Just as Old Spice became a phenomenon through a social TV lens, so can other brands. But it begins with good content – The Man Your Man Can Smell Like campaign wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the right actor, a pithy, witty script, and the medium (YouTube in this case). The other key factor in making this campaign a huge success was singling out their key audience, in this case, women – but while still appealing to men. The initial commercial was not only funny but it drove home the point that real men don’t use women’s body wash and if you want your man to live up to his potential, he needs his own.


These are definitely lessons we hear all the time – content is key, go beyond your initial product to further engagement — but what networks are discovering through Social TV is that their social outreach may be equal or even more important than the actual product of their shows. Old Spice followed up their initial commercial with several vignettes using the same actor and premise. The goal of their first commercial was to increase sales but they did more than creating one successful commercial. They personalized the brand, giving it dimension and a story arc that extends beyond its first inception. This three-pronged attack pushed the campaign from successful to legendary.


Got a favorite TV show that keeps on living in the social realm? Using Social TV to engage fans and keep them coming? Share your insights, experiences and questions on this blog, Twitter: Facebook at: Awareness, Inc., Social Media Marketing Best Practices and Social Media Marketing Mavens pages, and in our LinkedIn Social Media Marketing Mavens Group.

Mike Lewis



Mike Lewis
Mike is an entrepreneur and marketing executive with a 14-year track record of success as a senior manager at early-stage technology companies. He is currently the vice president of marketing and sales for Awareness Inc., an enterprise social media management platform


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