To Tell The Truth: 5 Honest Insights about Social TV

Lately, the second screen has been a first priority in conversations among media marketers. Like pundits on a panel show, lots of people are trying to be experts on which social TV strategies work and how to use social to rack up ratings. Seems like a good time for some plain and simple honesty.

Truth #1: There is no handbook, guide, or wiki on how to succeed in social TV.

It’s still new. Everything is evolving faster than a commercial break. We’re all figuring it out. That’s what makes it exciting. 

For example, multiple properties are experimenting with social integrations during live TV, pre-taped shows, and even during re-broadcasts. What works during one show might not work during another—and vice versa.

For example, Discover Channel recently tried a Facebook poll integration during Shark Week programming, but it didn’t quite meet expectations. Yet on another show, Street Outlaws, a Facebook poll integration generated tremendous audience engagement. Every season, every episode, you get a new opportunity to experiment—and plenty of data to help you keep getting better.

More importantly, trying and failing can lead to bigger successes down the road. ESPN took what it learned from other Twitter live votes to create a vote-based campaign for the 2014 Super Bowl. Sponsored by Verizon. #WhosGonnaWin turned out to be ESPN’s most successful all-day live Twitter vote.

Truth #2: It pays to optimize every piece of content for the platform where it appears.

Leftover or repurposed TV content won’t cut it. TV footage generally isn’t shot or edited with social in mind, particularly not for the small screens on which most of us view social. According to a recent study, when people use social media, they’re using a mobile device 61% of the time.

Derek Dodge, Senior Director of Digital Programming at Discovery Channel, told us that his social team has a dedicated video shooter and editor for just these reasons. He also stressed the importance of optimizing social content for the hardest screen—the phone—which has the smallest and most restrictive screen.

Truth #3: Social TV initiatives should be measured against their own specific business objectives.

Ultimately, everything ladders up to ratings and revenue. But those overall goals have to be broken down into more specific social TV objectives or you risk losing focus. Gabe Goodwin, ESPN’s Senior Director of Social Production, cautions, “you’re not going to win saying ‘I can prove to you that these Tweets led to a higher rating.’”

Ratings are composed of a number of different things, including reach and time spent viewing. Gabe’s theory is that a fantastic second-screen experience can drive viewers to pick up the phone and start engaging during a show—instead of picking up a remote to change the channel. Increasing time spent viewing is a relevant goal for second-screen experiences, one that decision makers can get behind.

Other social TV goals could include maximizing social interactions to understand your audience and make the show better, or extending the show brand by driving awareness via social. The more realistic and measurable your social TV goals are, the better.

Truth #4: Social conversations around your programming must include the talent.

Simply put, it’s not a party if the host doesn’t show up. If your talent isn’t already socially savvy, teach them. It doesn’t have to be hard. Jason Ehrich, VP of Social Media at Fox News, said, “If you behave like a native of the platform, you’re going to win.”

Yes, the talent should talk about the shows, but they should also simply be themselves. According to Ehrich, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly’s Facebook page went from zero to 645,000 likes in months. She recently shared a birthday video for her 99-year-old grandmother, earning 323,249 views to date (and counting).

Truth #5: Your fans deserve the spotlight.

If your property has a passionate, knowledgeable fanbase, encourage its participation and take advantage of super fans’ social influence. Discovery Channel has had strong success from layering social content into previously aired programming. Essentially, each “reloaded” show is now showing the community to itself—similar to VH1’s “Pop Up Video,” but with expert fans sharing additional factoids and knowledge.

A final thought: We’re writing the future together.

TV properties are harnessing social media in more and more ways—within their shows, in second-screen experiences, and across social channels. As we’re all learning and experimenting together, we’re helping define what TV will be for the future. So tune in tomorrow. We can’t wait to see what happens next.

This post was inspired and informed by the panel “Social TV: No Return to Regularly Scheduled Programming” at the 2014 Spredfast Summit. Want more? Download our Top 10 Big Ideas from Leading Social Marketers.'s picture

Courtney Doman

Courtney is the Content Marketing Manager at Spredfast. She focuses on sharing smart social ideas and insights to transform the way companies connect with consumers. Courtney is a passionate football fan (supporting Arsenal and the USMNT), curious traveller, and ambitious home cook.