There was a time when sitting down in front of the TV was a family affair. It was me, Dad, Mum and maybe a dog. The little brother was tucked up in bed and the little sister, well, she was far off into the future. And while there would be the occasional conversation – mostly during the ad breaks between episodes of Prisoner – or when the footy would break at the end of six – watching TV was a shared experience with limited variation.
These days, the tables have turned.
Sure, we still arrange rooms around a large glowing screen. But it’s not just one glowing screen in the room any longer. The big one on the wall fights for attention with the various smaller devices – smartphones, tablets and notebooks that adorn our laps. TV is no longer the centre of authority in our night’s entertainment – it’s just the context for a much broader conversation.
TV shifts from content to context
One of the most interesting transformations that has come about in recent years is the demotion of TV from centre of an experience to the frame for that experience. These days, TV is just the start of a conversational journey that happens within a home. From there, hundreds, thousands, millions of streams of opinion, humour, sarcasm and even spoilers, issue forth from the devices of the people who are consuming shows while simultaneously co-creating as-yet-unwritten meta-narratives via Twitter, Facebook and specialist apps like Beamly or GetGlue. The shows provide the context into which “prosumers” pour their creative energies and content.
What does this look like?
ABC’s Q&A program creating earned audiences
A great example of social media connecting audiences is Australian Broadcasting Service’s Q&A program. Actively curated for live amplification during broadcasting, the #QandA stream prompts conversations amongst participants, friends and connections along with a generous smattering of online trolling and vitriol.
Some participants argue with points raised live on the show, some share links supporting their arguments and others just simply throw their best lines into the void hoping that their 140 characters will somehow be picked up and shared with the TV audience. One of the more prolific protagonists, Wolf Cocklin, has gone so far as to create a line of #QandA related merchandise that he sells via creative community/marketplace, Red Bubble.
Tellingly, this audience sprang up organically, adopting the #QandA hashtag and generating a massive stream of content. At first, the QandA producers appeared unaware or uncertain of how to approach this new community of viewers. After all, they were at times, unruly and prone to swearing. But as an “earned audience”, it was icing on the cake of broadcasting. For while TV runs multiple rounds of surveys to understand (and extrapolate) viewership, people who participate using #QandA:
- Self identify
- Reveal a range of interests via their profile and publishing
- Share networks of others
- Rally audiences and grow reach
In many ways, this audience is the programmer’s dream. So it makes sense that before too long, tweets began appearing on-screen and spurred on by the promise of 5 seconds of fame, participants responded, growing a massive audience that spans Australia’s three timezones.
The last couple of months has also seen participants publishing their tweets many hours ahead of broadcasting. This strategy seems designed to maximise the possibility of a tweet being broadcast. After all, the views of the show’s panellists are known in advance as are the hot topics of the moment. And if you can give the producers a few easy, early tweets that can be loaded into the system, then everyone wins.
Bridging the brand and consumer gap with earned audiences
While the lessons from #QandA are interesting, it would appear at first glance, that going from “conversation to conversion” is more challenging. For some time, marketers have been keen to identify the connection between social media and sales – with many giving up the ghost. But new research sponsored by Twitter seems to suggest that Twitter-based brand exposure does indeed drive action. This includes:
- Visiting brand websites
- Visiting brand Twitter pages
- Searching for the brand
- Consider trying the brand
- Retweeting the brand
As expected, the tweets that originated from the brand were less effective than those that originated organically (or appeared to be organic).
While this is interesting research, it smacks a little of research that shows that “radio ads are more effective”. For no matter how engaged or how “managed” a branded social channel may be, Twitter chats, hashtags and the like remain wild, contested territories for brands. Yes, there can be cut through, but it comes with risks.
And while the stickiness, energy and passion that comes with social media may be the flame to the marketer’s moth, an earned audience is not a PERMISSIVE audience. And just because people are talking about you, doesn’t mean that they want to talk TO you. That requires a whole different level of trust. And it’s a world away from TV.