He blogs. He tweets. He's got an app. He's even the force behind a popular hashtag game.
TV host and comedian Jimmy Fallon glides in and out of social networks with the dexterity of a professional skateboarder. And fans and followers are cheering him on. "Jay Leno get off my TV I want Late Night with JIMMY FALLON!! #falpals #LNJF," tweeted @cutecakes100 this month.
Fallon, along with NBCUniversal digital media executives from brands such as Bravo, Oxygen, and Syfy, this week highlighted their work on social networks during a symposium at Rockefeller Plaza's studio 8H, home of "Saturday Night Live." The goal: demonstrate that social networks and apps have helped the media and entertainment company extend its reach and that there are opportunities for advertisers to come along for the ride.
Fallon is proving to be an effective social pitchman - even though his social media chops partially come from a deep-seated need. "I'd go home and watch the show and see people commenting live. As a comedian, you're so neurotic you want feedback from anybody…I spent the first couple of nights obsessed with Twitter feedback," he said, recalling the early days of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."
Actually, five months before "Late Night" launched in March 2009, Fallon and Gavin Purcell, co-producer, ventured online to promote it and connect with people. "We wanted to start online to make it more of a hands-on type of show," Fallon said.
His first effort? Launch a blog with video from his stand-up work. "It was baptism by fire. We had no writers. We had no editors," Fallon recalled. Purcell improvised, using Final Cut to edit the video and Wi-Fi service in a bar to upload it to Fallon's blog.
Since then, Fallon and his team took further steps to effectively marry the TV program with online conversations – and weave those conversations back into the show.
Consider the time that Fallon appealed to his audience to follow Bryan Brinkman (@bryanbrinkman), who only had 10 Twitter followers. "I don't know if he's funny. I don't know if he's interesting…overnight, he got 30,000 followers. It changed his life," Fallon joked.
Two "Late Night" writers - Gerard Bradford and Michael Dicenzo - came up with the idea for the hashtag game, a popular social activity. During an episode, Fallon implores the show's audience to respond with an idea for a hashtag such as #myteacherisweird. Responses roll in on Twitter, pushing some hashtags into Twitter trending topics.
After that, Fallon reads the funnier ones on his program, taking care to mention each Twitter account author's name.
If there's one shortcoming to Fallon's social media presence, it is that "Late Night" apparently bypassed YouTube for Hulu.com, which is partially owned by NBCUniversal. On YouTube, fans can find only video clips posted by other fans.
So where do marketers fit into the so-called social TV mix? Fallon and his bosses at NBCUniversal think social TV holds great potential for brands.
"Social media is a great tool for bringing audience back from DVR-land...and time-shifted [viewing] into real-time viewing," preached Dave Cassaro, president, cable entertainment and digital ad sales at NBCUniversal. "We can turn our audience into advocates and influencers, extending our reach." And theoretically, that should be good news for advertisers – though they cannot count on the same-old :30 spot to be effective in the social arena.
Consider Fallon's iPhone apps. "One thing interesting about iPhone apps - and we want to build more of them - they are like little games to play for our audience members. It's very easy for an advertiser to come in and sponsor an app," Purcell said. ("It's also on Android, too. Not haters," interjected Fallon.)
Or the "iBanana" app that lets a user virtually peel a banana. "iBanana could be Chiquita, I guess," Fallon deadpanned. "You just peel a banana. It's a fantastic app. It's endless hours of entertainment." Or take the location-based app, which answers the simple question: Am I in Moldova? Yes or no. "[You could have] Pepsi presents, 'I'm in Moldova,'" Fallon riffed.
During the symposium, I got a chance to pose a question to Fallon: "Have you ever had anything ever blow up on you?"
He paused and then deadpanned: "We have very good security…No I have never had anything blow up on me."
"Have you ever had backlash, something you wish you had never done," I continued.
Purcell replied: "We are pretty careful. You have to be aware about this direct connection thing. You have to be aware that anything you say or do is immediately out there."
Fallon said: "It's just common sense."
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Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.
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