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Discovery Corrals 25M on Facebook Without 'Like-Gating'

  |  February 15, 2011   |  Comments

Cable giant has increased Facebook audience by 500 percent while focusing on content and engagement.

discoveryDiscovery Communications says it has accrued 25 million Facebook "likes" and 1.4 million Twitter followers without employing an increasingly common bait tactic. Typically called fan- or like-gating, marketers nowadays are pitching exclusive videos, contests, and special offers on their Facebook and Twitter pages, while requiring the viewer to "like" or follow them in order to participate.

Gayle Weiswasser, VP of social media communications, and Claire Alexander, VP of digital and social media strategy, have orchestrated social content efforts for Silver Spring, MD-based Discovery Communications. They co-manage a six-person team that runs 60 Facebook pages, which mostly promote TV shows on cable channels like TLC, Discovery Channel, and Animal Planet. Weiswasser said they've eschewed like-gating on Facebook in favor of an "open pages" principle, while increasing their total cross-brand "likes" by 500 percent year over year.

"Our goal is to share compelling content and encourage regular engagement, and our hope is that fans will 'like' our pages for those reasons," Weiswasser said. "We look at each post as a way to increase engagement with our existing fans and provide content that will have our fans saying, 'I'd like to share that with my friends.'"

Among Discovery Communications' family of shows, "MythBusters" has the biggest social media presence with 3.5 million "likes" and 420,000 Twitter followers. Popular Bravo Network show "Top Chef" has less than 1 million "likes" and around 20,000 followers.

Weiswasser described how her team recently cultivated engagement on the "Deadliest Catch" page. On Feb. 9, they created a photo album in memory of the reality show's "Captain" Phil Harris, who had suddenly passed away a year earlier. "[It] generated over 20,000 clicks from Facebook in only a few hours, in addition to over 4,500 'likes' and 500 comments," Weiswasser said.

In another example, her team encouraged the 1.9 million Facebook users who had "liked" the TLC show "Cake Boss" to bake car-themed confections at home along with on-air "Next Great Baker" contestants. They could then submit photos of their confections to the "Cake Boss" Facebook page to be entered in a contest. The winner was featured during the show's Jan. 24 finale, as well as on TLC.com.

"This campaign exemplified how on-air, social media, and online can work together to drive content - in this case, user-generated - and engagement across platforms," Weiswasser said. Facebook "likes" for "Cake Boss" grew by 23 percent during that time, she said. "Additionally, ['Cake Boss' star Buddy Valastro] logged onto Facebook following several episodes in the season, answering fans' questions and listening to their feedback. His participation after the finale resulted in over 4,000 'likes' and 5,000 comments, a record-breaker for the page."

Does Social Media Really Affect TV Ratings?

Of course, not all of the 25 million "likes" originated from content alone. Discovery Communications' media planning team frequently buys Facebook.com ads to help push shows on the social site, Weiswasser said. "Those plans are executed independently of our social media team," she said, "although we do try to take Facebook ad spends into consideration as we plan our messaging."

When asked if Facebook and Twitter drive TV ratings, Weiswasser pointed to a Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) report from last summer. It found that 79 percent of regular social network users said they would likely watch a show based on the recommendation of a friend on a social network. And 33 percent said they have discovered a television show via something they saw or read on a social network.

"This and other research lends support to the notion that real-time engagement around TV content on social media platforms is meaningful," Weiswasser said. "It is very difficult to isolate the individual inputs that cause a viewer to tune in. [But we] do know that social media affords us the rare opportunity to interact with fans on a personal level, and we do know that engagement in social media drives significant traffic to our online properties. We also know that social media engagement leads to extended buzz and a higher profile among online users, as well as a viral effect among fans - all of which is incredibly valuable."

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Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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