From the beginning, 11-year-old television sensation "American Idol" has made fans' opinions a centerpiece of the show, letting them vote with a complicated series of toll-free numbers, followed by the introduction of SMS voting in 2003. In these more modern times, the show sparks millions of social conversations each week. Fox Broadcasting wanted to harness this activity and display it in a way that would get even more fans to participate.
"We wanted to reduce the space between the at-home and in-show audiences," says Matt Moroz, senior director of digital brand management for Fox Broadcasting. Networks, sports events, and even scripted shows had begun using hashtags and highlighting individual tweets in broadcasts. The question, he says, was, "What are the most compelling ways to aggregate that audience voice and show users at home that we are capturing sentiment in real time and showing them how their response stacks up to everybody else's?"
Fox looked at different vendors and technologies before deciding to stick closer to home. It already had worked with Mass Relevance, a service that powers social interactions for major brands, including Pepsi, Callaway Golf, and CNN. It analyzes billions of pieces of social content from Twitter, Vine, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram to date, finds the most relevant pieces for a brand, develops data visualizations, and then integrates this social content onto digital surfaces such as TVs, billboards, stadium displays, websites, mobile apps, and in-store displays.
Mass Relevance had provided services such as including live polls on the website, so Moroz' production team tested its ability to use Mass Relevance's APIs to capture and visualize the real-time social activity happening during live broadcasts. It was a go, and American Idol began showing a social sentiment ticker on February 25.
Fans were asked, "Do you agree with the judges tonight?" They could respond with #IdolAgree or #IdolDisagree. Mass Relevance then displayed the real-time results of the overall sentiment of the judges' decisions.
Longtime American Idol partner AT&T, which has powered the SMS voting from the beginning, signed on as the sponsor of the social sentiment feed, which creates a novel ad unit.
The Mass Relevance module also feeds the American Idol website, the American Idol app, and its Twitter feed. Says Moroz, "You have multiple digital touch points and an in-broadcast unit that's completely new."
According to Mass Relevance, of the total overall volume of tweets around American Idol during the featured week, 27 percent contained one of two voting hashtags, #IdolAgree or #IdolDisagree. Moroz points out that, because the show already generates such a large volume of social media chatter, this increase is especially significant.
Even more impressive, perhaps, is the way the hashtags seem to have entered the vernacular. Says Moroz, "The reuse and repurposing of the hashtags lived on. We saw that #IdolAgree, etc. was a moniker people used whenever they agreed with something."
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
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