How Media Companies are Learning from Social Conversation for ‘Always-On’ Engagement

Media companies have never had it so good. Fans tell producers just what they like in TV programming from moment to moment with every Tweet, retweet, Facebook post and YouTube view.

Data literally streams at the speed of consumer preferences in real time. But how do you make sense of this 24/7, cross-platform conversation, given the profusion (and confusion) of audience data and social analytics tools?

Media companies, of course, need to know how programs are performing across a slew of success metrics so they can assess how (if!) social engagement drives both ad monetization and higher TV viewership.


That’s why I was so excited to sit down with Shari Cleary, vice president of Strategic Insights and Research with Viacom Entertainment Group, at Pivotcon last week in New York City. This highly engaging conference brought together senior leaders of social initiatives worldwide. It also gave me the opportunity to conduct a live, streaming “fire-side chat” on the evolving role of social media in the media business with Shari, who also sits on the board of the Digital Analytics Association (DAA).

We all know there’s a massive transformation going on in media, and social platforms have dramatically changed how we all engage with TV and digital programming. Social platforms offer the opportunity to radically change relationships with fans. And no one knows that better than Shari with her digital research and analytics team responsible for audience metrics delivered to all of Viacom’s key stakeholders for Comedy Central Digital, Spike Digital and TVLand.

As Shari explained: “As an entertainment company we have so many opportunities to surprise and delight our fans with all the ways that we can provide content. We also have the opportunity to really listen to our fans, 24/7. What are they saying about last night’s episodes or a favorite episode from another year?

“Today, fans can engage with brands, franchises and talent in between episodes and between seasons in real time, and we can listen. Those conversations are constantly going on in our online, social and mobile platforms, on fans’ Facebook sites with friends, and the program apps that continuously provide new online content for shows.”

I asked Shari to bring it alive for the Pivotcon audience by giving us a real example of how fans engage today. She used Comedy Central’s, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to illustrate how fans get engaged in advance of a show by tweeting about guests who have been announced, then chatting on Twitter and Facebook during the airing of segments on TV. They can also catch full episodes using the app the next morning when going to work on the train. They can post online or on Facebook platforms after the show. Plus, there are the traditional Nielsen ratings.

“Social marketers and analysts need to make sure all the data is brought together in one place… you need that 360-degree view to understand the cross-platform story,” she explained.

In our conversation, we looked back at our experiences a decade ago in web analytics, when it became apparent that high-level reach metrics like number of unique, online visitors didn’t provide enough useable insight into consumer behavior. Likewise, high-level reach metrics for social media such as number of Facebook Likes or Twitter followers are less valuable than metrics reflecting engagement: people chatting about a show, retweets and percent of audience truly engaged with a Facebook page. We need to carry that knowledge gained from web analytics into social analytics.

Not surprisingly, segmentation holds the key to success. Social has the benefit of not just providing high-level reach/engagement metrics, but also offers a direct window into how individual fans feel about programming from tweets, posts and other comments. Since not all fans are created equal, it is important to identify the truly passionate ones early on, and build a rich relationship with them, Shari pointed out.

But none of this is easy, to say the least. The number of analytical tools to track social engagement now represents an embarrassment of riches, with some companies using upwards of 20 tools to track the increasing number of social platforms.

Yet what is really required to gain the full value of social as a kind of listening post–to achieve that 360-degree view Shari talks about–is to measure, aggregate and analyze data across all of these engagement platforms.

Media companies need to listen across all touch points, aggregate the data and make sense of it all, to decipher what truly engages audiences. As Shari says, this is an always-on conversation.

Bottom line, Shari and I agree on both the extraordinary value and challenge of using social analytics as a decision-support solution. Media companies serve two masters; they need to deliver advertising revenue, but they also need to build loyalty through social engagement. This is especially critical for new shows.

Deeper and continuous understanding of the fan base across all engagement platforms will give media companies the ability to deliver on both fronts. And that’s good news both for media and their viewers.

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