Tony Bourdain Live Tweeting Success Spurs Travel Channel to Do More

bourdain-twitterExpect a lot more Twitter, Facebook and GetGlue tie-ins from Travel Channel. Following a successful first-time live tweeting initiative during last week’s season premier of Anthony Bourdain vehicle “No Reservations,” the network is planning to duplicate the experience for other Travel Channel programs, including future episodes of the Bourdain show.

“We’re looking for other people such as [Bourdain’s] sidekicks to tweet for him,” said a Travel Channel spokeswoman. “We want to be able to maintain the momentum.” Sidekicks are people who travel along with Bourdain during his overseas escapades, and who sometimes appear on screen.

In addition to exceeding the ratings for last season’s premier of No Reservations – a long-running program featuring the sometimes wayward adventures of wordsmith, traveler and ex-gourmet chef Anthony Bourdain – the show’s @NoReservations account was mentioned around 8,500 times during the hour it was broadcast February 28. Also according to Travel Channel, “hundreds of thousands” of people posted tweets to @NoReservations in that hour. The show reaped approximately 6,000 new Twitter followers.

“This is the first time we had talent tweeting live,” said the spokeswoman. “Based on the success of that we’re putting together a plan moving forward” for live tweeting during other shows, she said.

This was no off-the-cuff project. While Bourdain himself suggested that the effort was inspired by Howard Stern’s seemingly-spontaneous live tweet session during an HBO airing of his 1997 film, “Private Parts,” Travel Channel planned the No Reservations live tweet event along with the show’s star for about a month.

The February 28 episode was especially ripe for the social media marketing project. In addition to being a season premier, it was an especially topical show, set in earthquake-ravaged Port au Prince, Haiti, and featuring acclaimed film actor and activist Sean Penn, founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

The idea to turn the episode into a live tweeting event “originated from the network,” said the Travel Channel spokeswoman. “It was an idea to be able to bring in fans to the conversation about the issue with Haiti and drive that tune-in.”

Getting the typically cynical Bourdain on board was not difficult, she said. “He was very, very excited and agreed to it. He thought it was a fantastic idea.”

Indeed, Bourdain said so himself in a pre-show @NoReservations post last week in which he admitted that he “indeed ripped off this most excellent idea from @howardstern A damn good idea is a damn good idea forever.”

Bourdain carried on with his live tweeting during the airing of the latest episode March 7, set in Cambodia.

The build-up was more than organic. Travel Channel ran Facebook ads promoting the live tweet event for a week leading up the show. Along with people who already “like” the show on Facebook, the network targeted ads to Sean Penn fans, foodies, travelers, and similar shows on other channels. Also, recognizing the Haiti recovery theme of the program, said the spokeswoman, “We targeted folks who follow Haitian issues. We were able to segment an audience from that.”

noreservations-getglueWhen people clicked to “like” the ad, Travel Channel considered this intent to watch the show. On February 25, just a few days before the premier, the Facebook page for “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” scored its one millionth “like.” The account has since accrued an additional 38,000. “That was partially driven by the Facebook media buy,” said Kate Gold, Scripps Networks social media director.

The network also encouraged people to watch through a partnership with entertainment check-in service GetGlue; it offered a pre-show “Coming Soon” sticker and another check-in sticker for the actual show. “Tonight’s premiere of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations is about more than food as Tony journeys to Haiti,” read the virtual sticker.

According to Gold, thousands of people checked in to get the stickers, and both stickers combined had a reach of 1.5 million people across Facebook and Twitter, based on the number of people following those sticker holders.

Travel Channel also offers stickers for shows including “Bizarre Foods” and “Ghost Adventures,” said Gold. “We’re working on stickers for new shows such as ‘Deathwish Movers,’ ” she added. The new program is a reality show about a Boston moving company.

Another big driver of the live tweeting engagement was the TV show itself. Throughout the episode, watermark-style in-program messages (IPMs) emblazoned on the lower right hand corner of the screen alerted viewers to the fact that “Tony’s Tweeting Live @NoReservations.” The messages shifted to promote the Get Glue check-ins to “Earn Tony Stickers,” and to “Tweet with Tony Live.”

The IPMs also promoted J/P Haitian Relief Organization. In addition, the @NoReservations account reposted a tweet declaring, “Help Sean Penn’s effort to rebuild #Haiti TEXT the Word JPHRO…to 41010 to Support with a $10 donation.” Bourdain later wrote, “Thanks to all who responded to JP/HRO. I hear their site briefly crashed from volume.”

Concluded Gold, “It’s really about the conversation [and] programming our social media engagement to spark that conversation.”

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