Monday, March 7, 2011

Social Marketing of Premium Online Media Experiences

Here at Vertigo, we often come across "Social Integration" as a feature request for an application, particularly in our premium online video experiences. All too often, we see apps on the web that treat social integration as a checkbox on a feature list: Did I provide a link out to Facebook and Twitter? Check!

What these basic social implementations often lack is a broader understanding of the client's overall social media and social marketing strategy. Companies with a clearly defined social marketing strategy understand that there's more to social media than just allowing your users to link to your application.
We've been fortunate to work with many clients who understand that the true power of social media lies in building tools that empower your fans to participate in the creation of your content, creating a two-way conversation that doesn't exist in the world of traditional broadcast media. They also understand that this level of participation and engagement has direct and measurable marketing benefits and impact on the monetization of their content.

Conan's take
This article in Fortune describes how Conan O'Brien discovered the power of social media in reviving his career. His show on TBS is now considered to be at the forefront of online social-savvy: clips from the show are released on YouTube to generate interest (a move that most players in the broadcast world oppose, taking licensed shows off of YouTube), and each show warrants a new Twitter hash tag. The TV audience and the live audience at the taping participate in a real-time conversation on Twitter and actually get to participate and drive the content:
"Between his bits, O'Brien would come backstage and ask, "How's the tweets? How's the audience?" By reading the hashtag stream, Bleyaert recalls, O'Brien and his team could see, for example, that "some guy in the fifth row was using Twitter to try and pick up a 'girl in the white hat, three rows in front of the stage,' " and O'Brien would instantly incorporate that into his next bit."
Conan's advertisers and guests promoting their books/shows/etc. also reap the benefits of this social engagement – when you make a guest appearance on the show, you gain access not just to a TV audience, but to a massive online social audience as well.

Bringing participation to premium online video experiences
Vertigo has recently had the opportunity to build premium online media experiences that take a similar approach:
  • Focus on engagement
  • Give your fans a megaphone to tell the world what they think
  • Allow 2-way participation in the content being viewed
  • Provide tools that make the content more relevant to specific users
  • Allow rapid creation of clips to provide shareable content while it's still relevant
Some examples:

NBC's Sunday Night Football Extra 2010 and NHL Extra 2011:
NBC Sports has done a great job driving forward a modern social media strategy via their online companions to sports broadcasts. Here are some of the features we worked to build with NBC to drive greater engagement from their fan base:
  1. Allow users to have a (moderated) conversation with each other via Twitter within the application
  2. Allow users to participate in an ongoing conversation throughout the game by asking questions of Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk
  3. Provide a way for fans to wear their colors online by voting for their team in a Twitter Battle, driven by Twitter hash tags.
  4. NBC posts highlight clips of key plays within a minute or two of their happening live (via the Silverlight Rough Cut Editor). This allows fans to very quickly share out that bone-crunching tackle while the content is still hot and relevant.
  5. Built a preview window that allows fans to share specific plays of their choosing with their friends. This empowers users to find the content they care about and drive what they discuss online, not restricting them to editorially-selected clip content. This is content that is relevant to each specific user, and provides a tool for users to create their own take on the content, allowing another avenue for participation in the event.
Microsoft's PDC 2010:
The 2010 PDC event moved a large physical conference almost completely online. Microsoft recognized from the outset that to enable the level of networking and personal connections that happen at a physical conference, an aggressive social media strategy would need to be put in place. To help Microsoft achieve that goal, we built the following features in the PDC 2010 experience:
  1. Added a Twitter hash tag per session to allow users to discuss the content live in real-time
  2. Allowed real-time Q&A and Polling to allow the online audience to interact with the presenter and affect the content being presented.
  3. Quickly created clips and on-demand content with the Rough Cut Editor.
  4. Allowed bookmarking of specific locations in each session to allow users to share and discuss content relevant to them.
More engagement = more value
At the end of the day, what is the intrinsic value of all this additional participation and engagement? The answer is that it creates far more involved users. Those users will watch more video, and generate more revenue. They will also become evangelists of your content, drawing in a much larger overall audience (and again, more revenue). Moreover, those users will transcend the concept of a user, and become fans. Those fans will become a built-in marketing base (and marketing mechanism via the megaphone you gave them) for any future projects that follow similar participatory models. Finally, just like Conan's guests gain access to a huge social following by appearing on his show, the content and advertisers in your video experience will gain exposure to your social audience, which has a great deal of inherent value. An example here is NBC's Mike Florio, who now has a daily online broadcast, Pro Football Talk Live, that complements his appearance on the weekly Sunday Night Football online broadcasts.

You're not in control
One of the hesitations I often hear expressed about opening up your content to your users and fan base is the loss of control. What if my fans want the content to go in a different direction than I do? In my opinion, you're better off at least knowing that this is what your fans want, and having a 2-way channel available to discuss it with them. If you want to carve a bold vision and move in a direction you think your fans don't want now, but will like eventually, you have the tools to engage with them and let them know your thinking. And otherwise, maybe your fans have a good idea you haven't thought of: Betty White may not come to mind as a Saturday Night Live host, but perhaps listening to your online fans will net you a big success, as NBC did with the Betty White Facebook campaign.

Another concern is that if you open up the discussion to the world, people who don't like you can tarnish your image. While there are tools that can help mitigate blatantly offensive content appearing on your site, you'll probably have to accept a bit of risk that negative feedback will be made public. My opinion here is "that's OK". You're never going to please everybody, and the value of having a public discussion about your content most likely outweighs any negativity out in the ether. Furthermore, this kind of feedback can serve as a type of analytics system. If your fan base passionately speaks out about a buggy feature or a content decision they dislike, at least you know it! If you're committed to the path of building a great experience your users will love, you should have faith that your efforts will pay off and the love will drown out any negative feelings in the public sphere.

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