helping brands make perfect sense of social media, from IAB UK’s social media council

By Mark Jennings, Account Director at social media agency FreshNetworks.

According to OFCOM/Times Online research almost 9 in 10 people aged 25-34 say they’ve dabbled with some other form of media whilst watching TV. Over 1 in 3 of all ages have gone online while watching TV.

This approach of splitting attention across one or more devices has become known as media stacking – at its basic level that could be tweeting while watching Question Time, at an extreme level, watching Come Dine With Me while tweeting, engaging on a branded community (say, using Facebook on your laptop). People are now even talking about quad stacking where 4 devices are vying for attention at one time.

Is TV Dead? Is social media killing it?
So the days of families exclusively gathering to watch television together – glued to the same show – are long gone. But in the same way that on-demand has not killed linear television, social media has not killed television – in fact it seems to be amplifying its effects.  We’re now engaging more deeply by accessing the ‘back channel’ of social commentary and debate alongside traditional viewing.  But is it great news for broadcasters and advertisers?

Facts and figures
To set the context, here are some figures. As you may have guessed, media stacking is highest in the 20-something age group.

YouGov study – August 2010
86% of 18-24 year olds polled stated that they have participated in another social media activity centred around the show they were currently watching

56% the above 86 percent of those polled still text while watching TV while the rest use Twitter/Facebook etc to chat about their favourite show.

Digital Clarity March 2011
72% of under 25s used Twitter, Facebook or a mobile app to comment on shows

Evolution of media stacking with social networks
We’re seeing this behaviour fall into four distinct categories:

User led
Social networks and media stacking are natural partners: at its most basic, people are using Twitter, Facebook and other networks to engage with content related to programmes, discuss their views or to split attention to another topic.  The big issue for traditional advertisers is how to capture consumers’ attention during ad breaks, where use of social networks increases.

Brand led
According to a Nielsen mobile study, more than 85% of mobile and PC users access the web while watching TV. Great! But only 24% were looking at content related to the TV programme, while others used it to text family and friends (56%), visit social networks (40%) and browse unrelated content (37%)

Branded communities run in conjunction with programme sponsorship are nothing new but I have yet to see really interesting innovation. We need to be able to prove that spend in this area is more relevant than other methods if we are to get real budgets for a brand led social experiences.  More measurement based approaches and fewer short term campaigns – they just don’t work for community engagement.

TV Network led
Of course television networks have the most to lose as attention wanders, and with advertising revenues already under pressure it is no surprise that the most interesting innovation is coming from the TV networks themselves.

TV networks are vying to win the fight for attention by creating their own social networks, or bringing a truly social experience to a programme. Much of this is experimental just now but I have included a few examples for reference:




In New Zealand launched a new youth channel which sees Facebook heavily integrated to create an interactive entertainment and music show

The backbone of the schedule is U live, a show that features chat and commentary driven by a Facebook app. It includes profile pictures, comments and polling activity which automatically become part of the programme.

And on Sunday nights, viewers get to be the programmers.  People can enter a competition to be the U programmer for a month via the channel’s Facebook page and website. The winner will effectively “own” the slot, choosing what viewers watch.




US channel HBO ran the Howard Stern movie Private Parts with Stern himself commenting live on Twitter throughout the broadcast.

Social network led
Social networks are clamouring to own and monetise this space. Speaking at Mobile World Congress recently, Twitter’s Dick Costolo claimed that the search for the second screen was over: “That second screen is Twitter,” he said, while Robin Sloan of Twitter’s media partnership team said – “Our goal is to get Twitter integrated into TV shows”.

News networks, such as the Washington Post and Al Jazeera are already using promoted tweets to tell people about their news contents and live streams.

So what are the opportunities for brands?
In a nutshell, this is Word-of-mouth Central. Here you have the ability to create opportunities for your brand to be appreciated, discussed and shared within the context of television viewing. But to make it work, strategy is the name of the game. First off, there are some important questions for brands to consider:

•    Can your adverts kick start a journey that consumers own on their mobile rather than ignoring your message during the ad break?
•    Can you enhance the viewing experience by providing a social space for fans to share the experience together, while drawing viewers closer to your brand? (ABC did this effectively with their Dancing With The Stars Facebook page, attracting 2.5 million fans and averaging around 3000 comments per update).
•    Is your online community geared up to be found by people searching for programme related content?
•    Can you create unofficial communities around programmes that become more popular than the official channels – what value does your brand provide to the attention-short consumer at this crucial time?
•    And crucially, how closely can you draw the viewer/consumer to the buying cycle? What are the levers?  What is the call to action?  How do you capitalise on the possibilities for engagement and advocacy while viewers are in the social viewing zone?

The upshot
Ultimately, this is an exciting time for brands – opportunities abound in this evolution of consumer behaviour. Yet it will become no easier: suggestible, attention-poor consumers and a strong desire for brands and advertisers to grab a piece of the action mean that those who succeed will need to be super-smart in their approach, achieving an almost exquisite balance of relevance, novelty and deep consumer understanding.

This can’t be achieved overnight.  As we understand this emerging behaviour better, relevance and understanding will increase.  And then it’s down to brands, agencies and advertisers to do what they do best – provide novelty and talking points, but x10.

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