SoapNet Creating Grass-Roots Buzz

Jun 13, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Capitalizing on the fashionable new form of promotion known as “viral marketing,” SoapNet has introduced a grass-roots marketing campaign designed to fuel online word of mouth by enlisting super-soap-opera fans and webmasters of soap-oriented Web sites to spread the word about SoapNet’s new programs.

The network tested the campaign quietly during the Daytime Emmys last month and generated promising numbers. As a result, SoapNet will now layer the campaign into the marketing of its next big programming event, the premiere June 23 of the next season of its reality series “I Wanna be a Soap Star.”

If the grass-roots component continues to perform, it will become an underpinning of nearly all SoapNet marketing going forward. The goal of the campaign is to drive tune-in, increase ratings to specific programming events and own the soap category online, said Sherri York, VP of marketing at the network. She added that the campaign is a bargain for the network: It costs less than a national magazine print ad.

For the Daytime Emmys, the network recruited 52 soap-centric Web sites. Those sites corralled more than 4 million impressions for SoapNet content during the three weeks leading up to the awards ceremony, a tentpole programming event for the network, Ms. York said. SoapNet does not carry the awards ceremony but does carry its own red carpet coverage. The network earned a 0.7 rating among women 18 to 49 for its pre-show coverage, doubling its rating over last year.

Two-Prong Infrastructure

For the coming “I Wanna Be a Soap Star” campaign, the network plans to double the number of Web sites involved in the grass-roots initiative, in part by adding some reality TV Web destinations to the lineup, Ms. York said.

Here’s how the two-pronged campaign works: The grass-roots infrastructure consists of an affiliate network of webmasters of independent soap-related sites, coupled with an online team of alpha fans, dubbed the SoapNet Drama Queen Bees. The Drama Queen Bees promote SoapNet’s programming to their personal network of soap fans. SoapNet has assembled the current crew of 25 Drama Queen Bees in 10 key markets, including Detroit, St. Louis and Cincinnati, from 302 applications submitted online. SoapNet will add to their ranks going forward.

SoapNet provides content such as images, text, video, trivia, games and polls to the super-fans, who in turn forward the content to soap fans.

“The idea is that we are getting really close to the people who are about the cable programming we offer,” Ms. York said. “The Drama Queen Bees, their job is they spread the word of mouth in a different way. It’s effecting buzz.”

“The idea is that [a marketer] can reach certain key influencers,” said Alan Schulman, chief creative officer for Brand New World, which focuses on developing creative for new and emerging media. Among the ways to reach such influencers are online forms of communication such as social networking, blogs, podcasting and video blogs, he said.

While marketers have begun seeding their messages in these spaces under the radar, Mr. Schulman said, very few have tested an open, permission-based model such as the one SoapNet is employing.

In addition to the Drama Queen Bees, SoapNet relies on a webmaster network that includes general soap sites and soap portals, show-specific sites and soap actor fan sites. The webmasters sign up online and then post SoapNet-provided ad units, advertorials, video and games, said Jaime Morrison, marketing promotions manager for SoapNet.

Of a particularly viral nature are the predictor games SoapNet sends to its grass-roots leaders, including a game for “I Wanna Be a Soap Star” that will let users predict such things each week as who will get kicked off the show or have his or her nose broken. The webmasters and the Drama Queen Bees distribute the games.

Cost-Efficient Campaign

An appealing aspect of the marketing campaign is that it doesn’t cost the network much money. The webmasters receive Visa gift certificates ranging from $70 to $200 for their work. The best-performing site receives an additional prize at the end of the campaign. “When you have a passionate fan, they like being appointed and recognized for their knowledge and enthusiasm for the genre,” Ms. Morrison said. “In most cases you wouldn’t even have to pay them, but because they are doing work on our behalf, we do. It’s one of the most economical ways of marketing the network.”

While SoapNet certainly relies on traditional marketing strategies such as radio, spot cable, on-air promotions, and magazine ads to promote its shows, the viral component is critical because it allows the network to be “everywhere,” Ms. York said. Viral marketing is also virtually waste-free, because it targets specific audiences that have great interest in the programming, she said.

Ms. York said SoapNet could weave advertisers into the grass-roots campaign in the future by distributing sponsored assets to the webmasters.