Local Stations Should Be Socializing

Apr 27, 2008  •  Post A Comment

As you no doubt have heard, social networking is an American habit.
For example, before consumers make a substantial purchase from a business, many of these buyers will consult blogs or other shared opinion sources. Consulting such resources helps a buyer feel comfortable that he or she is getting an unbiased opinion.
How can this powerful dynamic be applied to a broadcast television station’s audience as well as to TV advertisers?
We recently spoke with Daniel Miller, executive VP of Neighborhood America, a leader in social media management, about how a local station and its advertisers could benefit from social networking.
TelevisionWeek: Dan, what’s the value in social networking tools to a television network affiliate?
Dan Miller: The short answer is there is very little value in social networking tools to an affiliate alone. However, there is a lot of dollar value in developing a social strategy that focuses on engagement and delivering a unique experience to the viewers. Making friends or commenting on stories is not why viewers come to a TV affiliate. There is Facebook or MySpace for that. But TV stations have something that none of those companies have, and that’s great content with built-in mass exposure. Their goal should be to take interested viewers and give them more interesting things to do that relate to their community or what they are viewing. Remember this is all driven by ad dollars, so the engagement has to be safe for advertisers and it has to be structured so viewers feel safe and confident in participating. “Water-cooler television” is all about people talking about and engaging about whatever happened the prior night and the anticipation of what will happen next.
TVWeek: How can it add value to a TV station’s viewer experience?
Mr. Miller: It will provide greater utility with an offering tailored to the individual by making hyper-local news and information, including traffic updates, accessible all the time online and via mobile rather than buried in a brief scheduled newscast. Give local viewers an opportunity to participate with programming in a way not available before—envision a local “American Idol” or a local “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” or a local “America’s Next Top Model.” All are very compelling opportunities for engagement if done right. Give the viewer an opportunity to present and share news that is personally relevant and of interest to small local communities.
TVWeek: Who in television has already had success using this new tool and how have they achieved positive results?
Mr. Miller: There are local stations that have done interesting campaigns. For the most part, though, this whole social Web thing still has them frustrated. While more ad dollars are being spent online, very little investment is being made into a digital “experience” for the local TV viewer. If we take a step back at a national level, we are seeing more strategic attempts. On the first evening of her newscast, Katie Couric created a new online community of more than 50,000 viewers by simply asking what her sign-off slogan should be. Honda and Cartoon Network did this when they asked viewers for their animation ideas. ABC News created “Scene and Heard” and was able to collect questions for the president before the State of the Union address, and President Bush was then able to answer some of those questions in his speech.
TVWeek: What do you see as the three most important elements to consider when launching a social element for a television station?
Mr. Miller: First, think about the engagement. It is not as important to be on the Web specifically as it is important to interact where the viewer is and in a way that he prefers to interact. Mobile is a medium that will create new levels of engagement that the Web simply cannot match. Use technology to deliver the experience. Don’t start with just tech or you’ll lose every time. Second, develop campaigns that help your advertisers with their business. Establish guardrails where advertisers and viewers can co-exist (think “Ask the Doctor”). If you can’t make money with it, then why do it? Lastly, have a strategy and make sure you can answer the “So what?” question. Case in point: Some companies begin with the idea, “Let’s have everyone comment on our articles!” My point is there is little business value in doing this and it will soon be taken over by an unruly, vocal minority that drives everyone else away—not to mention it’s an editorial nightmare.
TVWeek: What’s your take on what’s next in new media and television?
Mr. Miller: In the mid ’90s the focus was all about portals, aggregating content to drive eyeballs. Web 2.0 was all about people, aggregating people to push content and possibly advertisers. The next movement will be a focus on purpose, or engagement with a purpose. People will spend time on things that deliver a perceived value, where they feel their participation can make a difference or where there is a personalized entertainment/branding/advertising experience. Funny thing is, new media and television are really the same thing. People have different expectations for the experience they have with their phone, computer or television set. Leveraging the best screen in the house and the power of story and narrative to include participation—for example, phone voting on “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars”—increases the viewer’s sense of loyalty and belonging. At one point in time, all of the graphics we now take for granted around sporting events and even news programming were only found on computers and Web pages. Thirty-minute shows were the shortest windows of time we expected to commit. Now the length of time a 30-second commercial takes could be its own stand-alone piece of entertainment. Things are happening faster and faster, and the digital environment makes it very easy to cut and paste things in all kinds of new combinations, equally entertaining and engaging. It’s time for the broadcast television industry to think about how to not only create higher consumer engagement with our television messages, but also bring local TV viewers closer to us through a social media element. The consumer seems to want it, and no one ever got rich underestimating the power of the consumer.
Adam Armbruster is a senior partner with Red Bank, N.J.-based retail and broadcasting consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster & Co. He can be reached at adam@esacompany.com or 941-928-7192.


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