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You know their shows: Shark Week, Swamp Brothers, Deadliest Catch, Man vs. Wild and more. Discovery Communications is a TV titan, and social media has become a big priority for the company in promoting its shows and building communities of impassioned fans. Mashable spoke with Gayle Weisswasser, VP of social media communications at Discovery Communications to get the low-down on their social media strategy.
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Though the network launched Facebook Pages in early 2009, it's only in the last 12 to 18 months that efforts on social platforms have been "as focused and deliberate as they are now." Discovery is the number one non-fiction media company in the world and has a large base of obsessed fans, so the network is constantly incorporating social media as part of the overall strategy. "It's part of everything we do, from our .com pages to our marketing plans," Weisswasser says. "Our philosophy on social media is to use it as a platform that enhances the viewing experience and the relationship with the viewers." She goes on to outline the social media team's four primary goals:
- Build relationships and engage with fans
- Personalize the brand
- Strengthen fan-talent relations
- Drive tune-in
In addition to running 24 hours of programming on several channels -- the Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and more -- the network produces a breadth of content for the web, including individual show pages, network pages, vertical pages and blogs. Discovery owns more than 70 Facebook Pages, with a footprint approaching 43 million fans -- and getting 500,000 more each week -- while its 120 Twitter accounts boast 2.4 million followers. As for that inevitable ROI question, Weisswasser says, "It's hard to deny the value of such a huge group of fans, and its hard to deny the influence of all these people who have raised their hands and said, 'I’m interested, I’m a fan.'" The fans' enthusiasm on social has encouraged and fostered a very direct connection between the shows and the audience.
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That enthusiasm is driven by an an exciting mix of content. Since Discovery produces TV content, it's not surprising that video is expertly-produced and resonates very well with the fans. Other content includes blog post, sneak peeks, photos from the set, personal pics from a show's talent and links that are related to a show's premise (i.e. geology, cooking, etc.). You'll notice that many of the links on Facebook and Twitter go to original content on Discovery.com -- the network is good at integrating and promoting its content and not treating each platform as a distinct entity, but rather as one unit with many parts that build on and enhance the others.
But Discovery also excels at posting relevant content from all over the web, which keeps the conversation going. On the What Not To Wear Page, you'll find links to articles about fall fashion trends, and you'll find recipes on the DC Cupcakes Page."We serve as a curator of topics for our fans," says Weisswasser. "Content may not have anything to do with the show, but it is relevant to our viewers."
The overall goal is to have the best content they can -- they want people coming back because the content is interesting and engaging. Weisswasser says the Discovery team wants to make content as accessible as possible and doesn't believe in like-gating. "We want the content to speak for itself," she says. "If it's compelling, people will want it -- that's how we got this footprint."
As social TV goes mainstream, it's should come as no surprise that this year's Shark Week was the biggest ever -- it was #1 on Trendrr's social TV rankings for that week. There were more than 750,000 tweets mentioning Shark Week, which is an eight-fold increase over last year, and the chatter helped the @SharkWeek handle grow to 60,000 followers. The social media team saw engagement from more than 100 celebrities and other high-profile tweeters, while #SharkWeek and specific shows trended organically -- both in the U.S. and worldwide -- several nights throughout the week. The Shark Week Photo Frenzy -- a call for fans to submit photos of how they celebrate Shark Week -- got 600,000 pageviews and more than 1,000 submissions, in addition to 80,000 views of the Photo Frenzy tab on Facebook.
Part of this year's success is in part to a co-viewing iPad app that lets people who were watching in real-time participate in social conversations on their computers, iPhones and iPads. Content such as quizzes was created specifically for the app, and the supplemental information enhanced the viewing experience and helped to increase the conversation around Shark Week, with a heavy emphasis on social.
The Shark Week Facebook Page saw immense activity this year. It got 30,000 fans in a single day, and 116,000 fans throughout the week. Oddly enough, Crenshaw says the “New Likes” trend was shaped like a shark fin. Facebook posts were viewed 6.8 million times and garnered 18,000 total Likes.
The website was extremely active, too, largely in part to referrals from social sites. Shark Week content on Discovery.com garnered 956,000 visits -- the second highest in the franchise's 24-year history -- and accounted for 32% of traffic to Discovery.com. There were 2.7 million streams of Shark Week content.
Whle Shark Week comes but once a year, Discovery lives every week like it's Shark Week. The network wisely continues the conversation the other 51 weeks of the year too, posting links related to shark sightings, legislation concerning marine life and videos of sharks in action on the Shark Week Facebook Page, keeping that audience engaged and excited for Shark Week 2012.
The Cake Boss' Secret Ingredient: Social
Weisswasser and Matt Crenshaw, Discovery's VP of marketing and analytics cite the Cake Boss Facebook Page as one of the strongest brand presences in the Discovery portfolio. The page is populated with cake slideshows, video clips, recipes and quizzes. Here are some stats:
- Cake Boss fans have increased 76% since January
- The Page surpassed 3 million fans in August 2011, prompting Buddy Valastro to record a special shout to the Facebook fans. Carlos Bakery baked a special cake in honor of the occasion.
- Cake Boss web content averages 24,000 referrals and 191,000 pageviews per week from the Cake Boss Facebook Page
- Cake Boss posts are viewed 20 million times per month by fans and friends of fans
- The "Ultimate Cake Boss Fan Quiz" on July 14th generated 24,000 referrals and 347,000 pageviews
Getting Talent on Board
One of the things that separates Discovery from a lot of other networks is that their talent actually has ... talent. It's not scripted -- the network covers real people with awesome jobs and quirky interests, like Valastro, MythBusters' Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, and Storm Chaser's Reed Timmer. The 30 minutes when they're on TV each week is just a snapshot of the exciting lives they lead, but social media allows the network to continue the conversation 24/7. Talent has readily adopted social media and are actively engaged with their fans, going to far as to live-tweet an episode.
Bear Grylls offers survival tips in case you get stuck in the wild. Stacy London of What Not To Wear shares what's in her closet. When Hurricane Irene was threatening the East Coast, Timmer of Storm Chasers captured video and shares his expertise with fans. These promotions are completely disparate from what happens on-air, but they're complementary and relevant. Such interaction strengthens the relationship between the talent and the audience and gets consumers more invested in the content online and on the tube. "They understand what social media does for their own brand and for their program," Weisswasser says. "It's a great win all around." And while shows don't run year-round, the social web can still engage an audience and distribute online content, which is valuable both for the talent's brand-building and Discovery's audience retention.
The Discovery producers have noticed the increased levels of engagement from this round-the-clock social media interaction, and this season, tweets and Facebook updates will be featured as part of the show. "It's not an afterthought, it's in production," Weisswasser says.
Discovery's Social Media Team
The Discovery social media team is divided into two groups -- an "art" side and a "science" side. The art side is part of corporate communications and handles content and tone, focusing on engagement and interaction with fans. Basically, they deal with the words and use the social web as a focus group from which they get real-time feedback. The science side is in the digital group, and that team focuses on analytics and metrics (fans, clicks, tweets, retweets, mentions, comments), optimizing pages to drive traffic to Discovery's web properties. Crenshaw says his team is trying to do what all media companies are attempting -- to determine the correlation between ratings and social. But sometimes it's not just about metrics --"We can tell anecdotally if social is serving its purpose," Crenshaw says. "We’ll post about a show, and someone will say, 'Oh I didn’t know this was on tonight,' or they'll tweet asking what show to watch and we'll tell them 'MythBusters.'" The digital team also uses social media to identify and prevent crises, which can bubble up through Twitter and Facebook and be addressed and quelled before they become major blunders.
The team has 10 full-time people and operates like a small agency within Discovery. "Our 'clients' are the individual networks, and we have team members embedded in all of our network teams who work very closely with network comm and digital teams," to make sure the social strategy for each show is aligned with its network's priorities, Weisswasser says. She emphasizes the benefits of having a centralized team -- everyone sits next to one another on the same floor, shares best practices, uses the same tools and platforms and works on cross-network promotion, which helps the network capitalize on its vast and diverse audience.
Weisswasser says having a dedicated team in-house is a real investment for Discovery, and it's "a testament to the company’s recognition of social media."
Series supported by Spredfast
The Social Brands Series is supported by Spredfast, which provides an enterprise-class social media management platform helping organizations unlock their social business potential. The Spredfast platform provides a unified system for managing, monitoring and measuring social media programs for better business results. Discover best practices & proven tactics for using social for business with the Social Media Pocket Guide.
This story originally published on Mashable here.