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Cablers Study Social Media

Social media execs create authentic ways to engage fans

Now that second-screen viewing and audience participation are mainstays, networks can gauge immediate fan reactions and be a part of the conversation.
Just how they choose to do that depends on the networks.

“We see ourselves as conversation DJs,” says Sabrina Caluori, HBO’s vice president of social media and performance marketing. “It’s our job to kind of stoke the fires of fandom week after week.”

This includes anything from asking fans to share photos of themselves dressed as the characters of “Girls” for the show’s season two premiere to creating the mobile- and Web-based app Join the Realm where “Game of Thrones” superfans, excited for the new season, can create their own house sigil. (Rival network Showtime has similar campaigns; season seven of “Dexter” had a fan art contest that featured the finalists in a pop art gallery in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, and “Homeland” has an interactive surveillance game. Cabler also has the second-screen interactive Showtime Sync App.)

At HBO, Caluori’s staff started a Tumblr blog to live-GIF episodes of the Julia Louis-Dreyfus starrer “Veep,” which she says was “kind of pouring gasoline on a behavior” that fans were already doing while also allowing the network to have some control over the conversation.

Drumming up excitement before and during a show’s premiere is expected and essential, but, in social media land, there is no off-season — especially for reality TV.

“Don Draper is not Don Draper when ‘Mad Men’ is not airing, whereas our characters are real people,” says Guhan Selvaretnam, senior vice president of digital media at Discovery Communications, which owns such reality-skewing networks as TLC, Animal Planet and the Science channel.

Discovery uses social media to show its talent at work even when the cameras aren’t rolling. The staff of “Say Yes to the Dress” tweeted and pinned Pinterest images of the gowns they saw at the spring bridal market in April and let fans inform their purchase decisions. Animal Planet has the original video series “Turtleman Takes Manhattan,” which follows “Call of the Wildman” star, Ernie Brown Jr., in fish-out-of-water situations. On-air promotions tease these webisodes.

“When you think about social and companion content, No. 1 is the value in that companion experience,” says Selvaretnam. “The important thing is providing the immersive experience, which is to a larger extent what social integration is about … depending on the nature of the show, sometimes people want to continue that emotional connection with talent, or with a narrative, or with a show in general.”

And what about the talent? Is it almost a requirement to participate in social media now?

Not necessarily, says celebrity chef Alton Brown, who has appeared on many Food Network shows and serves as a coach on “Food Network Star.”

“I think that actors probably don’t have to do it because the audience never feels like they have a relationship with them,” Brown says. “Those of us who are essentially playing ourselves on TV, that’s different. Because people do watch us and know us and if they can have certain expounded relationships with us, they will. And for that, I think Twitter and Facebook and social media in general is extremely valuable.”

Brown’s medium of choice is Twitter. And like any good tweeter, he knows to diversify. He says he only really tweets about food when he’s answering questions or has something really cool to share, such as a recent Vine video of rabbits roasting on spits, but he also shares his experiences in the friendly skies (he’s a pilot) or helps with pet adoptions (he has a soft spot for corgis).

Still, as with the television shows they are promoting, social-media marketers must know when to pull back if they feel they’re reaching a “jumping the shark” moment.

“We think about the world of the show and how we can extend that in a way that feels authentic to the original programming,” says HBO’s Caluori. “It wouldn’t make sense for us to do something with FourSquare check-ins for Westeros for ‘Game of Thrones.’ It wouldn’t feel authentic to that world.”

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