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How ‘Scandal’ Paved the Way for ABC’s Twitter-Based ‘#TGIT’ Marketing Strategy

ABC hopes to power Shonda Rhimes’ takeover of Thursday night this season with an army of Twitter followers.

The network aims to build on “Scandal’s” template by promoting the night with the hashtag “#TGIT,” to focus fans on talking about “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and new entrant “How to Get Away with Murder” all night long.

Twitter, meanwhile, recently revealed the results of a study supporting the long-standing belief of uber-showrunner Rhimes and her casts that traction on Twitter — and an investment in having stars and producers live-tweet episodes along with fans — makes a difference in ratings.

“These are shows where they’ve got it down to a science to a certain extent,” said Anjali Midha, head of global media and agency research at Twitter. “They really know how to integrate Twitter, and what we now see from the data is that these guys were spot on. They really knew something about how this could drive conversation about their program.”

Midha explained that while Twitter has been in the game of developing metrics for television since 2010, it is now easier to aggregate data into a clearer picture of how Twitter is used in conjunction with television viewing. Twitter has examined the volume of conversation generated by shows where stars and producers actively engage fans, versus shows that have a more passive presence on the social media platform.

Twitter number crunchers are also able to track trends in the volume of conversation generated by specific episodes of a given program.

“There’s actually a bump when the show handle is tweeting,” Midha said, citing a 7% spike in conversation when tweets are sent from a show’s official Twitter handle. “When the cast members and talent tweet, the bump goes through the roof and there’s a 64% lift in conversation about that program,” Midha said.

Such a lift is precisely what ABC is hoping for in branding Thursday with the “#TGIT” tag, a throwback to the network’s “TGIF” themed Friday comedy block of the 1980s and ’90s. Rhimes’ Washington, D.C.-based sudser “Scandal” was one of the first programs that the net actively began promoting on Twitter, and was the first to feature a promoted hashtag in advertising “#WhoShotFitz” in 2012.

“That was really the jumping off point, realizing how marketing could accentuate what was being done,” said Darren Schillace, senior VP of marketing strategy at ABC. “We only wanted to do it with shows that have an amazing hook – and Shonda came back with shooting the president.

“People make up hashtags, but it really rallied everyone around a single thought, and that’s what made it really powerful,” he added.

Schillace commented that part of why Twitter as a form of promotion, and live-tweeting during a show, is so effective is dependent on the material audiences are talking about. “Shonda writes amazing live television shows that people don’t want to have spoiled,” he said. It didn’t take long into “Scandal’s” run for the network to notice the trend, bolstered by Rhimes’ personal interest in including her viewers in a more active way.

“I had been on Twitter for a long time and had originally used it to interact with fans and remind them when my shows were on,” said Rhimes of her own start live-tweeting. “It later became a different tool when Kerry Washington suggested that the ‘Scandal’ cast join Twitter, and I mobilized everyone to live tweet the episodes.”

“Twitter’s become a water cooler for us,” added Betsy Beers, Rhimes’ partner and an exec producer on “Scandal”. “Now everybody’s watching shows in a different span and rate. The great thing about Twitter is that you can always find a community.”

“Scandal” co-star Darby Stanchfield called the experience of live-tweeting “the closest thing I’ve had to theater in television. You’re getting to see what people think.”

ABC’s Schillace has been surprised at how granular the conversation becomes. Viewers often want to know everything from what Olivia Pope is wearing on “Scandal,” to the title and teasing lines from the next “Once Upon a Time” script, to the set details on “Castle.”

“People are really watching these shows with an eagle eye and when you start allowing fans the access to get an insider’s look and somebody answers, it’s really cool. It makes us very aware of how broad marketing really is,” he said. “It’s not just that weekly tune-in. All week long you can engage different parts of the shows.”

Live-tweeting alone, explains Midha, has the potential to further grow a program’s presence online, which will hopefully translate to more viewers on-air. “It builds a vast, very deep set of conversation, meaning that many more people are exposed to that program and conversation,” she said. “Conversation in turn is driving the kind of behavior that advertisers and networks really care about.”

Part of the new study discovered that 77% of users surveyed reported taking some kind of action after seeing TV-related tweets, including planning on watching the show later, catching episodes online, looking for more information or social media comments, and changing the channel.

“It’s so hard to close the loop,” said Schillace on how closely Twitter data compares to ratings increases.  While it is still difficult to draw direct connections between the conversation online and the number of viewers, Schillace said networks can’t afford to ignore the platform.

“We say there’s a causation not a correlation. When #WhoShotFitz happened, our ratings went up and up and up and never went down again, so it’s very much tied to the noise,” Schillace said.

“It’s really exciting,” added “Scandal” star Washington, “because we don’t learn about what’s going to happen ahead of time, so we’re always really shocked and surprised. We love being able to interact on Twitter with our fans because we can really relate to that feeling.”




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