Discovery's Facebook Strategist Tells All

The vice president of social media at Discovery Communications explains how the network manages 70 different Facebook pages.

Readers may know Discovery Communications for its popular television shows such as “Shark Week,” “Say Yes to the Dress,” or “Cake Boss.” But did you know that the network manages 70 pages on Facebook?

Here are some more raw numbers. Discovery has a total of nine people managing its Facebook pages, which in addition to the main Discovery Channel page include ones for programs such as “Deadliest Catch” and “Man vs. Wild.”

The team regularly interacts with the estimated 36 million people who have liked the 60 or so pages under the Discovery umbrella.

Those sizeable numbers made us want to speak with Gayle Weiswasser, vice president of social media at Discovery Communications, to learn more about the company’s Facebook strategy.

What is your staff doing to try to boost engagement with your audience?

To put it simply: posting compelling content. Before we post, we at Discovery always ask ourselves, “If I were a fan of this page, would I want to check out and share this content?” By giving our fans relevant content that complements their viewing experience, we strengthen their relationships with our brands and boost engagement.

We don’t believe in like-gating; we want our content to stand for itself, so that people will organically follow our pages and want to engage with us. We also like to shine a spotlight on both our fans (through features like our Fan of the Week) and Discovery talent (with in-page engagement, video updates, etc.), since the fans really power the online conversation, and the talent is a big draw for them.

How much do Discovery’s Facebook fans engage with the page while they are watching shows on the television network?

Anecdotally, we know that Facebook and other social platforms have given viewers a reason to tune in to our shows live rather than time-shifting them. Facebook provides an instant community for fans of the same shows, and we see the conversations play out on Facebook during all of our shows, as we do on Twitter.

We want Discovery Facebook pages to complement our content, rather than compete with it, so we try not to program too much on Facebook during live airtimes. But our fans are communicating with us and with each other throughout programs, so we know that they are engaging while they are watching.

According to a May, 2011 Harris Interactive poll, one third of U.S. viewers multitask while watching TV from live or time-shifted programming, with 40 percent of those using social networking sites. As expected, these numbers skew higher with younger audiences. So we want to be there to participate when they are commenting on our shows.

Is Discovery working to synchronize various shows on the network with content on the page?

We certainly want to make sure the experience complements TV viewership, and that can include everything from responding to fans live during the show, planning a post-show chat with talent or offering a more robust social experience through our websites or mobile apps. We will be doing this with our “Shark Week Live” experience beginning July 31.

Is Discovery planning to stream video on the Facebook page?

Discovery has had great success with building a show experience across our websites, and we use Facebook to point fans to that content on a regular basis. We don’t stream long-form video on Facebook.

What skill set do you look for when making social media hires?

Most importantly, I look for passion for the Discovery brands. I want people who love the content as much as our fans do, so that they can be genuine and equally enthusiastic community members. I also look for people who live and breathe social media. Managing 70 Facebook pages, with a sizeable international following, is a 24/7 job, and I look for people who are willing to be online at odd hours. Finally, sense of humor, excellent writing skills, and creativity are key.

Where do you look for talent when hiring a Facebook administrator?

Mostly through networking, referrals and posting on social media sites like Mashable.

How does Discovery’s social media presence differ from its competitors?

We don’t believe in like-gating, or making content available only when a fan likes our pages. We want our content to stand for itself and earn the like. With 38 million fans across our footprint, we believe we are doing something right.

Also, because all of our shows are nonfiction, we are able to feature our real-world talent across social media in a way that networks with scripted programming cannot. Buddy Valastro, TLC’s Cake Boss, is a real baker, entrepreneur, and father, and that resonates with our fans.

Does Discovery have a favorite third-party app or widget it’s developed for Facebook?

We’re really excited about some of the user-generated experiences we have been able to develop with thisMoment and Tri-Media across networks that live on both Facebook and our websites — everything from the American Chopper Cadillac Charity Auction to our Shark Week Photo Frenzy coming in the next two weeks.

Here are some of our top pages:

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