An inside look at The CW's social TV strategy

By Natan Edelsburg Comment

The CW’s audience was born into the social web. This fact has forced the network to quickly adapt to the Gossip Girl and Vampire Diary-loving fans that are loud, passionate and screen-agnostic when it comes to programming. We spoke to Rick Haskins, The CW’s Executive Vice President of Marketing and Digital Programs about their social TV strategy.

The CW recently made some big announcements at their upfront. They’ll be running their new programming non-stop through the holidays beginning in October, a move that will benefit the short attention spans of their viewers. They’re also launching “Fandemonium,” a multi-screen game show to become the network’s number one social TV fan.

In the last year, the network has also begun giving their young viewers a better reason not to download content illegally. They’re deal with Hulu has allowed their shows to show up, legally only soon after they’ve aired. We spoke to Haskins about his social media team and their plans for the coming TV season.

Lost Remote: Are there any shows in particular that received an extraordinary amount of buzz on the social web?

Rick Haskins: Absolutely, Vampire Diaries, hands down is probably our most social. When we open up a new season, we rely almost entirely on our social media on Facebook and Twitter to get the news out that we’re coming back for a new season and we don’t rely as much as on air, because we don’t need to, because there is such an active community.

LR: Why do you think Vampire Diaries has such a powerful community?

Haskins: I mean people just go nuts for it. The other thing that’s interesting is that we never ever treat any of our social media audiences the same. For instance we know our 90120 social audience really likes music and really respond to things when we post music. America’s Next Top Model really responds to photographs. You have to be really keenly aware of the different audiences and what they respond to and give them that stimulus to initiate a dialogue.

LR: How big is the CW social media team?

Haskins: It is so big. It’s three people. It’s three people who literally coordinate for our fifty one million Facebook likes and our twenty million Twitter followers.

LR: How do they manage to do everything? Do they have to limit the number of platforms?

Haskins: I think that’s a really good question, and you know, full disclosure, we have to pick and choose where we think our priorities are. For instance a lot of times people ask “Why don’t you have Twitter accounts for this specific show?”And we can’t man that. We have actively decided that Twitter is really based on the personalities of the shows, and the Facebook pages are the show.

LR: Can you tell us about the recent initiative that was launched to become the best CW social fan?

Haskins: It is a digital show and it is part traditional game show, part competition show, and then we’re also going to be using a lot of social tools like Pinterest and Klout to find out who the number one fan is of all the fifty-one million Facebook fans that we have. It’s going to be partially in a live studio, partially via Skype, and it’s just going to be this crazy amalgamation of old school and new school.

LR: Who are you working with to execute the competition? Was it built as a Facebook app, were producers involved, writers?

Haskins: Well I can tell you where we’re at right now. We’ve had a lot of interest of people who want to executive produce it for us, and right now we are finalizing who that’s going to be. What I’m really, really looking for is someone who is as comfortable doing a show like Let’s Make a Deal as they are hosting a Pinterest board. We’re looking for people who feel comfortable residing in both those worlds.

LR: Is the CW going to be doing anything at Comic Con?

Haskins: The answer’s yes for Comic Con. We are going to be focusing in on really the new shows Arrow, and Beauty and the Beast. And then of course we’re going to be doing Supernatural, Vampire Diaries.

LR: How do you use social to launch new shows?

Haskins: The thing that’s interesting is that social media really doesn’t kick in until people have been able to sample the show and start building an affinity with it. So it’s really hard to launch a show with social. It’s much easier to maintain a show with social once you have built that audience base. So many times people say, just use your social media, and it’s not that easy.

On our Vampire Diaries page we had a, please welcome Beauty and the Beast to the neighborhood post, and if people signed up to be a Beauty and the Beast fan or like it, they got to see exclusive footage. we definitely try and cross platform like that, but I’ll tell you, you’ve got to be very very careful. I will tell you Gossip Girls for instance can’t have any cross platforms.

LR: Were fans angry about the announcement that Gossip Girl would enter it’s final season?

Haskins: Yeah. I think that there was anger about it. I think it hasn’t really set in yet. And we still haven’t really announced how many episodes it’s going to be, how we’re going to be ending the show. So, I think there is still more time for them to get even more pissed off.

LR: With such a younger audience do you ever see stuff on social about people talking about watching your programming illegally?

Haskins: Sure. We get, we used to get, we saw it, we heard it, we addressed it. A couple of months ago we went to next day streaming, because you would get comments all the time saying, “why can’t I watch Gossip Girls,” and someone would respond, “you can’t on CW but you can on ‘blank'”, and it would be one of the pirate sites. It’s on Hulu, we have a CW app. And so that’s how we’ve addressed it, is that we’ve given them the product the next day without the three day delay. And I’ll tell you we have seen results of that. And I don’t think people really want to go to a pirate site if another option is there.

LR: How closely do you work with the talent? Are you heavily involved when it comes to a launch or trainings or recommendations?

Haskins: That’s funny you should ask that. In fact yes I just l was looking at our social media bootcamp deck. When we have them on a shoot which is when we bring in all of our new stars from the shows, and we do all of the promotional, photography and video work – while they were resting or while they are in a group, we would have a social media bootcamp, and we’d talk about Facebook, we’d talk about Twitter, we’d give the explanation of what Pinterest is, and we kind of take them through what Twitter is and some rules of the road. We do that not only to our talent but later this month, we’re actually going to go to each one of the productions and give them the same.