‘Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta’ and VH1 Aim to Buck Facebook Brand Trends

By Adam Flomenbaum 

LovenHipHopIn May we wrote about how Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta (LHH:ATL) was aiming to be the most social TV show of the summer. Well, it’s on its way.

Last week the show gained its 3 millionth Facebook fan, making it the most-liked VH1 show on the social network. 3 million is also more than 6.5 times the size of the actual population of Atlanta. 

The milestone also shows how the VH1 brand continues to grow on Facebook amidst across-the-board brand declines. A recent ‘Simply Measured’ report shows that, between May 2013 and May 2014, the top 10 brands on Facebook saw engagement numbers drop by an average of 40 percent.

Top brands whose engagement declined include Disney (DIS)(down 21.43 percent), Starbucks (SBUX) (down 29.43 percent) and Audi USA (down a stunning 94.77 percent).

This is despite the fact the all of the top 10 brands are generating far more posts to reach their audience. With that in mind, the engagement numbers actually look even worse, the study shows.

VH1 is bucking these trends. In the month since the premiere, LHH:ATL has gained over 800,000 Facebook fans, and VH1 as a whole is up 47% year-over-year in total engagement on its main Facebook account.

For more on LHH:ATL’s social success, VH1’s overall Facebook success, and what the network has in store for #CandidlyNicole, we spoke with Tom Chirico, VP of Social + Digital Engagement, VH1.

Lost Remote: What do you think it is about this season of LHH:ATL that’s driving so much more engagement on Facebook than seasons past?

Tom Chirico: Facebook has been tremendous, but we’ve seen amazing engagement lifts for LHH ATL this season across platforms – its really a cultural phenomenon unlike anything  else on television right now. Our season premiere generated over 2.7MM tweets – that’s more than The 2014 Oscars, The Game of Thrones finale, the Billboard Music Awards…

In my opinion Monday nights on VH1 are the most special night in social TV, because it’s the only night where the content fans are creating be it tweets, memes, videos, or status updates is JUST as important to them as the show itself. It’s the worlds biggest Def Comedy Jam, all playing out in social media. The one-upsmanship between fans to come up with the most clever one-liners or memes is just incredible – and mostly we just try to embrace and fuel that passion from our audience in the ways that we think we can add value.

LR: How does the social strategy for LHH:ATL differ from other VH1 shows?

Chirico: For every show, we tailor our social strategy for how the fans of that show want to engage with it. No two audiences are alike, and that’s a big mistake lots of content creators assume. Prior to this season, we took a deep look at data from past seasons, and talked to fans directly about where, what, and how they engage with the show. That helped us zero in on a few strategic changes we made this season:

1)   We adjusted the ‘voice’ of the LHH accounts – rather than being ‘official VH1’ big-brother, we’ve taken more of a ‘LHH’s biggest super-fan’ approach and got in on the action with cast drama, memes, etc. Viewers who aren’t fans of the accounts, the first thing they typically say to us when they become a fan is ‘I can’t believe VH1 is in on the fun, this account reminds me of a friend who watches the show.’

2)    We prioritized cast reactions – This season we introduced an Instagram 2nd screen experience with our franchise ‘checkyourself’ where we push in real time on-air and in social cast reactions to explosive moments of the show, and we ask fans to share their reactions with #checkyoselfie then put the best ones on air during the encore airings. Not only have we seen Instagram growth of over 50k fans, but we’ve seen an 80+%lift in views of the full length Check Yourself videos on Vh1.com.

3)   We’ve shown love to superfans – Each week we send exclusive GIFS, Memes, and videos to our most active fans PRIOR to the episodes so they can share that great content on Monday nights.

LR: With Facebook brand engagement numbers down across the board, how has VH1 as a whole been able to buck the trend?

Chirico: First, we partner with Facebook to closely and honestly to analyze our content on an ongoing basis and take suggestions directly from them on what we could be doing better. That coupled with an elevated focus on analytics and determining what types of posts, topics, and publishing cadence has given us real confidence in what our audience responds well to beyond just a ‘gut-feeling.’

Secondly, its cliché, but we’ve made a concerted effort to produce high quality and engaging content that you want to share. I constantly remind our team ‘if you wouldn’t share this on your personal account, don’t post it’ – luckily VH1 is such an amazing pop-culture brand that has license to be a content creator in a wide range of topics so we have a lot to work with.

Finally, we approach our Facebook fans like real friends. And friends don’t always ask friends to click on links, tune in to shows, etc. I think one of our highest performing posts this month was a dog floating on a raft in a pool that simply said “Happy National Swimming Laps Day.”

LR: We’ve written about VH1’s 24/7 approach to fan engagement for its shows. With the inherently social show #CandidlyNicole premiering in July, what will your team be doing to build buzz before the premiere and what will you be doing to keep fans engaged between episodes?

Chirico: A LOT! – With a show as funny as Candidly Nicole, and a social talent like Nicole Richie the possibilities for us are endless. The great thing about Nicole is that she’s a person you want to follow on Twitter, not just a celeb hawking their next project. That’s why the show is based on her Twitter account, because it’s the girl you wish you were friends with.

Our entire social strategy for this show is centered around letting fans see her “candid” personality and introduce her as a friend in their circles.

Prior to the season we’ve got amazing content that speaks to this, with Nicole ‘working’ at VH1 and more,  and we’re doing a lot to seed this with her loyal fans and influencers first. We’re also giving fans a chance to engage with her directly and let her personality shine – she’ll be taking over VH1’s social accounts on what we’re internally calling “Nicole Richie Day” a few days before the premiere, and also doing an AMA on Reddit.

During the season its all about extending the Tweets that guide the episode on air, to a way for fans to engage with Nicole and the show. For example if there’s a tweet in the beginning of the episode about Nicole helping a friend with online dating, we’ll follow that up with a Tweet on-air and on Twitter asking fans to share their online dating horror stories with us and feature the best ones on air.

For VH1 we see ‘watching’ the show as just the first date, we want to give you ways to connect with the characters, story lines, and content that eventually gets you to go steady with us.