Why is SpongeBob is so popular on social? Nickelodeon talks about social TV strategy

By Natan Edelsburg Comment

Ever glance at the social TV charts and notice how Spongebob is consistently at the top at different parts of the day? Nickelodeon’s powerful pineapple under the sea has also created a passionate fan culture. The Viacom owned kids-focused TV network has an extremely diverse group of content that’s adored on linear and social by both their key demos and older ones that can’t stop talking.

Nickelodeon’s investment is social makes it clear that the network recognizes how important popular platforms are to reach consumers. This was the second year they used Facebook voting for the Kid’s Choice Awards, and this year they took social to the next level by incorporating Twitter and gamifying the experience. NickMom, their new slate of mom-focused programming has a large digital component. They’ve also fueled their fan base for The Legend of Korra by providing exclusive content to their Tumblr page and fan community. First Lady Michelle Obama even joined Twitter, in part to promote her appearance on iCarly.

We spoke with Nickelodeon Vice President of Consumer Marketing Jack Daley about Spongebob, The Legend of Korra, NickMom, the Kid’s Choice Awards and their approach to social media.

Lost Remote: What’s Nickelodeon’s social TV strategy?

Jack Daley: The approach differs across our franchises and channels, given the diversity in both the programming we offer and the audiences we cater to. Generally our strategy is to encourage conversation and create opportunities for consumer involvement around our programming. The output of that strategy ranges from simple things like featuring hashtags and viewer tweets on-air (Degrassi) to deeper, more meaningful engagement, like allowing the audience to influence the programming lineup (90s Are All That). We always try to reward our fans for their “fandom.”

With the volume of entertainment options that consumers have to choose from, it’s essential that we continue to develop ways for our fans to share their passion for our programming and, in doing so, provide endorsements to their broader social circles.

LR: What social platforms does Nick work with? What partners?

Daley: Our largest footprint is on Facebook, with roughly 138 million fans across all of our pages. Obviously, Twitter is also hugely important for both participation in and listening to feedback/conversations around our programming. Tumblr has definitely emerged as the third platform where we’re starting to dedicate more time and resources, whether its highlighting fan passion for the ’90s Are All That or creating original, exclusive content for The Legend of Korra. Beyond those three we’re constantly testing smaller, emerging platforms… Pinterest, GetGlue, Foursquare, etc.

LR: Spongebob is often at the top of the social TV charts. Why are so many people tweeting about Spongebob? What demographics?

Daley: Everyone loves SpongeBob. The show has been on for almost 13 years, and while it’s a kids’ show, there are millions of teens and college kids who grew up with the show. In any given month one third of our on-air audience for SpongeBob is over 18 years old. As a result, there is a massive following in social. There are nearly 50 million Facebook fans between the SpongeBob and Patrick pages.

Specific to Twitter, it goes beyond just viewers talking about the show while they’re watching. The @SpongeBob Twitter has over 450,000 followers and tweets daily affirmations from the character, many of which are receiving thousands of retweets. Fans love SpongeBob’s optimistic outlook on life and @SpongeBob gives them a little bit of that optimism every day.

LR: NickMom was recently announced, how will this new block leverage social?

Daley: NickMom is definitely being built with social incorporated from the ground up. As you can see in the NickMom blog that launched late last year, this brand is all about funny, mom-centric content. We know how powerful social is for sharing humor as well as how crucial friend-endorsements are in helping busy moms make entertainment choices. You can count on us using social to continue to define the editorial voice and provide opportunities for moms to share our content with other moms.

LR: Legend of Korra recently premiered with 4.5 million viewers? What was the social TV strategy?

Daley: The Legend of Korra is a follow-up to Nick’s hit series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, which ended in 2008. Avatar had a huge following of vocal, die-hard fans of all ages who have spent the last few years clamoring for more details on Korra. Our goal was to leverage that passion to get those fans to socialize the new show with like-minded consumers leading up to the on-air premiere. The first tactic we employed was the creation of the Korra Nation fan club, which provided fans with exclusive production artwork, animation and sneak peeks from Korra (via the Korra Nation Tumblr):

We gamified the experience by rewarding fans for sharing that content with points they could redeem for Korra prizes (including a chance to meet the show creators at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con). The other key piece to the social puzzle was the launch of KorraNation.com, a microsite that allowed users to unlock the premiere episode three weeks before the show’s April 14th premiere by reaching 100,000 new Facebook likes and shares (which they achieved in under a week). The unlocked premiere was viewed over 400k times during the 48 hours it was live. We definitely credit these efforts with helping to drive interest in the new series ahead of launch. The Legend of Korra premiered with 4.5 million total viewers, and is already one of Nickelodeon’s top three animated series.

LR: How was social used for the Kids Choice Awards?

Daley: 2012 was the second year we brought Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards voting to Facebook. We created an app that lived on a tab, but also allowed us to push the entire voting experience into the news feed. Where we really took things to the next level was with Fan Armies, which was a gamified layer to the social voting experience that pitted fans of each nominee against each other, giving them points for voting and sharing across Facebook and Twitter and stoked the competition between fan armies through a leader board showing whose fans were (collectively) the most active.