Back in the old days, i.e., PF&T (pre-Facebook and Twitter), American Idol fans were still social. Yet instead of status updates and tweets, they did what they could with “the technology of those times,” explained Don Wilcox, Fox’s vp and gm of branded entertainment. That is, if you wanted to debate Justin vs. Kelly, you’d log onto message boards on AmericanIdol.com or, shudder, MySpace “before the exodus,” Wilcox joked.
Now, in this social TV era, the aging Idol franchise appears to have pivoted brilliantly. According to the social analytics firm Bluefin Labs, Idol—which wrapped season 11 last night—generated 5,956,134 total social comments, an all-time record in this medium’s short history.
That’s 121 percent better than NBC’s The Voice, which generated 2,698,460 total comments, despite being the newer and arguably far buzzier show this season. During Wednesday's finale, Idol registered 594,469 social mentions per hour.
Of course, Idol also lends itself perfectly to social TV interaction, given its season-long competition and the fact that it airs live. “We’ve always been about giving fans a voice [no pun intended] and cultivating fervor about the show,” said Wilcox. “Last year we really just dipped our toe in social TV, but this year was our first really big push.”
While the show’s high-profile judges and hosts—like Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Seacrest—periodically mention Idol in their social media comments, the big push for social TV presence came from stunts created for the contestants and their rabid fan bases. Rather than just throwing a hashtag up on the screen occasionally, Idol execs looked to capture moments in the show that lent themselves to channel social media activity.
“Our social presence used to be purely digital,” said Wilcox. “This year we used TV to prompt audiences.” For example, during the show, Seacrest periodically urged fans to tweet to #MyIdol to declare their favorite singers, or tweet at #idolbackstage to unlock exclusive content on AmericanIdol.com (once 10,000 fans joined in). “Our intent was to prompt audiences. There were times when we literally clogged up Twitter,” said Wilcox.
While Twitter served as the show’s real-time commenting vehicle, Facebook often took on the role of a gathering place for the show’s 9 million or so viewers.