Media Audiences Know What They Like. Are Brands Listening to Them?

Taking it past algorithms to consumer behavior

Knowing your audience can define your social strategy. Getty Images
Headshot of Gabriella Mirabelli

Social media is an integral part of media brands’ marketing and promotion. But accurate measurement and analysis remain a significant pain point in these efforts. Social listening and analytics tools abound, but it’s still difficult to answer the question: What’s the ROI of your social media promotion?

The difficulty attributing marketing dollars to aspects like sales, ratings and subscriptions has long been a challenge to marketers. But today more than ever, we’re living in a data-driven media environment, and it’s increasingly important for media brands like broadcast networks to determine how social engagement relates to their primary bottom line: linear ratings.

Laura DiVergilio, lead scientist at strategic consultancy and creative services agency Anatomy, designed and constructed an analysis to examine the correlation between social engagement (across Instagram, Facebook and YouTube) and linear primetime ratings during November 2017. Through her work, we found a statistically significant positive relationship between social engagement and ratings. But what does that mean for media brands?

Building audiences

Many series with relatively higher primetime ratings execute a consistent social media publishing strategy with clear cross-platform messaging. For example, CBS’s The Big Bang Theory posts consistently across social platforms. On Facebook, the social platform most used by CBS’s older-skewing audience, the network never fails to pair a promotion for The Big Bang Theory with navigation to a linear time or a link to CBS All Access, the network’s OTT digital service. The strategy sounds simple in theory, but in practice, developing a consistent cross-platform publishing strategy for each series within a network is incredibly challenging.

Understanding publishing nuances

Each social platform comes with its own set of features, which in turn affects audience expectations for content on that platform. Take the Facebook and Instagram accounts for ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. On Instagram, the series focuses on talent-centric pictures, while on Facebook, the series posts more videos featuring scenes from specific episodes. The difference may be subtle to an untrained eye, but the significance is clear: Each social platform needs a discrete strategy.

Interpreting audience preferences

The demographic makeup of social platforms varies widely from platform to platform. Instagram and YouTube skew younger than Facebook, making Facebook the optimal social platform to reach Gen X and baby boomer audiences. The research shows that The CW, which skews younger, published significantly more engaging Instagram posts than other networks in the sample.

Each social platform needs a discrete strategy.

The same is true in the tracking of other Gen Z networks, like Freeform, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. It’s important to maintain an active presence across social platforms, but a truly smart strategy prioritizes the social platforms on which a show’s unique audience spends the most time.

Utilizing data

Social media is a critical mechanism through which audiences discover and sample new content. In today’s increasingly noisy content landscape, social platforms are the most powerful touchpoint an entertainment publisher has at their disposal to build brand awareness. That’s why it’s important to not only get data on social engagement, but to filter that data and put it into a form that allows it to be interpreted and acted upon by the creative teams tasked with creating the content that will ultimately drive engagement, brand recognition, content discovery and linear ratings.

Minding the details

There are certain components of social posts that matter more than others. These things—the things that actually move the needle—can be adjusted and modified in ways that improve engagement. Small adjustments can yield big changes. For example, seemingly innocuous meta content (i.e., titles, descriptions, thumbnails) modifications can make a huge difference in the level of engagement a post receives. Why do these things work? It isn’t just understanding the algorithm, but also understanding human nature.

Social sciences have spent years looking at human behavior and why people do what they do. So, while understanding how social platforms’ algorithms work is important, it’s perhaps even more critical to keep in mind the person on the other side of the screen. Human behavior is a lot more predictable (and far less changeable) than any algorithm. Tapping into the science of human behavior can help crack the code of social engagement and, in turn, linear ratings.


@g_Mirabelli Gabriella Mirabelli is the evp consumer insights and brand strategy at Valence Media.