TV’s Approach to Firing Up Social Fan Base Applies Across Brands

Stephen Colbert Jimmy Fallon“Give fans recognition and shine; that’s not precious to TV, it could apply to any fans out there”, said Tom Chirico, VP digital and social engagement for VH1. He appeared on a Social Media Week New York panel on Tuesday about social fandom, moderated by Lost Remote‘s Natan Edelsburg, along with Don Steele, VP digital marketing and fan engagement for Comedy Central and Tom Fishman, VP of social media for MTV.

“Fandom is different than fans, and it implies a different level of passion than casual fans. Being ‘superfans’ means having a long-term relationship with a show”, said Fishman. Passionate fans aren’t a new phenomenon, as anyone who watched the 50th anniversary of the Beatles‘ arrival in New York noted. Of course now with social media fans have more ways to interact with their favorite shows and performers than meeting their planes at the airport or mobbing their limos.

The panelists shared their conventional and unconventional methods for sparking fans’ interest.

Listen first to set the stage. “That way you’ll hear which characters are resonating. You can nurture fandom during quiet times, than see how to encourage them”, said Fishman.

“By monitoring and getting feedback you can note what makes fans tick and what adds value”, added Chirico. For example, fans wanted to learn TLC’s Creep Dance, so they created the “Fine Creep” tutorial video.

“By listening and putting out pieces in the puzzle, you allow fans to express themselves. You can get their reactions first, then expose followers to content in different places”, said Steele.

Tailor content: inform casual fans, give insider scoops to deep-dive fans. “You need to hit different levels of fans with different messages and figure out the right mix”, said Chirico.

Steele agreed, explaining that they focus on informing casual fans about what’s available in terms of shows, tours and DVDs. Still, their most influential fans warrant special attention. “We treat them as special if they’re big tweeters or superfans, and offer them show previews.”

“Insider information is sought after by fans”, said Fishman. For the VMAs, MTV offered the “plot to unlock” for Katy Perry fans, and frequent tweeters got clips of her songs. On the night of the show they allowed fans to decide her next single.

Active and timely engagement is key, real-time marketing is tricky. “You need to be involved in enough activity, and not be late. First movers are really critical regarding fan engagement”, noted Steele. “With the right approach we catch it and push it along and it explodes”. Comedy Central used that approach with Dad Academy print ads that caught on via Instagram, and with their Midnight Hashtag Wars.

However, the panelists advised caution regarding real-time marketing tactics. “It’s harder to inject oneself in outside events. It’s difficult to be funny and relevant on the fly, when both the upside and downside are great”, said Fishman.

Use multiple social media platform approach. The networks host official show accounts, talent accounts and employee accounts, and utilize various visual, video and message platforms, such as Tumblr, Instagram, Vine and Snapchat.

“Fans want to connect with the talent since they’re more rarified”, said Fishman. “But now we’ve seen an expansion of talent. It’s not just show talent, but also writers and producers behind-the-scenes.”

“Fans love to have relationships with the talent. Comedians love social media, and we’ve hosted contests for those who are most active”, added Steele.

“Fans like it when their Tumblr content is re-blogged by the official show account”, said Chirico. “We have fans of our network and diehard fans of our talent. But it’s also a unique challenge. Now much of my job is PR to make sure the talent doesn’t get in twitter wars with fans.”

(Image courtesy of Comedy Central)