Inside look at HISTORY's success on social media [interview]

By Natan Edelsburg 

Tonight A+E Networks (which includes A&E, BIO, HISTORY, Lifetime and more) will host an upfront in NYC to unveil “what’s next” for the coming year. We’ve recently written about HISTORY’s Top Shot game and we’ve previously written about A&E’s social game for their hit “Storage Wars”. Now as HISTORY prepares to launch Hatfields & McCoys, a Civil War era show that will finally bring Bill Paxton back to a leading role (Big Love) with Kevin Costner, the network has shared details about their new social game and their overall impressive growth and engagement on Facebook.

We spoke with Evan Silverman, SVP of Digital at A+E Networks to learn more.

Lost Remote: What’s the social TV strategy for Hatfields and what’s the show about?

Evan Silverman: Hatfields & McCoys is a three-night event premiering on Memorial Day on HISTORY that tells the true story of the legendary American family feud. Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton headline an all-star cast for the six-hour miniseries. On the social TV front, we’re going to tap into the intensity of the clash and encourage fans to declare allegiance to the Hatfields or McCoys. As part of its campaign, the Marketing team produced two great pieces of creative: one featuring Costner and #Hatfields and the other featuring Paxton and #McCoys. To play into the intensity of the feud, we’ll live tweet throughout the series to promote those hashtags, feature a real-time count of the hashtag battle on History.com, launch an ‘Are You A Hatfield or McCoy?’ Facebook app. this week, and run a Hatfields & McCoys theme week on the HISTORY network Facebook page.

LR: What will the app do?

Silverman: The Facebook app will offer a brief survey to determine if you’re a Hatfield or a McCoy and then present a real-time count of users who joined each side. We’ll serve a Hatfield- or McCoy-specific video to the user based on the survey results, and a fan has the option to ‘spy on the enemy’ and watch the other side’s video. We’re also tying in a sweepstakes with the opportunity to win a flat screen TV, iPhone and more.

LR: Why the focus on Facebook?

Silverman: We approach our social TV efforts a bit differently than some of our competitors and really focus on scale and engagement. While shows like Swamp People perform very well on Twitter and we aggressively foster conversation on that platform, we’ve had tremendous success connecting with our audience through Facebook. We’re about to become only the second network ever to reach 10 million fans of its Facebook page. Our Pawn Stars game on Facebook has tallied more than a quarter-billion game plays and still averages 200,000 unique visitors per day and 1.1 million per month. Our Top Shot Facebook game launched recently and already is averaging 100,000 daily uniques and nearly 600,000 per month. It’s very easy in the digital space to be blinded by the flavor of the week, but it’s important to measure a network’s success by how many people are actually engaging with their offerings.

LR: What is the theme week that will be taking place on the Facebook page?

Silverman: Our engagement rates have risen sharply when we’ve conducted theme weeks on the official HISTORY page. In mid-April, we ran a Titanic theme week to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event and our engagement – the ‘talking about this’ metric – increased 29%. At the end of that week, our engagement rate was 35% higher than the one network ahead of HISTORY in total fans. We figured the Hatfields & McCoys offers another great opportunity for a theme week so the majority of our posts on the HISTORY page from May 24-30 will be focused on the series.

LR: How is HISTORY pushing the boundaries on social and what’s next for the coming months? How do you track success?

Silverman: Social TV is an amazing space and we’re all just scratching the surface of its potential. Experimentation is important, but delivering scale and engagement remain our guiding principles for success. So you’ll continue to see HISTORY lead on Facebook with our theme weeks, games and social stunts (sweepstakes, companion information experiences and the like) that provide volume plays for our sponsors. We’ll be doing some very interesting things to support Mankind, the network’s major series in Q4. And we’re excited to launch our partnership with social TV innovator Flingo later this summer. Flingo’s technology is embedded in smart TVs so we think we’ll be able to offer a much more seamless sync experience than a lot of the ACR-powered plays today, and we know the data we can offer to our advertisers will be appealing.

LR: How has HISTORY grown on linear and social?

Silverman: HISTORY had five of the top 10 series on cable in Q1 and enjoys similar success in the digital space. It’s not as sexy a story, but HISTORY.com had 75% more unique visitors (3.9 million) than USA Network, TNT and TBS combined in March, the most recent month reported by comScore. HISTORY is the number two brand on Foursquare and followers interacted with our tips more consistently than any other brand over the last six months. We’re the leader in Facebook games among TV companies. The numbers speak for themselves. The reality is HISTORY delivers an engaged audience at scale across multiple platforms like none of its competitors.