How Social Media Can Save a TV Show

An essential part of every major media property these days is its social media campaign, and while there’s a wide barrier between the successful ones and those that don’t manage to build any buzz, social media can be the secret to reviving a once-dead property or boosting the ratings of a fan favorite. What’s the key? Let’s look at two examples.

The Hollywood Reporter (THR) today tells the story of the once-canceled series The Game, which, after three low-rated seasons on the CW, managed to find a new home on BET, thanks to its grassroots online support and a decline in programming for African-Americans.

Accompanying data released by Twitter shows that during the Jan 11. premiere, more than 300 Game-related tweets were being posted every second. That’s a lot of tweets, creating a buzz which undoubtedly contributed to the show’s tremendous ratings success: 7.7 million viewers, the most-watched scripted series premiere ever on ad-supported cable.

What caused this leap? THR credits the fact that when BET acquired the show, it worked within the established fan community to create its social media campaign by relying not just on Twitter, where 25 percent of users are black, but Facebook as well — even hiring a fan who’d been running her own Game Facebook page to run the official version.

Here’s another example: A case study released by Bunchball, which created the Nitro Gamification Platform used to gamify Psych online, found that adding a gaming element to the site brought noticeable improvement to Psych‘s online presence. Specifically, saw a 30-percent increase in overall site traffic, with 30,000 registered users in the first month and a 47 percent increase in online merchandise sales.

“Gamifying” means rewarding users for activities like signing into the site daily and engaging with social TV service GetGlue to “check in” to viewings of the show, leading to the accumulation of points that can be traded in for DVDs, T-shirts and other merchandise. While determining the exact relationship between ratings and these metrics isn’t possible, Psych, according to TV By the Numbers, did have strong ratings in 2010, reaching 3.09 total viewers during its last airing.

The key difference between these two approaches is that one focuses outward, with spreading the word about the show the primary goal. The other aims inward, rewarding participants inside a closed environment. The key to both approaches, though? Legitimate fan engagement. With Psych, the lure of tangible rewards like merchandise kept them active; with The Game, an under-served demographic found itself a show to champion. The first step, though, is finding the fan base — and figuring out what they want, whether it be free t-shirts or just more of the show.

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