Want to make a show more social? Start with the script

Much of what we think about when it comes to social TV happens when a show hits the air and viewers start tweeting about it and sharing moments on Facebook. But to truly leverage social media to promote a TV series, networks need to think about how the campaign will fit in to the content itself.

TV execs at the Social TV Summit, in Los Angeles, discussed strategies for reaching audiences on social networks like Facebook and Twitter and how those social tools can be used to increase ratings. For a number of shows, those efforts are increasingly being made part of the production process itself, as networks plant the seeds for later social campaigns into the script of shows long before they air.

Stephanie Gibbons, the EVP of Marketing and On-Air Promotion at FX Network (s NWS), used the example of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as one show that has embraced social media by integrating shareable elements into the script. To do so, FX has begun putting producers focused solely on social media directly into its productions. FX also benefits from cast member and rabid Twitter user Danny DeVito, who frequently interacts with fans.

In addition to integrated campaigns at the script level, FX has been driving viewership through social media by offering incentives for viewers to tune in and tweet during designated times to get exclusive gear — for instance, an It’s Always Sunny t-shirt that’s only available for a limited time.

While integrating social elements into scripted series can provide a boost to ratings, live events, sports and competitive reality shows are perhaps best poised to take advantage of social media. NBC, (s CMCSA) for example, leaned heavily on social media to promote The Voice by encouraging celebrity coaches like Cee-Lo Green and Christina Aguilera and participants in the competitive reality series to tweet before, during and after the show. Peter Naylor, the EVP of Digital Media Sales for NBC, said the effort resulted in creating a 24/7 conversation with fans, rather than having it end when the show was over. That initiative helped the competitive reality show become the surprise hit of the summer.

The live nature of sports also provides a perfect opportunity for networks to interact with fans, according to Turner (s TWX) VP of Emerging Media Peter Scott. For the digital portion of the NCAA March Madness tournament, which Turner took over from CBS (s CBS) this year, the company used social media to increase viewership not just on TV but also on various mobile devices. Turner got some help due to the fact that about 30 percent of its video views came from mobile devices. Users are already accustomed to using their mobile devices for tweeting and texting with friends, so integrating social features directly into its March Madness mobile apps was a no-brainer.

Going forward, Scott said he could see the network adding a dedicated social media producer to TV trucks that are used for live broadcast of sports events. That person would be responsible for helping to guide the digital conversation happening around games, adding live commentary and interacting with fans.

Photo courtesy of (CC BY-ND 2.0) Flickr user Alan Woo