Lessons for Marketers From the Second Screen Experience

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Wall high-techTune in to just about any show on television today and you’re sure to see the stamp of social media in some form or another. Be it, say, a series-specific hashtag intended to encourage conversation, or a call for contributions placed directly to viewers (guesses at plot twists, questions for talk show guests, votes on an episode’s outcome) – social media has taken on a prominent (and, in my opinion, an enduring) role in televised entertainment.

Of course, there are those that believe social media hasn’t yet earned a proper place at the table. Alan Wurtzel of NBC Universal, for instance, recently asserted that the hype surrounding social media was unwarranted; just 19% of viewers (26M in all) bothered to promote what they saw during the most recent Olympic cycle, suggesting, at the end of the day, that “the emperor wears no clothes.”

Still, a way has been paved for an exchange between social sites and telecasts, and there’s ample proof of just what that relationship can yield (see: the selfie at the Oscars that tore Twitter a new one). So what, if anything, can we as marketers/users of social media ultimately learn from it? Herewith, some takeaways to consider:

Enlist your fans to create content of their own.

A brand’s success on social depends largely on its ability to personalize its offers, to tailor its outreach to the forums buyers frequent and solutions they require. A number of shows have taken steps toward this already by offering custom hashtags viewers can follow, but some have gone further to solicit contributions from their audiences directly. They’ve asked for comments on plot developments, suggested changes, even revisions in story, and they’ve seen tremendous success for doing so.

Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS has been one such series to benefit from fan-made content, having mobilized its many followers on Tumblr to create .gifs of key moments in the show, circulate memes, and share sound bites. Tumblr, it should be noted, has the ability to extend chatter around shows, to keep episodes relevant longer than most other social sites, and Netflix’s investment in Tumbler has definitely seen huge returns – keeping the show in the news even while there weren’t any new episodes to air.


Polls on products you offer, calls for feature suggestions, contests around images or clips – these are all ways to strengthen your offerings and stay relevant with buyers. Think hard about the types of content that appeal to your followers and the multimedia their forums support, and plan accordingly.

Make mobile a priority.


There’s simply no way to overstate the role of mobile in driving social activity, given just how many people today rely on smartphones to access social networks; by Nielsen’s count, some 89% of all mobile users consume branded content via their devices. The AMC network has already found a way to hone in on this habit, with its Story Sync app – a second-screen program that allows viewers of shows like THE WALKING DEAD, THE KILLING, and BREAKING BAD to converse with other fans, hunt for Easter Eggs within episodes, and review recent developments in real time.

Story Sync appStory Sync

The result? A leap in the number of individual users and level of activity across social. Reports Bryan Bishop at The Verge, the network saw a serious uptick in posts on Twitter following the app’s launch: 526,000 unique individuals tweeted during THE WALKING DEAD’s mid-season premiere, relative to the 391,210 active during the December finale.

QR code giveaways, real-time challenges (selfies at an event they’re attending, commentary via text), mobile-friendly links – these are ways to keep mobile users engaged with your brand, wise to your product, and passionate about your service. The more you can talk to them on their own terms, the more they’ll listen to what you have to say.

Aim for complete synergy in the content you offer.


While it’s all well and good to court mobile users and solicit contributions from followers, it’s integral that the content on your social channels map back to larger goals and objectives – that there’s real and true synergy between what your business offers and what your pages provide. If you’re using different kinds of media to reach potential buyers (Google+ hangouts, Vine videos, YouTube), tie them together with a uniform URL or motif, or a theme that encourages buyers to move between them and reminds them of what you offer.

Some shows make better use of the second screen than others. The folks at Buzzfeed have done a terrific job of this in their Social Tune In project (announced earlier this year). Social Tune In enables them to collaborate with BravoTV and the IFC network on programming blocks that Buzzfeed supports with customized content – say, a list of top ten reasons to watch GoodFellas that then corresponds with a rerun of GoodFellas on IFC. This creates a tighter connection between the content Buzzfeed offers regularly and the content a casual TV watcher might come across at random; as Tessa Wegert over at ClickZ notes, this also allows Buzzfeed to control the kind of traffic particular pages receive.

A multicast approach to social will serve you well in the long run, but it’s important to keep your platforms focused and integrated. If you’re sending online followers elsewhere, be sure of where you’re sending them, and keep an eye on what they can take away.

Though it may not punch at the same weight as a paid advertisement or endorsement, social media has an integral role to play in how shows promote themselves, and can accomplish just as much where brand communications for other types of businesses are concerned. The trick to really getting the most of it is understanding that it’s apt to change – that what we see today won’t be what we necessarily see tomorrow – and giving it the space to grow.