Television networks seek connections to viewers through Twitter

Suddenly Nathan Fillion, actor, TV star, space cowboy, was a Twitter friend. Or so I thought.

Twitter DriveWhen the Fox TV series Drive first aired in April, I noticed Fillon was a Twitter-er, a participant in the social media, short-message service Twitter. As it turned out, it was actually director Greg Yaitanes making the posts; he just used a Drive publicity photo (of Fillion) as an avatar.

Didn’t matter. Fillion or Yaitanes, I had a connection with someone working on an interesting new program, someone who would “talk” with me and feed me — and 909 friends and 718 followers on Twitter — with insider tidbits about filming, scripts, special effects during the show.

Fox may have been ahead of its time, not with the show (which it canceled) but with Twitter. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that NBC, CBS, ABC Family, and MTV are among several networks “experimenting with the marketing possibilities” of Twitter. As I discovered with Drive, there’s potential power between the network, the show, the people responsible for the show, and fans watching the show — if done right.

twitter drive aboutThat’s a big “if”. TV viewers and the Internet savvy are acutely aware that the networks and their marketing soldiers will do anything to connect with them, either on the television or on the web. Growing competition from the Internet and other media has forced networks to become more inventive about marketing, the WSJ notes, and this year Twitter is one of several possibilities added to their marketing mix. Their goal is to “make inroads with the younger demographic that is hard to reach through traditional marketing.”

Viacom’s MTV used Twitter to promote its MTV Music Awards June 3. Disney’s ESPN uses Twitter to send sports updates. ABC Family has launched a promotion around the new show Geek, a comedy-drama about frat and sorority life. The title character in NBC’s show Chuck, a computer geek who becomes a secret agent, also will twitter to fans.

That’s all fine and dandy, but marketing through Twitter isn’t a guarantee. Twitter is still a small community, drawing 370,000 unique visitors in June in the U.S., according to comScore Media Metrix, which will not say how many people use the web application. Twitter-ers tend to be young, tech-savvy and use the service as a way to “talk” to friends, to update people on their lives, to share links and information, in short, 140-character bursts. They’re also connected to others through social sites such as MySpace and Facebook.

These people may be the ones networks want to reach, but they can also smell a marketing rat. Crass commercialism could alienate the very people the networks want to win over using Twitter (mocoNews). Twitter is an outstanding, relatively easy way for producers, directors, actors, scriptwriters, and others, to stay in touch with fans, who want direct contact with them, not marketing flacks spoon-feeding them with spun press releases and inane trivia. As Yaitanes told the WSJ:

“The idea that someone from the show is coming to sit down and talk with everyone [viewers], it all of a sudden makes it feel more special.”

One word of advice, though. Treat us Twitter-ers with respect. Actively participate during the show’s season. Post more than once a week. And when you take a hiatus, let us know.

[Ed. ignoring Dan’s advice about active participation, you can subscribe to our Twitter feed at twitter.com/last100, where we’ll automatically send you tweets with the latest last100 headlines.]

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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