Social TV: Making The Most Of Planned And Unplanned Interactions

Social TV is storytelling. While just 16 percent of Americans are on Twitter, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults are on Facebook, according to a recent Pew Study. Social media users are vocal viewers that are likely to influence their friends and family to tune in. We want those viewers to watch and engage in real time and make live TV a different experience than they get reading the news online – which is where interactive TV comes in.

The interaction can be approached two ways — planned, pre-produced segments; and unplanned moments such as breaking news.

The planned:

Social TV sings when it is a produced element of a show. It should be part of the story telling — not tacked on. You can incorporate viewers into a real-time poll, or asking viewers a question to answer, think of how to engage the audience and take your show into the live TV “you snooze you lose” category.

These stories can be mini elements worked into a package with set-up or more involved. One of the more-in-depth interactive stories we’ve done was our story on the bystander effect. We sent our promotions producer outside in various situations — moaning in the cold as a well-dressed person, again in a hoodie and jeans, and then to steal a bike at a transit station (with UTA’s permission). As the package aired, we asked questions to our audience, i.e. “how long will it take someone to help him?” and “how many people will stop the bike theft” and engaged with them in a conversation and showed their comments in real time.

The story was promoted as an interactive over the weekend and generated a ratings lift over our lead-in — and a lot of people buzzing about how they were anxious to see how people reacted. Our Facebook reach numbers jumped during the story as well.

A fantastic example I saw of this was a Today Show #OrangeRoom segment with Tamron Hall. They had talked about electric baby cradles — and Tamron did a live demo with a crying baby (!) to show whether or not they worked. That’s better than any tweet on air — making TV work for its medium.

The unplanned: Social media becomes your friend and your enemy during breaking news. Photos pour in — but no one wants to be the news station that gets punked and puts false information on air. Set a plan in place now that everyone can follow to verify what information is reliable. Once information is verified, and you have permission to use it, take it to air as user generated content. Let it help you tell the story in real time, as it happens. We have done this in breaking news — especially in situations when we want to break in, and we have confirmed information, but our satellite truck or chopper just hasn’t quite reached the scene. It serves as a bridge.

Here are some tips:

1. Learn who you can trust:  I’ve made a twitter list of good social citizens — people that tweet us often with real information, or PIOs that I can trust. From there, I can look at the people they follow and interact with. (This works well with national and international events — start every big event with a Twitter list) 2. Use the information that social media gives you. Look at timestamps and to see the genuine intrigue in people’s messages (are they more shocked by what they just witnessed — or do they seem more interested in having their picture be on TV? It should be the former, not the latter). If it comes through Facebook message, get more information. Better yet, if it’s a good picture, get their contact information, and get an interview.

3. If it is a large event, compare photos. In 2012, we had a horrible wildfire season and every time a new wildfire would start, we would get the same picture of a famous Utah landmark with a fiery sunset behind it. With reverse Google Image search, we were able to trace it to a local photographer who had taken it two years previous.

4. Inform your newsroom. Don’t forget that if you discover something is false, to not live in a vacuum. Tell people, so that all of your producers know and the content doesn’t make it on air.

For a great report on verification and breaking news, read this Q&A with Jennifer Preston of the New York Times.


Natalie Wardel @nataliewardel is the Social Media Director for KSL in Salt Lake City.  Tweet her with questions and/or comments.