Monday, November 8, 2010

10 Reasons Every TV Exec Needs to Start Tweeting

Craig Engler is the general
manager and senior vice president of Syfy Digital. He’d love to talk you about
TV or Syfy, answer your
questions and hear about what you had for lunch. You can look him up on Twitter
at @syfy.

I tried using Twitter(Twitter) three separate times before I figured
out how truly useful it can be. The first time was early on, when no one I knew
was using it, and I had no idea what I was doing. I tried searching for friends
and followed a few random feeds and thought, “Meh, what’s this possibly good

My second jump into Twitter was after the initial big wave of hype hit. I
decided I should rejoin to figure out what I missed the first time. This time
around, I found that Twitter was flooded with people randomly talking about
their day (and their meals — people really do love to talk about food on
Twitter) and again I thought, this is definitely not for me.

The last time, and the one that clinched the deal
for me, was almost by accident. I wanted to see what people were saying about
the finale of our hit series, Battlestar Galactica. I was looking at Facebook(Facebook) and on our own Syfy message boards, and
the feedback wasn’t keeping up with the pace of the show. I wanted to see
instant, real-time reactions. So I wandered over to Twitter.

That was in March of 2009, and I’ve been an avid, daily user of Twitter ever
since. I definitely got what I was looking for, but also learned much more. Yes,
people were talking about the show, but many of them had misconceptions about
it. They thought it was canceled (actually, the creators chose to end it). They
thought we’d never air more Battlestar again, but we already had a
two-hour movie in the works.

I jumped into the fray to clear things up and to thank our viewers personally
for spending years watching the show. I ended up having great conversations with
fans, answering more and more questions about all of our shows, and I decided to
stay this time.

I’ve also gotten a few other TV execs to use Twitter, and I think anyone in
the business who has an interest should definitely consider joining. If you’re a
TV exec, here are 10 reasons why you should join the Twitterverse.

1. Because It Empowers Viewers

One thing that’s true about TV (but almost no one thinks is true) is that
viewers, advertisers and TV executives all want the same thing: good shows that
a lot of people watch and last for years. Once viewers understand that you’re on
their side, and you get a chance to explain why things work the way they do, it
empowers viewers to help you be successful.

For instance, using Twitter, I can quickly and simply explain that creating a
letter-writing campaign to save a show is probably not going to be effective if
you’re only writing to us. After all, we’re already making the show and we
already want it to succeed. It’s not us you need to convince; it’s other
viewers. Once people understand that, they usually redirect their efforts in a
way that actually helps them get what they want — more of their favorite

2. Because Perceptions Can Kill You

Twitter TV ImageIn the absence of information, people tend to come up with their
own ideas of why things happen or don’t happen, especially when it comes to TV.
For reasons I never quite understand, this usually turns into conspiracy
theories about why shows get canceled. (The most perplexing theory to me is that
we never liked a particular show and wanted it to fail, which seems odd because,
if that were the case, we would never had made it in the first place.)

A great example here is when we recently moved some shows from Friday to
Tuesday nights because Tuesday has become our best performing night in the
history of the network. Invariably, some viewers decided we made the move to
“burn off” the series. When we explained this was a move of confidence in the
shows, it changed the perception from a show we were “killing” to a show we
believed in.

3. Because You Can Instantly Clear Up Rumors (Good and Bad Ones)

When perception goes astray, it can turn into rumor — which the Internet() is great at creating. Two rumors
I debunk on a regular basis are: We canceled shows X, Y and Z, and; We’re
picking up shows X, Y or Z that someone else canceled.

My favorite rumors to debunk are the ones where people think we canceled a
show, when in reality that show ran on another network. (For the record, we did
not cancel Firefly. It aired on Fox.)

4. Because You Can Watch Live With Thousands of People

Until Twitter came along, it wasn’t possible to get live simultaneous
feedback from thousands of people around the country just by visiting a website.
Now it’s commonplace — and thoroughly fascinating. I can tell if that joke we
all worried about in the new episode was funny or not, if a complicated
storyline made sense, etc. It’s an endless stream of feedback that you can dip
in and out of.

5. Because It Gives You Instant Feedback on Everything Else Too

Whether I ask a question, or make a comment, or post a link to a promo, I get
instant feedback. And by “instant,” I mean within a few seconds. Is that new
promo working the way we thought it would? What do viewers think of our iPhone() app? Did everyone follow our latest
timeslot change? You can sample an enthusiastic audience any time of day.

6. Because It Puts a Face on Your Decisions

It’s one thing to say, “Let’s move the show from Friday to Tuesday.” It’s
another to hear, “Watching your show on Friday nights is a family ritual at our
house. Please don’t take that away.” Sometimes seeing the faces and hearing the
voices of people who are affected by your decisions makes you rethink what
you’re doing or how you’re doing it.

7. Because It Shows Viewers We Care about TV

I get thanked all the time by viewers who are shocked (SHOCKED!) that people
who work at the network actually like the same things about TV that everyone
else does. It’s easy for people to lose sight of the fact that most people who
work in the TV industry do it because they love TV. We are not, as the Internet
consensus seems to think, cynical MBAs out to make a buck.

8. Because People Want to Know Someone Is Listening

Sometimes people just want to know someone over here is paying attention to
what they’re saying. On Twitter, when I see someone say something really
negative about our network or one of our shows, I usually write to them. Nine
out of ten times they write back saying how much they love our network and that
they were just venting because they thought no one was listening. We are

9. Because Viewers Know More About Watching TV Than TV Executives

Watching TV

I’m not talking about the TV business. I’m talking
about actually sitting down and watching TV. I learn things every day from our
millions of viewers about how and why they watch TV, and what they are (and
aren’t) looking forward to. It’s particularly fascinating and useful to hear
about how people use social media
while they’re watching TV
(like, ahem, tweeting from their laptops), or why
they watch their favorite shows on other platforms besides television.

10. Because It’s Fun

The thing about TV is that it’s entertainment, and it’s supposed to be fun. I
have a lot of fun talking about TV with my followers, and not in the “I goofed
off on Twitter all day” kind of way. I mean in the “I shared the awesome things
I get to work on all day with 50,000 of my closest followers” way, and the “I
just talked to 50,000 people about why they liked (or didn’t like) last night’s
new episode” kind of way.

What other benefits does Twitter offer TV execs? And for the TV lovers out
there: Do you use Twitter to communicate about your favorite shows

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