Michael Grotticelli /
09.18.2009 02:28 PM
Social networking helps stations increase audience

Like the rest of the world, TV stations are quickly discovering and using social networking media. On a week when Facebook announced it has exceeded 300 million members around the globe and is now making a profit, broadcasting has clearly jumped on the bandwagon — if for no other reason than just to see what happens.

The growth of social networking has been remarkable. In July of this summer, Facebook had 250 million users. Another 50 million were added by September — only two months. And this growth continues at an extraordinary rate.

According to TVonTwitter.com, a searchable database, there are now more than 589 registered TV stations using Twitter. There are 33 stations on Twitter in New York State alone. However, that number is probably much too low. It is now thought that most U.S. television stations are experimenting with some form of social media.

It appears that TV stations are using social networks in any and every way possible. KCPQ-TV, the Fox affiliate in Seattle, for example, uses Twitter to promote its news programming. Even though many Twitter users don’t watch television anymore, they still get their news from KCPQ. What surprised the station is that Twitter users come in all ages and demographics, not just younger people.

At a recent “Tweetup” at a Seattle restaurant, hundreds of people came together who follow “Q13Fox News” on Twitter. The station’s personalities also attended, making it an effort to build a social community for the Twitter users.

Though the use of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs is now commonplace, KCPQ feels that social networking is working, creating an informal feel that many stations desire but never achieve.

The station’s staff uses a populist approach where the concept of sharing information with followers dominates the interaction. By acknowledging their followers’ power, the people receiving the tweets are made to feel more like peers rather than traditional TV viewers.

Other stations take a different route. Last April, KCNC-TV, a CBS O&O in Denver, covered a local surgery live on Twitter. The station teamed up with Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center and Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children to “offer parents, physicians and people across the country a unique educational opportunity and the ability to interact directly with physicians.”

Sophia Flowers, a seven-year-old girl with Down’s Syndrome, had her gall bladder removed via a procedure called a “minimally invasive laparoscopic cholecystectomy.” The doctor entered the body through a tiny incision in her belly button, located her gall bladder with the laparoscope and removed it.

The station’s medical correspondent, Dr. David Hnida, watched the surgery while tweeting about the procedure. The girl’s parents, Teresa and Kregg Flowers, like the rest of the station’s Twitter audience, was able to follow the procedure and ask questions via Twitter.

In Burlington, VT, WCAX-TV has used Twitter to solicit news stories from followers. It not clear whether the experiment worked, though users say the station’s volume of Twitter feeds has declined in recent weeks. WHDH-TV in Boston uses its Facebook page to offer news updates and ask viewers to help select stories to air on sister station WLVI. Reporters use the site to update followers on the stories they’re covering.

When WFXT-TV, the Fox affiliate in Boston, needed help on a recent story, reporter Jim Armstrong sent this Twitter message to his 179 followers: “working on a special project about. . . . wait for it. . . . CouchSurfing. u familiar?”

When reporter Ryan Schulteis of WHDH-TV, the NBC station in Boston, arrived at the scene of a Harvard University shooting, he immediately alerted the station’s 9853 fans on Facebook. When WCVB-TV, Boston’s ABC affiliate, asked for Mother’s Day photos through their new social media forum, ULocal, 300 photos came in that day.

There is no right or wrong way to use social media. Experimentation is now the key. Stations are operating with one thing in mind — building and increasing audience numbers in an era when fewer people are watching television.

In today’s highly competitive environment, broadcasters need to use every technology to reach the audience whenever and wherever they are.



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