This evening sees the start of Britain’s Got Talent’s live semifinals, after a series of prerecorded auditions which, the addition of new judges Alesha Dixon and David Walliams aside, have been punctuated by several social media and second screen campaigns. The most visible characteristic element of these has been the use of on-air hashtags, encouraging Twitter users to use specific terms in their tweets.
At the tail end of this week, Peter Cassidy, Head of FremantleMedia UK Interactive kindly took time out from preparing for this weekend’s live shows to talk to The Stage about the series’ social media strategy.
TV Today: In terms of the lead-up to a show like Britain’s Got Talent, how early does the social media team get involved?
Peter Cassidy: It’s pretty much a continual process, to be honest with you. Social media on our big shows is pretty much a year-round activity. It really ramps up when the auditions are taking place and being recorded, which was way back in January, February time, and we work pretty much hand in hand with the production team.
While every show seems that it must have Twitter, Facebook and even app development these days, what piqued my interest was the use of on-screen hashtags, highlighting not only the acts involved but, say, a joke David Walliams has made. Who made the decision to take the approach that you did?
It was a joint decision between the interactive team and the executive producers of the show. People tend to use the act names anyway, so you don’t need to cite that. And we don’t want to be littering the show with hashtags, we try to keep the number down for people who are not on Twitter or don’t care. We don’t want it to be in their faces the whole time.
What we tried to do was to get stuff that would add to the entertainment, if you like. So we’d pick up on a play on words, or something funny, and try and get that trending. Probably the most successful that we’ve had so far was
#wheremekeys [a rap by act Mr Zip entitled “Where’s me keys, where’s me phone”]. We put up the hashtag and that basically, we have a graph of Twitter going through the roof during that period. It was trending worldwide, and I think we had 18,000 tweets a minute or something.
What you find then is that people who are not watching the show and read trending tweets are reading this, thinking “What’s all this about?” and then look for it on YouTube or whatever and watch it. So it brings people into the show in new ways, if you like.
The other challenge we have is that Twitter has algorithms on what can trend and what doesn’t. It’s a very complex calculation system which allows certain things to trend - when they’re new, especially. If they’re things that trend a lot, they tend not to trend anymore. Otherwise, Justin Bieber would be trending every day, TGIF would trend every Friday. Because BGT has trended so much in the past - and also because, weirdly, ‘BGT’ is an expression of some sort in Indonesia - we have sort of an issue there. So using these alternative hashtags is a good way for us to trend and get that going outside the main BGT label.
How do you measure your effectiveness? Do you use off the shelf tools, or particular metrics to work against?
We have a few different providers who give us minute-by-minute tweet volumes on hashtags, etc., so we can see when we’ve done it well and when we haven’t. So we have a chart that we produce every Monday where we can see on graph minute by minute where the peaks are by Twitter volume, and we can map that against (a) where we used the hashtags and (b) what acts were on at the time.
You mentioned people going from Twitter to YouTube - but does that not mean your activity isn’t directly translating into ratings? Or are TV ratings no longer the only metric to go by?
I would question the theory that it doesn’t increase TV ratings. In the end, the more people who come into contact with the show, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube especially - we are fairly certain that has a positive impact on ratings rather than a negative impact. In the end, it is marketing around the show.
And that’s evidenced by the fact that in the Susan Boyle year, the big YouTube moment, you saw that the ratings and the level of engagement with the series was the highest ever. So from our perspective, we’re pretty relaxed about that. We don’t see it as either/or, we’re adding to the whole.
Over the weekend, Talent is repeated on ITV1+1 and ITV2. Do the onscreen calls to action have the same effect on the replays?
It’s primarily the first broadcast. There are little bumps, but it’s nothing in comparison to the first show.
This weekend we see the start of the live shows. Up to this point, you guys have been able to know in advance what will happen, and what will be said. How will your onscreen strategy change?
We probably won’t be using additional hashtags. Just because we don’t really feel that we need to, but also there’s also so much interactivity around the live shows - we’ve got the second screen app, with a buzzer, integrated voting and backstage cameras. So there’s probably enough interactivity onscreen, and Twitter will happen by itself.
The press has been making big comparisons about ratings battles between The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent: has there been any rivalry between the social media teams, and their approaches?
Not really to be honest. We kind of knew what The Voice does in terms of social media already, because of the US show and the Dutch original. We really - on both our big shows, BGT and The X Factor - our goal is to be on as many platforms as possible. If there is a distinguishing factor between the two shows, it’s that we are pretty big on Twitter, pretty huge on Facebook with over 2 million likes, We’ve had over half a million downloads of the app. And I don’t know where we are on YouTube, but it’s in excess of 60 million views at the point for the series.
So across all those platforms, if you add all that together, our multi-platform reach is unmatched really by any other show in the UK.
And have you learnt anything this series about second screen usage that you can share?
The in-app voting and backstage cameras are two big innovations that we’re introducing this year. Obviously we’re going to take our learnings form that and bring them forward into other shows.
Tonight’s live show will see users of the Britain’s Got Talent iOS app (as long as they’ve updated to version 2.0) able to vote via the app for the first time, and all mobile users will be able to take advantage of new mobile short dial codes which will ensure that they will be charged a guaranteed fixed price for their vote, regardless of which network & tariff they are on. For more details, see talent.itv.com/2012/mobile/.