Social media and #Spooks: Should fictional TV characters use Twitter?


Image via Wikipedia

If you are not in the UK you may not know of the TV series Spooks. It is popular and award-winning BBC drama series following the work of a group of MI5 spies. It has just returned for its 9th season and many people are tuning in every Monday to see the adventures of Lucas North, Sir Harry Pearce and others. And, each Monday Twitter is flooded with discussions as people watch the show - the hashtag #Spooks usually trending globally during each episode. We’ve written before about how social media can complement television, and the discussions on Twitter range from people commenting on the characters on what is happening in the plot through to discussions about the actors, sets and other things.

This year, Spooks are trying something different. The main characters are all on Twitter. And they are discussing thing with each other and with other Twitter users. You can find most of them in the following list from Sir Harry Pearce (or @SirHJPearce as he is known): My Colleagues and Others.

It is unclear if these are ‘official’ accounts for the characters (and I would love to find out either way if anybody knows) but the experiment raises an interesting question for me. Notably - should fictional characters in a television series tweet whilst the series is being shown. Social media is a great complement to television, but the danger with having characters tweeting is that they take you out of the fictional construct you are enjoying and, potentially, burst the bubble that has been created on the screens.

For example, at a particularly tense moment in this evening’s episode where new recruit Beth was seemingly betraying her colleagues I tweeted:

I think we all want some answers from @Beth_MI5 #spooks

As I was tweeting this, Beth was on my screens rushing through the streets of London, but she also found time to respond to me within minutes:

@mattrhodes mmmm not yet

And I wasn’t the only one to get responses. Beth was busy betraying her colleagues on screen and also engaging on Twitter at the same time. And this is where I think this use of Twitter starts to fall down. I am a huge fan of experimenting in social media, but also a huge fan of Spooks. I enjoy an hour a week of tense drama - losing myself to the plot I see unfolding on my television screen and the characters who are part of it. For me, this use of Twitter bursts that bubble.

I appreciate that I may be alone in this view, that others may enjoy the conversations on Twitter whilst they are also enjoying the action on their television screens. But for me it begins to break the fictional bubble that I have been enjoying - until I see the characters using Twitter on the screens as they respond to me, of course…

Why is Facebook such a success?


Our last post looked at Facebook’s announcement yesterday that it had reached 500 million users. A huge number but it should not be mistaken as proof that Facebook is now ubiquitous. However, Facebook’s growth is impressive both because of the size the social network and the way it has grown when alternative social networks have been less explosive.

Yesterday, I appeared on BBC News talking about exactly this issue. Amongst the many reasons why Facebook is a success (and I’m sure that an element of luck and good timing is, of course, in that mix), I explain why I think two things have made a real difference:

  1. Having some really good products that have helped people and change the way they connect with people online. Most notably the photos product - by allowing an easy way for people to share photos and associate people with the photos they are in (through tags) they have created a powerful tool that many people use. In many ways Facebook is to photos what YouTube is to videos.
  2. Making it really easy for people to set up their own groups. For individual users this means that their experience of Facebook is often made up of their connections and the groups of these that they are part of. It is a huge social network made up of lots of little groups. This second point is great for user created groups but adds to the reasons why Facebook is a difficult place to play for brands and is not always the answer to their social media strategy.

Below is the BBC News piece from yesterday that I am interviewed for, we’d love your thoughts on this and why you think that Facebook is such a success.

Live TV and real-time chat: X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing


The End Of Telly-
Image by l-b-p-2010 via Flickr

Watching TV is almost always a social experience.  We talk to the people in the room with us. We talk to our friends on the phone, by instant messenger or on Facebook. We talk to people with similar interests in forums and chat rooms. Some of us even just shout at the TV on our own. However we do it, TV often makes us want to talk, share opinions and express ourselves. And some TV programmes make us want to do this more than others.

This week in the UK we saw one TV programme that drove many of us to chat in online communities and social media during the show. Thursday’s Question Time on the BBC featured the leader of the British National Party, saw a record number of viewers and reportedly 12.5 Tweets every second about what people were watching on their screens. Tonight we have two shows which typically attract and a much greater volume of discussions in chat rooms, forums and social media: the X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.

The discussions and chat that accompanied these shows have been on other sites and using other tools. Tonight, for the first time, both shows have incorporated chat and social media functions into their own sites. This is a significant step for TV broadcasting in the UK. Consumer patterns have changed. We no longer watch a programme with friends and relatives and then discuss it with others the next day or read reviews in newspapers. We discuss and share our opinions in real-time through social media. The discussions and chats that accompany the show are, for the viewers, an integral part of the experience. By integrating chat and social functions into their sites, the broadcasters are hoping to recapture the viewers’ attention and give them the full experience they want.

Strictly Social

Of the two shows, the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing offers a richer experience. Their Strictly Social site allows you to watch the show via BBC iPlayer and chat in real time with viewers alongside the screen. If you don’t want to join the discussions (as many people won’t), you can express your opinions by ‘reacting’ - clicking on ‘wow’, ‘boo’ or ‘gasp’ and seeing the word gain more prominence on screen. You can also guess what votes the judges will give the acts and vote in polls.

The Strictly Social site is clearly designed to appeal to a wide range of Strictly Come Dancing viewers. Both to provide a space for those who want to chat during the live show to do this alongside the show itself. And also to provide tools for other viewers to get engaged. It will be interesting to see how popular these other tools are and how many people use the site this week and in coming weeks. There is much talk that this is the future for the BBC’s website - providing a richer experience for the viewer by combining activities and tools they can use online during the show. The Strictly Social site could be the start of a shift in the BBC’s integration of broadcast and social medias.

X Factor Chat

The X Factor has a simpler site with ITV’s X Factor Chat. The chat site does not sit alongside an online broadcast of the show itself and instead relies on people sitting in front of a TV with their computer. Something we know many people do anyway. On the site, viewers can chat about what they are seeing and this chat is punctuated with polls, controlled by the moderator.

The site replicates more closely the experience viewers would have using tools on other sites. A real-time chat function that allows people to discuss and debate what they see on screen. The difference is that being on the ITV site gives this chat more credence. The role of the moderator should be critical here - being the official online host of the X Factor and letting the viewers and chatters feel that they are getting exclusive access and exclusive discussions.

Overall it will be interesting to see which format is most successful for the broadcasters. Which manages to engage people and, perhaps most critically, keep them viewing the show throughout the show this week, next week and for the rest of their respective runs. TV viewers have always been social creatures. For many this has involved the use of social media, online communities and other tools. Tonight the BBC and ITV caught up with them.

Iran - a social media election


Iran Qom _DSC7574Image by youngrobv (Rob & Ale) via Flickr

There has been a lot of talk over the last year of Obama’s election as the first social media election. And it is certainly true that there is much we can all learn from how Obama used social media as a candidate during the election process. But over the last couple of days we’ve seen another use of social media in elections - reporting on the fallout from the election results in Iran.

The presidential election in Iran was held on the 12th June, between incumbent Ahmadinejad and rival Mousavi. The result was a landslide for Ahmadinejad, and opposition supporters have since been protesting the results. There has been mixed coverage of this in traditional media - with many criticising CNN for its coverage, and the BBC seemingly blocked in Iran as a result of its reports on what is happening.

It is in social media that the wealth and depth of information is to be found. And some of this is quite remarkable:

  • Twitter is perhaps the best place to follow what is happening in real time (#iranelection). And it is also the source of some particularly unique insights, such as the Tweet from Mousavi saying that he had been placed under house arrest.
  • Blogs allow coverage in more detailed form from bloggers both inside and outside Iran and from all parts of the political spectrum
  • YouTube is a source of video content from inside Iran, often in a raw and unfiltered manner.
  • Flickr is building a library of user-created images of riots and the aftermath of the election.

In all, the amount of information that is being shared about what happened, and is currently happening in Iran is huge. People are creating content and, thanks to efficient search, others are able to find it.

If Obama’s use of social media showed how candidates can harness it to support their own campaign, and to build their own brand, the case of the Iranian elections shows how the public can use social media to express their own opinion and to show what is happening.

One of the real developments that we are experiencing at the moment online is a exponential proliferation of information. Cases like the aftermath of the Iranian election are a great example of this. We can follow things in real-time thanks to services like Twitter, but we are also documenting the events for the future and doing so through the words, voices, eyes and ears of users themselves. Perhaps that is equally important.

My Time is the new Prime Time


Image by iwona_kellie via Flickr

We’re going through quite a momentous period of change in the UK at the moment. Slowly but surely, the analogue TV signal is being turned off. In it’s place we have digital TV. This is a huge change, not just because people need new equipment to receive the new signal, but also because this change lets us consumer television in the way we have always wanted.

No longer do I have to start watching a programme on the hour. No more must I be in on a Wednesday night to catch the latest episode of The Apprentice. No longer is my TV schedule dictated to me by the broadcasters. They may think I want to watch game shows on a Saturday evening, every Saturday evening. But perhaps I don’t. Digital TV gives the possibility for real choice and control over what you watch and when you watch it.

This reflects a change in consumer behaviour we are seeing across media. When users (consumers) are given the chance to personalise and control their own experience, they use this. This is natural - not everybody wants to do the same things in exactly the same way. And so whether it’s allowing you to personalise a site’s homepage (as with the BBC), tag content in a way that makes sense to you, or choose what you want to see when, personalisation is key.

When we are planning and designing online communities with our clients we work hard to understand the target audience, the people we hope will be members of the community and benefit from being a part of it. However, it is important that some degree of control and personalisation is given to the user - be that letting them arrange their own profile page, choosing which view they see when they join the community, or just giving them an easy and simple way to navigate the site according to the content that matters to them most. Finding ways to allow this kind of personalisation (be it simple or complex) will enhance the community member’s experience. And watching and analysing how people personalise their experience helps us to understand them more too.

Users like personalisation. They like to have some control over how they navigate and use the online community. As their other media consumption becomes more tailored and within their control, their expectations here will only increase.