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

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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…

How online communities are changing the way we watch television

The End Of Telly-
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Earlier this year we posted a series of examples of online communities in the TV industry. We looked at the way ‘old’ and ‘new’ media combine, how television broadcasters and production companies are working with online media. The examples we chose were all of ways in which online communities can be used to provide an additional set of experiences for a viewer, often after a programme has aired. From Channel Four’s Sexperience online community which supported the Sex Education Show to HGTV‘s  Rate My Space online community for people to share home improvement photos and tips.

These communities all have one thing in common - they provided an additional set of experiences for a viewer that enhance or extend their experience with the programme. They are for people who enjoy the programme and who want to engage more or find out more.

Things have changed in just a few months - the latest use of online communities for TV programmes is very different. They are now being used to add a social dimension to the actual viewing experience. Using online community tools to enhance a viewer’s experience while they are watching the actual show. We’ve written before about how two live shows in the UK have been experimenting with this use of social media tools: Live TV and real-time chat: X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. But a new example from the UK shows how this use of online communities to enhance TV programmes is not restricted to live programmes.

Come Dine with Me is a popular cooking competition show on Channel Four in the UK. The concept is simple but addictive: four contestants host a dinner party for the other contestants on four subsequent evenings. Each host is rated by the other contestants and the person with the highest score wins. It’s a show that has always attracted a lot of discussions online as a quick Twitter search shows. Channel Four has now capitalised on this by hosting its own discussions on its site whilst the show is on air.

The Come Dine With Me ‘Play Along’ community shows how you can harness the conversations that are going on already and also enhance the viewer experience. The discussions in Twitter had always been of three kinds:

  1. People giving their own ratings of what is happening on the show - saying the score they would have given for a particular dinner party
  2. People commenting on the food or the ambiance at the parties
  3. People talking about the contestants - who they like and why, and who they are less keen on

The Channel Four online community now allows people to do this in real time and on their site whilst the show is on air. They allow you to score each contestant against a set of criteria (and see the average score given by your fellow community members). They allow you to chat about what’s happening on screen and the host of the chat prompts you to discuss what is happening right now.

This is a great example of online communities really adding value to a viewers experiences in three ways:

  1. They allow you to interact with other viewers who are sharing the same experience and who are interested in the same things
  2. They are add a new dimension to the programme - letting you take part in the contest to
  3. They have the benefit of being hosted by the same people who are broadcasting (or producing) the programme - you feel like you have inside access to information

The way we watch television is changing. Online communities are changing it. They add a new, social dimension to actual viewing experience. In time more and more programmes will be accompanied by online discussions and debates in this way. It will become the norm for many people to sit in front of two screens rather than just one.

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

The End Of Telly-
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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.

Why all brands can benefit from buzz tracking (not just the X-Factor)

Science buzz!!!
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On Sunday, lots of people were talking about Dannii, Danyl and instant X-Factor feedback. If you weren’t one of them (or if you’re not in the UK) let me quickly recap: on X-Factor, a talent / singing / reality TV programme, one of the judges, Dannii Minogue, brought up the sexuality of contestant Danyl when she was supposed to be commenting on his performance on stage. There has been a lot discussed about this and we posted about how Twitter is a great barometer and feedback mechanism in this kind of situation, how the brand that is X-Factor was able, almost immediately, to know what was being said about them and to plan how they should respond.

Like any good brand, the X-Factor on Saturday night would have benefited greatly from buzz tracking. From watching, tracking and analysing what was being said in real time. Analysing the extent to which the sentiments being expressed were positive, or negative, finding particularly dense areas of discussions and helping the brand to identify both what is being said and also where it is being said.

Buzz tracking really is a powerful tool for a brand, both because of the information it can reveal, but also because of the issues it raises that a brand needs to deal with. Tracking and monitoring what people are saying about your brand, products and services will allow you to know, in real-time, when something has happened that needs rectifying, or when something is said that you can use to amplify positive word of mouth about your brand. Knowing the extent to which your brand is being discussed positively or negatively provides a benchmark for you to monitor, and if you track it overtime you will start to see the impact of things you do and say, as a brand, on how people are discussing you.

And this information is very powerful. Both for making immediate decisions, and for planning and monitoring in the long-term. When a brand has a bad experience, and people are talking negatively about it (as happened to brand X-Factor on Saturday night), an effective buzz monitoring strategy will alert you to this shift in sentiment and allow you to identify what has caused this. You are then able to decide first if you want to respond and then how. You can then monitor the impact your response is having and amend or strengthen is as necessary. This information drastically shortens the time brands need to respond and so can have a very positive effect on your ability to resolve what is happening.

In the long-term, buzz tracking allows a brand to understand seasonal changes in it’s image in social media, and to show the impact that various on and offline activities have on these discussions. Work that we have done at FreshNetworks for brands in the travel industry, for example, shows that people tend to be more positive about travel brands at certain times of the year (typically when they are thinking of going on holiday or when they just return) and has helped to show the impact that TV advertising campaigns have had on the positive sentiment expressed about a brand online.

So buzz tracking is a powerful tool for any brand, both for what it tells you and for what it allows you to do. It is an information resource, and one that, if used correctly, can give you a real-time understanding of what is being said about your brand and how people are feeling about it. This kind of information is the ammunition any brand needs to inform its own social media strategy and how it should react on a case-by-case basis. Rather than have to wait to see how an issue plays out over a few days, brands can now get a real understanding of how people feel in real time and then respond to it.

My Time is the new Prime Time

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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.