The top FreshNetworks Blog posts in 2009

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hbw | happy (custom) bokeh wednesday
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Each month we look at the most popular posts on the FreshNetworks blog. We aim to bring you the best posts in social media, online communities and customer engagement online. Here are the most popular posts from 2009.

1. Google Wave vs Twitter at conferences

There has been a lot of talk and discussion of Google Wave throughout the year as it has spread though invites. For many people the immediate response is: “I’m here; what now?”. In our most popular post in 2009, Charlie looked at one example of how Google Wave can be used to add real value: as a conference back-channel. We show how at the Ecomm conference delegates were provided with Google Wave accounts. What resulted was a fantastic showcase of collaboration and crowd-sourcing.

2. Dannii, Danyl and instant X-Factor feedback

Dannii Minogue, a judge on UK reality TV show X-Factor, lost her mind for a minute live on air. She brought up a contestant’s sexuality when she was meant to be commenting on his performance. Twitter and the social web went wild. The speed of discussion and debate on Twitter, in forums and online communities was striking. This can be beneficial for brands when they are dealing with a potential reputation management issue. Good buzz tracking allows them to monitor social media, identify issues when they arise, understand the sentiment and where people are discussing it. Information is power, it helps brands make decisions about what to do and to do it quickly.

3. Gordon Brown’s YouTube trauma

It seems like a long time ago now, but at the end of April Gordon Brown made a major announcement on expenses for MPs in the UK. And he made it on YouTube first. Here Charlie Osmond looks at why this wasn’t the best idea and why social media isn’t always the right medium for your message.

4. Russian social network Vkontakte.ru plans global roll-out

Russian social network VKontakte (В контакте) serves 1.4 billion page views each day to its 42 million users, and attracts 14 million unique visitors each month. In one of the most engaged and fastest-growing social networking markets in the world, it is a force to be reckoned with. At the start of September, Vedomosti (Ведомости), the Russian business newspaper, reported that VKontakte had registered the domain www.vk.com and plans to begin marketing the social network in twelve new markets globally before the end of 2010. One to watch.

5. Examples of online communities in the retail industry

As part of our series of online community examples,  we looked at examples from the retail industry. Case studies from Wal-Mart, Sainsbury’s and Starbucks.

How online communities are changing the way we watch television

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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

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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.