Why a TV channel’s organic social support and social media campaign management are not the same thing

SMMS invited Eleni Los, formerly of the Channel 4 Social team, to write about her experiences of channels’ social media support for TV programmes.  Here are her observations:

Working in TV channels’ social media teams over the past three years, I keep running into the same questions when a new programme is launched.  A member from the production company will reach out to us to ask about the “social media campaign” and we’d need to quickly crush those dreams by letting them know that their social media support will most likely consist of one to three organic assets per episode.

Of course, this varies per programme and budgets, but it’s a general misconception about the kind of social support that is automatically guaranteed by the channel.

The channel will be internally committed to promoting their commissions in some form on social media, but in the worst-case scenario, this could mean one tweet on the day of TX.  In the best-case scenario and the minority of cases, it could also mean managed social media campaigns, plus a variety of social assets published from the channel’s account.  But this additional activity will still fall short in delivering the kind of social output we see a programme like The Great British Bake Off social accounts host each year.  A TV channel’s social accounts have the potential of reaching a huge audience with a single post, but they are limited in providing full campaign management and here’s why:

Yes, the internal organic social team will still be required to promote your programme in some way, but they’ll also be required to promote all the other commissions they air, and yours is just one of them.  Team members work on multiple projects simultaneously and there isn’t enough time or resource to create content strategies for each one of them, as much as they’d like to.  This also applies to the amount of content that is published on the channel’s accounts, as these feeds would ideally reflect the on-air schedule and usually wouldn’t feature a post from the same programme every single day.

Of importance to the  Indie is to consider the channel’s tone of voice, as their social accounts represent the entire channel – not only your programme.  Anything they publish will be scrutinised, and it’s risky for them to appear they’re playing favourites with captions like: “This is the best thing we’ve seen on TV”.  If they’re a public service broadcaster, they’re even more likely to be held accountable to rules and regulations – which can influence the kind of content they’re able to publish and jokes they’re allowed to make.

The channel’s social accounts will generally need to prioritise what works best for them and their wider audience.  Unfortunately, this also means that if a specific programme’s social content doesn’t perform on their platform, and doesn’t receive high enough views or engagements, they’ll need to significantly decrease or even stop content production to re-allocate that resource elsewhere, which isn’t the case with the programmes’ own social accounts.

A TV channel’s social support is definitely valuable and necessary.  Their reach and influence shouldn’t be underestimated, but it can’t provide any larger form of community management or developing a programme’s digital presence to its full potential.  In my opinion, the most successful projects are always a collaboration between the two, with the channel using their influence to reach and persuade large potential audiences, while programme’s own social accounts engage with these audiences and reward fans with a plethora of content.

So, what would a successful social media campaign like this look like, if you’d incorporated your own social media strategy, organic campaign management plus the channel’s organic social support?  Any programme’s campaign will have its own unique objectives and challenges, but I’ll continue to use The Great British Bake Off as an example here.

Broadly speaking, a social media campaign can be split up into three phases: pre-TX, during TX and post TX. Whereas a managed campaign might use it’s spend during the three TX phases, organic channel,  social campaigns are likely to focus the bulk of their content on the weeks the programme is airing.

Ahead of GBBO launching, various teams will have discussed the key dates and activities they should be aligned on, the first one being the TX announcement.  The date and time are revealed on social channels by different accounts simultaneously, and around the same time, the Indie’s managed campaign will kick in – targeting specific audiences to drive excitement.

The programme’s own social accounts can then continue to engage fans and grow new audiences by, for example, releasing teasers, engaging with talent or influencers, and tapping into existing communities.  On the GBBO social accounts, the bakers are introduced, with individual bios and pictures for each baker.  On the channel’s accounts, however, content is slightly broader and aimed at lighter viewers, helping to increase the programme’s reach and sharing only key content pieces like the official group picture.

Once audiences have been successfully driven to the first episode, their engagement needs to be sustained.  As an episode airs, either the programme’s account, the channel’s account, or both, can tweet along to the episode to engage with audiences live and drive the conversation.  This is also an excellent time to use social listening and gain valuable insights into what your audience loves (and doesn’t love) about your show.

Following the first episode, previews can be used via organic socials to tease the upcoming episode and encourage audiences to tune in next week. Due to GBBO’s format, not too much can (or should) be revealed ahead of that episode; which is why social support will mainly rely on content from the previous episode to drive interest in the following episode throughout the week.

The channel’s accounts will prioritise publishing broadly relatable social assets, or using different methods to reach and engage as many of their followers as possible. The programme’s accounts, however, can focus on engaging their more invested fans and apply full campaign management through strategies such as social listening, community management, talent involvement, influencer engagement, and continuing to optimise their platform-specific content as well as being reactive to their audience.  Ideally, both accounts will collaborate here and share plans and content to optimise the entire campaign’s efficiency.

Unexpected twists and turns are likely to come up here, and any good content strategy needs to be flexible to adjust to these. One of the bakers might be unexpectedly criticised online, your talent might appear negatively in the press, or other events could influence the general mood of the public. If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught social media managers anything, it’s that they need to understand their audience’s needs of the hour and listen, listen, listen!

All this activity crescendos in the grand finale and the reveal of, drumroll please, this year’s winner of the Great British Bake Off.

The following and last phase of the campaign can easily be forgotten but it is still important.  Now that you’ve established or grown and engaged your audience, how can you use their attention to your advantage before they move on?  There will again, be different objectives here, while the channel might want to use this time to push to GBBO on catch up or target this audience with similar shows to watch, the GBBO social accounts can use it to encourage people to sign up for next year’s Bake Off or reward fans’ loyalty with exclusive content.  In my opinion, a well-rounded social media campaign shouldn’t immediately drop their audience once the programme has finished airing, but bring the activity to a close, even if it’ just a post to say, “Thank you and goodbye”.

It goes without saying that not many programmes have the advantages The Great British Bake Off has, however, there are still a variety of options available to use social media to its full potential. And if the channel’s social support doesn’t sound like it will be able to meet your expectations, some strategic content planning and clever campaign management can go a long way.


Eleni Los.

SMMS invited Eleni Los, formerly of the Channel 4 Social team, to write about her experiences of Channels’social media support for TV programmes.