July 16th, 2007
Networks Try 'Twittering' to Spread Their Message
By Stephanie Kang and Suzanne Vranica
Wall Street Journal
Web Community's Users Are Seen as Ideal Group To Help Promote Shows
TV networks are all a-Twitter about the latest marketing play for their new TV shows.
NBC, CBS, ABC Family and MTV are among several networks experimenting with the marketing possibilities of Twitter, a nascent social-networking service that sends messages in super-short bursts. Popular with young, tech-savvy consumers, Twitter lets registered users send brief updates to groups of fellow Twitter users simultaneously—via either text messages, instant messages, email or Twitter’s home page. The service is free to use.
Many use the messages, limited to 140 characters, to detail the minutiae of daily life, such as “goofing off until 4:30.” But in the year since its launch, Twitter has attracted the notice of media concerns as a potential new marketing forum. TV personalities, for instance, can use Twitter to send short notes to fans of their shows who’ve signed up to receive their updates.
Media companies “see Twitter as a way to tie properties to the Web and beyond,” says Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter. “They can use it for promotion and it also can extend the show online.”
After years of relying on their own airwaves to promote coming new shows, growing competition from the Internet and other media has forced TV networks to become more inventive about marketing. In the past couple of years networks have tried all manner of nontraditional marketing stunts—last year CBS stamped messages on eggs to promote its fall lineup. In 2005, Fox held headshaving parties to promote its “Prison Break” drama.
This year Twitter is one of several new-media plays that networks are adding to their marketing mix, hoping to make inroads with the younger demographic that is hard to reach through traditional marketing. A number of networks, such as CW, plan to offer content through “widgets,” small computer programs that allow Web pages to be more sophisticated and interactive, with, say, animated graphics, videos, photo sharing, music or live chats.
Marketing through Twitter—as with any new technology—isn’t a slam dunk. Sending marketing messages on the service could alienate users who see Twitter as a way to talk to their friends, marketing executives say. And Twitter is still a tiny Web community, drawing only 370,000 unique visitors in June in the U.S., according to comScore Media Metrix. The company won’t say how many people are registered to use the service.
Still, marketing executives note that Twitter’s users include bloggers and so-called early adopters of new technology—people who are quick to try new services and tell their friends about them. That’s an ideal group to help twittering marketers such as TV networks spread the word about their new shows.
TV producer and director Greg Yaitanes was one of the first in television to use the service for marketing. In mid-April, he “twittered” with viewers of his Fox show “Drive,” sending messages from a party after the show’s premiere, on his own initiative, and with Fox’s permission.
“The idea that someone from the show is coming to sit down and talk with everyone [viewers], it all of a sudden makes it feel more special,” he says. “Drive” wasn’t picked up for a second season, but Mr. Yaitanes believes the service can be used with almost any television project.
Viacom’s MTV was also quick to see the potential, using Twitter to promote its MTV Music Awards June 3. Personalities from MTV’s comedy series Human Giant sent messages to Twitter users from the red carpet, during the show and at postparties. Courtney Holt, executive vice president of digital music and media for MTV Networks, says MTV plans to use Twitter during its MTV Video Music Awards in September. Walt Disney’s ESPN has also started to use Twitter to send sports updates.
Also taking the Twitter plunge: ABC Family. The Walt Disney-owned network has launched a promotion around “Greek,” a new comedy-drama about fraternity and sorority life. Twitter allows consumers to follow the show via text updates and behind-the-scene tidbits from the show’s cast and writers.
The title character in the new NBC show “Chuck,” about a computer geek who becomes a secret agent, will twitter to fans of the show. The campaign launches next Monday and NBC hopes Twitter will send users to other platforms like MySpace, where Chuck will also have a profile.
CBS plans on using the service to promote new shows scheduled for the fall, a network spokeswoman said, but details are still being worked out. CW is also contemplating using Twitter to spark buzz for new fall shows such as “Gossip Girls” and “Reaper,” says Rick Haskins, executive vice president of marketing at CW. However, CW is conscious that using Twitter for marketing could annoy users. Any messages sent on the service have “to be of value. It can’t be just ‘watch Gossip Girl at 9’. It’s got to be more fun,” adds Mr. Haskins.