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8 things Reality TV shows do better than you on digital

I never cared too much for Reality TV shows before.

Sure, we all tuned in for the premiere of Big Brother way back in 2000, and later gave our inner chefs a chance at imaginary fame watching Masterchef Season 1. But all that orchestrated real-life soapie stuff was never really my cup of tea.

I realise I was watching them with very different eyes back then. Running a digital agency means Reality TV takes on a whole different meaning now; and ironically, it’s gotten a lot more interesting (must be the geek in me talking).

Honestly speaking, Reality TV is one of the toughest gigs in town – there are a million things to do and they were all due yesterday. Content production is happening at lightning pace, in a race to keep up with each of the weekly episodes. All of this while swimming in confidential information which needs to be carefully organised and then published with impeccable timing. Not to mention trying to deal with thousands of ‘screaming’ social media fans.

Love it or hate it though, after working on 5 seasons of global reality TV shows, from Asia’s Got Talent to The Amazing Race Asia, it’s impossible not to learn a thing or two about digital & social media marketing. No matter the industry, brand or product, there are core elements of online marketing that carry through without fail.

Here are 8 of those lessons I thought worth sharing:

1. It all starts with a strategy

Pitting a ‘boring’ FMCG brand against the non-stop excitement of Reality TV may not be the most fair comparison. After all, they have action, suspense and emotion – which equals great content by the bucket. However, there is one common thread that doesn’t change; the need for a clear strategy.

Whether you’re selling cotton socks, monthly Dropbox subscriptions, or drama-fuelled weekly episodes of The Amazing Race Asia, your first step should always be to develop your digital brand plan.

Think about your goals and objectives, and how these translate into a digital equation. Awareness within a new audience? Sales on your e-commerce site? Customer acquisition and CRM marketing?

Understand your audience and which platforms they live on. Use both of these as the starting point and anchor for your overall digital strategy, and then work backwards from KPIs which enable you to achieve each goal.

Our objectives in Reality TV, for example, might be to drive viewership and build a large online audience (in quick time), engage users on live-show day and the days in between, and ultimately boost ratings for the show. This means a focus on Facebook Newsfeed and Google Display advertising to get the eyeballs, boosting engaging video and image content on Facebook and Instagram to a targeted 16-35 year old audience of entertainment lovers.

The marketing and comms may differ tremendously between brands, but the lesson is always the same: don’t spend a single dollar on digital until you have a strategy.

2. Horses are for courses (and why every platform deserves its own strategy)

All platforms are not created equal, and to treat them that way can completely defeat the purpose (and not to mention annoy the hell out of fans). Posting the same content up on your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is both a bad investment of time/resources, and a strategy that will almost certainly damage your chances of success on digital.

For our shows, we use YouTube to house full episodes, Facebook for Q&A sessions and behind the scenes videos, Instagram for memes and fun interactive posts, and Twitter for sharp real-time commentary (and occasionally sparking some controversy, if we’re allowed to). We limit the syndication of content between platforms, and always, always make sure each piece is crafted according to the platform specifications and best practices.

Understanding the what, why and how of each platform is key in developing an effective digital plan, and ultimately driving value for your brand. Regardless of the platform, fans need a reason to follow you. Give them this and watch your presence grow.

3. Survival of the fittest (and why evolving your strategy is key)

Unlike marketing in the more traditional sense, strategy on digital is not static. There is constant activity happening in your social hive – lessons to be learned from the reactions and sentiments of fans, digital trends that sweep in and out in a matter of weeks or days, and a constant supply of delicious data to be crunched and transformed into insights.

As a brand, it’s important to let your fans guide your strategy. If your campaign is not connecting well or generating the results you want, who says you need to keep pushing down the same path? Experiment with something different – try split testing your messaging or landing page, adjust the target audience, move to different platforms or promotion methods.

In Reality TV, we are in a constant state of evolution – testing the results of memes when posted on Instagram vs Facebook, boosting certain posts to a younger demographic to see if the response is better than for the old, posting show teasers on Wednesday instead of Thursday.

There are incredibly in-depth social media insights built into all of the social platforms these days, so there is really no need (nor excuse) to guess what works or poke blindly at the controls. Everything you need for a dynamic and well-informed strategy is at your fingertips.

4. Without reach there is no content

If a tree falls in the forest but no-one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Probably… but either way you can be pretty sure nobody will be jumping online to tell their friends what a great tree it was either.

The days of free brand promotion on social media are all but behind us. Even the best and most viral ideas require significant media spend behind them to gain traction online today. Yet the mistake many brands are still making is spending time and money every month in creating their content, but failing to seed it with sufficient media spend. Your content will barely be seen, let alone be successful, unless you take this point seriously.

Great content deserves to be seen, heard, consumed, and hopefully shared. This is why we ensure our Reality show clients always set aside a media budget of at least the same value of the marketing services themselves.

With this we can do highly targeted amplification of each Facebook & Instagram post, promote key show tweets leading up to live show time, and create a constant presence in the feeds of our fans throughout the whole series – all of which keeps the show front-of-mind and building buzz all the way up to the next episode.

5. The writing is on the wall (and in the data)

As we continue evolving more and more beyond billboards, bus shelters and TV ads, the guessing game is truly over. Data is becoming more detailed (and useful), and the level of visibility available for each of your touchpoints is almost scary.

Properly setting up each of your assets and installing tracking really is a must for any brand. This means measuring all social media activity, website traffic, Google search volumes, usage of keywords & hashtags, email subscribers, and audience growth and behaviour across each of your platforms.

When it comes to Reality TV, some of the greatest value we bring to clients is the ability to demonstrate which countries fans are coming from, what times and days we’re seeing spikes in website traffic and Google searches (which can often be correlated with offline or in-show events), how each demographic interacts with our pages and content, and which show call to actions and campaign messages are most effective.

Your data provides a macro view of current brand & industry trends and the competitive landscape. But on a more micro level it is a dipstick of your current & potential customers’ sentiments, which can also highlight new opportunities to build your brand.

6. Mobilise your social army to march for you

Always nurture your champions; at times, their voice will be heard even louder than yours.

Remember your fans are your number one ambassadors. Provide them with value on digital, and watch them start to build your brand for you. And contrary to what Kanye West thinks, praise for your brand sounds a lot better coming from someone else’s mouth than your own – so make sure you give them the right equipment to do the job for you (good customer experience, valuable content…).

When you can find ways to give your fans ‘experiences’ rather than just free stuff, you give them a moment worth talking about. During our work on The Apartment, we gave some lucky fans a chance to party with the contestants inside the house that they lived in and designed during the show. By taking fans beyond the looking glass in this way, we were able to create a genuine connection, which led to great user-generated-content and stories for weeks after the campaign. It also created lifelong fans and champions of the show.

7. Make each day count

Keeping your content fresh from day to day is more important than ever. To keep things interesting for our shows, we try to capitalise on as many new platform features as possible – from Facebook Live Q&A sessions with eliminated contestants, animated gif Newsfeed games with prizes, and very visual episode recaps and teasers using Instagram carousel units.

But what’s also important is to retain some repetition – train your users to expect certain things on certain days. A splash of routine is just as important as keeping things fresh.

We coax fans to come back each day by releasing pieces of exclusive content on particular days each week. They quickly learn which platform to visit and on what day, in order to get the first glimpse of something they’re interested in. While your brand may not have the benefit of great unreleased TV show content, there is no doubt it has something to offer that others do not.

8. Digital media buys are not a nice to have but a MUST

The brands making most effective use of the digital medium understand the need to have a well-rounded strategy; one that simultaneously works at their different brand objectives. And the hard truth of the matter is that you need to invest in paid media to achieve this.

When working on Reality TV, our task is often to manifest a big, buzzing fanbase out of absolutely nothing. At the kick-off of Asia’s Got Talent our social media pages were brand spanking new, but through strategically guided media investment we were able to build this to over a million very active fans in little over 4 months. Through use of promoted Twitter tweets and paid trends we were able to seed the show’s official hashtag, from which the usage grew rapidly to eventually trend on Twitter at #1 Worldwide during the grand finale.

But none of this happens by accident. Traffic doesn’t just magically appear on your website, it comes from a proper investment into Google Display, SEM and social media advertising. Conversations don’t just start online, they come from engaging or provoking content which is strategically boosted to target audiences. Users don’t just join your mailing list, they are carefully guided to the sign up form thanks to careful user-journey mapping, and paid media with the right incentivisation.

Just as your campaign’s creative execution is a critical piece in your digital strategy, so too can making sufficient investment into the right media buys be the difference between a campaign tanking or succeeding. Both work hand-in-hand during your campaign, so do yourself a favour and don’t try to separate the two 😉

In closing

Reality TV is quite possibly worlds apart from the services or products of your brand. But after working with over 100 brands, as well as 5 seasons of global Reality TV shows, assembling a team of up to 20 Bonsey Jaden staff in 6 different countries, I’ve realised that, actually – Reality TV shows are really not so different from any other brand out there.

The lessons we’ve learned as a team still ring true across borders and industries, and what’s more have become best practice within our business; the results we’re able to achieve become the new benchmark for everything we do.

That’s why no matter what kind of campaign we work on, I always strive for the kind of excellence I know can be achieved by a kick-ass team of digerati handling digital for a Reality TV show.