PBS’s 7 Tips for Driving Social Content on a Shoestring Budget

March 17, 2015

11:00 am

At a session called “Behind the Social at PBS’ Largest Content Provider” at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival, some of the people in charge of creating the digital content for PBS’s most popular TV and radio shows came together to share with attendees a few tips for driving social content when working with a limited budget.

The women on the panel all work exclusively with ensuring that some of PBS’s best shows feature some great digital, social content to go along with each show’s high quality and popularity.  Participants on the panel included Hannah Auerbach, an account executive in national marketing and promotions for Antiques Roadshow; Molly Jacobs, the senior producer of digital content and strategy for American Experience; and Olivia Wong, a senior account executive at WGBH National Marketing, which handles publicity and brand strategy for the PBS Masterpiece series (encompassing programs like Downton Abbey). The discussion was led by Tory Starr, the social media producer of PRI’s The World newsroom.

Despite a much smaller budget and staff in comparison to for-profit networks, PBS somehow manages to engage approximately 1.5 million fans on Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis. And this is due primarily through innovative digital content that keeps audiences engaged with PBS’s popular programs even after the end of each episode. Sometimes, even when you’re working with limited resources – whether that’s in terms human or capital resources – there are ways through which you can optimize what you have to drive social activity. Here are the 7 PBS tips for driving social content with limited resources:

1. Know Your Audience

You don’t need to have a lot of money to know about your audience – you simply need to pay more attention to who they are; you can’t give the people what they want, if you don’t know anything about the people in the first place.

“The goal for us is not just to know our audience, but to be our audience,” said Jacobs. At American Experience, they know that their audience is made up of history nerds. With this knowledge in mind, the types of social content they create are centered around generating interest or buzz on historical events. So, for instance, if any major current events take place, they’ll try to create social media content that brings past historical events into the current conversation.  Jacobs also notes that they know that people love to feel smart, so they create historical quizzes that they’ve learned their audience will share with their friends.

2. Have a Unique Voice

“There’s a lot of buzz out there, but at the same time we’re trying to keep something unique for fans in the U.S. so that it doesn’t seem stale,” said Wong regarding the kind of social content they produce for the American showings of Downton Abbey. Whereas premieres of new episodes in the U.K. can often (and easily) be accompanied by live interviews with cast members, it’s a little more difficult to create that kind of content for the U.S. audience. So, instead, they find a way to create consumable clips or snippets of chats with cast members and post those on social media. By doing so, they’ve provided a new and unique way to engage the audience through social content.

3. Plan Ahead

It’s important to always be prepared for what’s coming up. If you’ve got an important event coming up or an announcement in the works, you need to start strategizing the messaging you’ll use in your social content.

“Add context that only you have,” said Starr. At The World, they keep tabs on all of their previous content and knows when and where it’s appropriate to incorporate that past content into new content that they’re creating. Having links to that past content can help you maintain relevancy in the overall social media conversation if and when relevant topics surface in the news.

4. Prioritize Your Platforms

According to Wong, it was only just recently that PBS Masterpiece joined social platforms like Vine, Instagram, and Pinterest. While she’s definitely recognized that such platforms are important and provide high rates of engagement, limited resources forced them to prioritize certain platforms over others. And this is a consideration that you also must have when working with similarly few resources: commit yourself to two social platforms, and create great, engaging content for them.

5. Take Advantage of Partnerships

While it’s important to tweet about or share your own content, no one is going to listen to you if you’re pointing at yourself all the time. In order to truly excel in your social content, you have to make sure that you share the perspectives of others in the digital world. So, yeah, go ahead and share that article from some other organization, or even better: form actual partnerships that will enable you to regularly share a different perspective.

6. Be Visual

Words aren’t everything. Many times, pictures, videos, or other visuals can drive your social media activity. For example, with Downton Abbey, PBS Masterpiece create a polling app that would ask audiences questions regarding what they think will happen on the next episode, their thoughts on the last episode, or whatever it is. Then, in the upcoming week, they’ll publish the results of the poll in an interactive infographic. According to Wong, this unique implementation of visuals saw a majority 50-60 percent participation from the audience every week.

7. Engage

“Our audience is the sum of its parts,” noted Auerbach. It’s important to remember that your audience is made up of several individuals, so taking the time to actually engage with those individuals through social media is one of the best ways to boost your brand. Whether that’s replying to their comments, or retweeting their comments, simple acts of engagement can mean a lot for individual audience members.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things.

Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in ‘Doctor Who’, Murakami, ‘The Mindy Project’, and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a “writer”. Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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