Social Media Influence + Contextually Relevant Content = Compelling Engagement

I like Syfy. I’m rooting for Syfy. But as a guy who has spent a lot of time in the Social Media space, I worry about these ads I see during Upfronts Week here in New York.

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Syfy is suggesting that their audience is both highly engaged and influential. I’m sure they’ve got data that backs that up too, but these ads display either Syfy’s misunderstanding of social, or are willfully misrepresenting how social works. These ads may some pretty strong claims: Let’s take the images from left to right.

  • 12,000 people heard me rave about your hotel
  • I told 9,000 people what cell phone to buy
  • 10,000 people re-tweeted my movie review

A few questions here. First, are these people credible/relevant voices in the areas of hotels/consumer electronics/movie criticism? Would I value her hotel review any more than I would value her thoughts on political unrest in the Middle East or the best nail polish color for beach season? In other words, what is their relevance as an expert in these scenarios? Second, what is their reach? How many people follow the guy on the right so that he can generate 10,000 retweets? Here’s the tweet for the last movie review from Roger Ebert, certainly the most famous movie critic in this country.


JE here: Roger Ebert's final review, of Terence Malick's TO THE WONDER :
Roger Ebert


It got 1,300+ retweets. Ebert had about 844,000 followers, so to generate 10,000 retweets our Syfy-watching friend would have to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 million followers. For context, Bill Gates has about 11+ million followers. So yeah, I guess it’s possible for him to get 10,000 retweets, but they are presenting this guy as just a regular Joe, not some combination of Bill Gates and Roger Ebert. Check out this interesting Quora thread for a look inside social media numbers. Now let’s move to the gentleman in the middle. He just told 9,000 people which cell phone to buy, and presumably if you were, say Samsung or Nokia, and you advertised on Syfy, that could be a good thing. But did his comments resonate with those 9,000 people? How many went to the cell phone brand’s website, or added the phone to their consideration set? How many of those 9,000 were even in the market for a new cell phone? Or as Rob Clark, Director, Insights and Measurement at Edelman Digital, notes:


The person who influences me regarding what to eat for dinner is different than the one who influences my purchase of computer #SMMeasure


I get what Syfy is doing – they are selling their audience as a desirable target demo. They are selling them on the posters as a brand’secret weapon, “I’m your social media,” they tell the brand. I’ve made my share of ‘Top Influencers” lists, and I think they tend to be link bait for those creating the lists and an exercise in vanity for those on the lists. But things like relevance, reach and resonance are important. That’s why Traackr exists.

Here’s where I think Syfy is missing the boat: How are they creating an engagement strategy that ties the brands to the network’s programming in a relevant way? It doesn’t feel like they are connecting the dots. As an advertiser, I could reach the three above in a wide variety of ways, how is Syfy making my brand fit with the content that Syfy distributes? The logic they seem to be banking on is: Run an ad on our network, and our audience will tweet about you. But does it work that way? These people are fans of Syfy programming, not advertising from Syfy sponsors. If I’m watching Defiance on Syfy, I’m tweeting about the show – characters, plots, etc. – not about the latest spot from a hotel chain. That’s why context is so important.

If Syfy wants to sell Syfy viewers as a lever for advertisers, they have to make their advertisers contextually relevant to other audience memebers. Here’s where someone like Hyperactivate comes in. These guys are masters at building engagement around contextually relevant content. Entrepreneur magazine tabbed them as one of three startups to watch coming out of SxSW 2013. They’ve worked with brands like M&Ms, Ellen, Katy Perry, MLB and many more. They recently ran a social media-driven engagement campaign for a popular video game, and in some cases big engagement was driven by people who wouldn’t normally be called “influencers.” Hyperactivate explains:

“One user engaged through Facebook, where he only has 490 friends. From his single entry, he activated 25 people. From those 25 people, his reach grew to 6,077 with a total of over 200 clicks, and further people activated. Normally, this person wouldn’t be seen as any sort of influencer yet he’s activated a good amount of people and spread the brand message to an even larger audience.”

And now we get to the Duncan Watts v. Malcolm Gladwell argument regarding what an influencer is, and that’s not my main point. My point is, regardless of how you define influencer, or if you even believe in that at all, Syfy is playing a bit fast and loose with the true mechanics of social media and they are potentially missing the larger point around providing contextually relevant content. If Syfy wants brands to play ball with them, they need to make sure they are integrating the brands around the content that the Syfy audience has come to enjoy.

In Defense of Syfy’s Defiance

Science Fiction, by its very nature, has always been about exploring new possibilities.  The very best of the genre has given us glimpses into a realized future, paving a way for innovation.  The Syfy channel may just be doing that now with their new show, Defiance, but not necessarily in the way you think. While the show may be borrowing from a variety of past creations, the producers are trying something rather groundbreaking with the production – creating a transmedia IP that is living as both a television program and video game concurrently.

It’s a gamble, but it’s one with a certain logic behind it a Content Lab reports: “It’s also an attempt to cater to a highly engaged, billion-dollar audience: participants of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.”

Syfy is pouring a lot of money, a reported $60-70 million on the game alone, to make Defiance a hit. For HBO, the costs of an ambitious show like Game of Thrones can be covered by subscriptions, but Syfy needs to generate revenue in other ways, and no doubt had that in mind with the creation of Defiance. Again, from Content Lab: “Moreover, the transmedia [Ed. note – actually, I’d call it intermedia] approach also raises intriguing possibilities for in-game advertising. It’s not too difficult to see how a product used in the show, such a vehicle or branded clothing, could appear naturally as elements in the game.”

No doubt this is new territory and Syfy along with game partner Trion have got a lot riding on the success of Defiance. While initial reviews of the show and game were tepid, Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat reports: “In fact, the premiere of Defiance outperformed Game of Thrones on its own premiere day. Syfy hasn’t had a show this hot since Eureka, and its second-screen tablet app posted its best day ever with the debut. The digital stats in terms of uniques, page views, and visits are stellar.

Meanwhile, the massively multiplayer online game has scored 6 million hours of playtime since the launch two weeks ago. I’ve poured around 10 hours into it myself. This transmedia — or a story that is told in more than one medium — has to be considered a success in terms of its ability to grab attention even though it appeared on the same day as the Boston bombings.”

I honestly don’t know if Defiance is going to be a success, it’s impossible to know for certain after two weeks, but I do feel confident in saying that brands should be working to understand what’s at play here. Consumers’ attitudes and expectations towards entertainment and content have changed. The idea of watching unique content on multiple platforms, sometimes even simultaneously, is becoming more accepted, if not expected. This provides massive new opportunities for brands to integrate across multiple touchpoints, creating longer engagements with fans through programming they want to watch. Categories like food, travel and technology could all look to take advantage of this in new and compelling ways.