Social Media

5 Lessons from the Second Second-Screen Debate

October 18, 2012

Tuesday’s presidential debate – the second in a series of three – was the third most social TV event in history with an estimated 12.24M social media comments, ahead of last year’s Super Bowl and narrowly behind the 2012 Grammy Awards (13.0M) and the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards (12.8M).

Contrary to claims that Americans today lack the political vigor of past generations, online conversations around the debate were within the realm of some of the largest national sports and entertainment of late. 360i’s team of social TV experts across content, community and influencer marketing analyzed last night’s town hall debate to unearth the key lessons for brands.

Be unique, but don’t isolate yourself. Hashtags can secure your place in the conversation — or cut you out of it. 

Live events are generally assigned to a single network (i.e. the GRAMMY Awards or the Super Bowl). What makes the debates interesting is that several networks were competing for attention in online conversations. On Tuesday, the networks’ approach to this challenge varied — ABC used #Debates, CNN promoted its #CNNDebate hashtag on Twitter and MSNBC anchors used the #MSNBC2012 hashtag in their tweets.

Takeaway: Promoting specific hashtags was a unique way for the networks to encourage branded conversations from followers that were watching the debate from their network. NBC used a similar approach in its promotion of the 2012 Olympic Games (#NBCOlympics), which allowed the network to stand out from the clutter.

Brands should be cognizant of the risks when promoting tweets during live events. The challenge in this case is that it’s harder to attain branded relevance within such a large cultural experience. In this case, #Debates adds much more value to the conversation than #MSNBC2012, which wasn’t entirely specific to the event itself.

That just happened and now it’s everywhere.

The real-time social amplification of the sound byte has huge ramifications for live events. This is a trend we’ve seen grow dramatically over the past couple of years – namely in the sports space – but in an era where everyone is a commentator, the implications are bigger than ever. Romney’s “binders full of women” comment instantly became a trending hashtag – but it didn’t end there. Just hours after the debate, a Tumblr blog amassed huge buzz and a dedicated Facebook page garnered nearly 200K Likes just hours after the debate.

Takeaway: Being nimble and aware of which events are catching fire in the social space presents a big opportunity for brands to either create or piggyback cultural conversation where relevant. The trick is to enter these conversations in a natural, on-brand way. As an example, hours after the debate Spirit Airlines announced that it would be offering “Binders Full of Sales.”

Social media can bring viewers closer to the action. 

While the debate itself was a social event, where were the social media audience tie-ins? If you were watching the pre-footage you would have seen Candy Crowley, the moderator, instruct town hall attendees to shut off all mobile devices and refrain from using social media. There are certainly political sensitivities that probably spurred this request, but beyond the live audience Crowley could have selected a few questions from viewers following along at home. This would have provided a more real-time component and involved more people in the discussion beyond the handful that were on the ground in Hofstra.

Takeaway: Consider how social can bring fans closer to the live event, or expand the power of your content. Shows like Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” and others have effectively used social to bring viewers into the on-air experience. Bridging the social and on-air realms could involve simply fielding commentary from Twitter, or in some cases, allowing social activity to dictate the story lines themselves. We saw this with USA Network’s popular Hashtag Killer game last year, which ran in parallel to the hit show “Psych.”

Social media emerged as amplifiers of some messages and rebuttals of others.

During a debate with so much finger-pointing, we didn’t see much commentary from the Romney campaign during the actual event. The governor’s official account went dark a little after 9 p.m. EST and resumed tweeting shortly after the town hall ended. On the contrary, Obama’s camp seemed more in tune with the nature of the medium, translating soundbytes into hashtags, as is the case in this #SketchyDeal tweet. The President also referenced “Big Bird,” a clear nod to the top trending word that emerged from debate #1.

Takeaway: Understanding your audience and the platforms on which they interact can provide huge opportunities for brands to connect and show consumers that they “get it.” Obama’s team was clearly aware of the social behaviors of his younger-leaning demographics – and it capitalized on that insight during the debate.

Don’t underestimate the role of Facebook in real-time conversation.

Twitter reported that social activity slowed down from the first debate (from more than 10MM mentions to just over 7MM), but Facebook engagement saw an increase. These findings are courtesy of Attention PR, which notes that Facebook engagement was up 40 percent from the first presidential debate.

Takeaway: Create content the specifically supports your unique voice, view or value. Although Twitter has (rightfully) been heralded as the king of real-time status updates, technology is making it easier than ever for people to use Facebook, Tumblr and other platforms from their mobile devices and tablets. Marketers will want to pay attention to increased mobile behavior across all platforms – not just Twitter – when entering the social TV space.

Contributors: Steven Avalos, Senior Community Manager; Emily Garvey, Senior Publicist; Margot Inzetta, Senior Publicist; Danielle Johnsen Karr, Senior Community Manager; Stephen Schutzman, Supervisor of Digital Communities; and Tatiana Urriaga, Community Manager at 360i