Realscreen West preview: Reality tweets

Ahead of the sold-out Realscreen West conference in Santa Monica, realscreen looks at the impact Twitter-savvy talent has on reality programming. (Pictured: the Kardashian sisters)
May 23, 2012

Ahead of the sold-out Realscreen West conference in Santa Monica, realscreen looks at the relationship between social media and unscripted television, where having Twitter-savvy talent is increasingly becoming a big plus.

Influence in the Twittersphere can be paid for, but for most TV marketers it’s the priceless moments that count.

While gauging a reality star’s financial worth in the social media space (or simply “social” in industry parlance) has become an increasingly common pastime in the media, effectively using an unscripted celeb’s social media influence to drive viewership is not as simple as assigning a dollar amount.

“I wouldn’t say that specific influencer strategy is a big part of our initial strategy around a show but it is an ever-present strategy as we do real-time engagement on social around programming,” says Gayle Weiswasser, VP of social media for Discovery Communications. “If we see someone who’s talking about one of our shows we’re going to make every effort to engage with them.”

That a single tweet by Keeping Up With The Kardashians star Khloe Kardashian would cost US$9,100 through pay-per-tweet ad service Sponsored Tweets is less interesting to Weiswasser than the reality star’s influence rating, which is 9.2 out of 10, according to a recent ranking of Twitter’s most influential reality talent conducted by PeekYou for aggregator site Buzzfeed.

In fact, all three Kardashian sisters (pictured above) and their mother Kris Jenner appear in PeekYou’s list, with Kim and Kourtney claiming the top two spots and Kim scoring a perfect 10. (Kendra On Top’s Kendra Wilkinson, The Hills’ Audrina Partridge and Jon & Kate Plus 8′s Kate Gosselin round out the top five)

Although many reality stars are well-versed in social by the time a series is greenlit, others aren’t as fluent in “tweet.” Thus, networks such as Discovery, E! and Bravo have gurus on staff that provide Twitter 101 training and, in some cases, help grow followings.

At Discovery, Weiswasser’s team gives talent advice on privacy, confidentiality and the network’s values, but stops short of helping build a digital footprint. “We’re more interested in how are they specifically approaching their social media efforts around the programming,” she says.

The Kardashians’ combined followers top 29.2 million, meaning their Twitter audience is much larger than the viewership of their series. Last year, 10.5 million people tuned to the E! network’s most-watched program, Kim’s Fairytale Wedding: A Kardashian Event – a sizeable number but still smaller than Kim’s 14.5 million-strong following, which the channel’s execs will exploit during the seventh season of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, which premiered in May. (E! recently signed the Kardashians to a three-year deal which will put the show up to nine seasons)

“In the beginning we were very active with [the Kardashians] in helping them build [their digital footprint] out because obviously we knew it was going to be a huge benefit,” says Annemarie Batur, VP of marketing and advertising for E! “We also do a lot of sentiment tracking with them. We’re basically targeting fans that are talking about the Kardashians so we’re harnessing the power between seasons when they have other things going on.”

To do this, E! marketers have made “Kardashian evangelists” out of hardcore fans by sending them exclusive previews of forthcoming episodes. They also drive live tune-in via virtual premiere parties during which the Kardashians tweet reactions to the episode.

These initiatives play on Kardashian fans’ desire for instant fame, however fleeting. “We try to build experiences that allow the fans a direct touch point and that moment of social fame,” says Batur.

NBC Universal-owned cable net Bravo has two gurus to bring new talent up to speed on social media Ps and Qs, but pre-existing savvy in the space is increasingly something its producers consider when casting.

“When we’re casting people on a show, we’re looking at people who want to get fan engagement,” says Ellen Stone, Bravo’s senior VP of marketing. “The people that we want to tweet are the same people we want in our shows.”

Bravo is home to top tweeters Bethenny Frankel, of Real Housewives of New York City and Bethenny Getting Married?; and exec VP of development and talent and Watch What Happens Live host Andy Cohen. One of the net’s Twitter initiatives involving talent is Bravo’s Talk Bubbles – virtual viewing parties that can sometimes attract unexpected participants.

During a Real Housewives of New York City finale, for example, the cast was scheduled to join Talk Bubble conversation but cast members from other Housewives franchises were compelled to join the conversation.

Although Bravo thrives on talent with that level of Twitter savvy, Stone says the network doesn’t formalize specific initiatives in a contract for fear such a move would sap that spontaneity.

“We have to be very careful in the social space to portray ourselves very authentically, so I’m never going to ask talent to create a Twitter effort that they don’t feel comfortable with,” she says. “What we don’t do is tell them what to say because if it’s not authentic, it does not work and our fans can smell the BS a mile away.

“Not to mention our talent is not going to put up with it,” she adds. “They’re gonna tell. They’re reality talent.”


This feature appears in the current May/June 2012 issue of realscreen magazine. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information. Kim Kardashian will be inducted into the Factual Entertainment Awards Hall of Fame as Personality of the Year at Realscreen West in Santa Monica next week.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.