Unscripted

Social status: How (and why) top unscripted series are taking over social media

Not long after Love Is Blind premiered on Netflix, Twitter erupted with conversation. The chatter drifted to platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and articles rattling off the “best” reactions ...
June 24, 2020

Not long after Love Is Blind premiered on Netflix, Twitter erupted with conversation. The chatter drifted to platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and articles rattling off the “best” reactions from fans online soon appeared on sites such as Buzzfeed. On Feb. 26, just a few weeks after the series premiered, Time published the article: “Love Is Blind Memes are Taking Over the Internet.”

Love Is Blind is by far the corniest and most cringe show on Netflix. It’s unrealistic and so stupid…. I’ll take 3 more seasons please #loveisblindnetflix,” one user (@swimmerboy98) tweeted. Another user, @brandonp_16, wrote: “Me: Love Is Blind sounds like a stupid show… Also Me: If Cameron and Lauren don’t stay together, what is life?!! #LoveIsBlind.”

Those posts, each amassing upwards of 10,000 “likes” and 2,300 “retweets,” were among the hordes comprising the swarm of reactions that circulated through the series’ run, cementing Love Is Blind‘s place in Internet culture (and on Twitter’s trending list).

The success of the reality format, produced by Red Arrow Studios’ Kinetic Content, isn’t owed entirely to social media. Still, unscripted series that crack the code to online viral status reap the rewards of this era’s most persuasive water cooler conversation.

“Social media plays a huge role in what we’ve called word-of-mouth for so long,” Chris Coelen, CEO of Kinetic Content, tells Realscreen. “I feel like social media has supplanted all of that or certainly enhanced a lot of that.”

Love Is Blind isn’t the only recent show to marry buzzy unscripted content with social media acumen. ITV’s Love Island, produced by ITV Studios, and TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé, produced by Sharp Entertainment, have successfully cultivated cross-platform conversations.

A&E Network’s recently canceled Live PD and Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise are a few other reality series that come to mind for Jenna Ross, Twitter’s head of U.S. entertainment partnerships.

Ross, who joined the company nearly five years ago, works across streaming platforms and cable, in addition to collaborating with TV talent. She says the ability to grow a following on the platform has only become greater over time — and unscripted programming lends itself particularly well to social media engagement.

“These shows become more and more social savvy and keep connecting with their audience,” she says.

“IT’S UNPREDICTABLE”

There’s no surefire strategy to social success, though reality shows naturally have a relatability factor that allows for what Coelen calls “social opportunity.”

“There’s a topicality to those shows, that people [in the cast] are experiencing the same things or facing the same issues that you might be facing and that feels very sticky and very social,” he says. “I think that that’s a good recipe for social engagement.”

It isn’t a simple recipe to replicate, however.

Discovery-owned TLC trades in buzzworthy reality TV, with a roster of series that fit the bill for social send off—among them, the frequently Twitter-trending 90 Day Fiancé. In a “dream world,” TLC president and general manager Howard Lee says all the network’s shows would have a social following.

“I think that if you are doing a job properly and you are commissioning and developing programming, all of your shows aim for that goal,” Lee adds.

In the early days of 90 Day Fiancé, which debuted in January 2014, Lee says TLC was just starting to get on board with social. “We even had to educate people about what a hashtag was. ‘What is that tic tac toe symbol?’ That was a question I would always get,” he explains.

Now, seven seasons and many spin-offs later, a quick search of #90DayFiance on Twitter will bring forward a mass of viewer reactions to couples featured on the show, many of which become “memes” on other platforms (and even shared on the official 90 Day Fiancé Instagram account).

“It just evolved and got bigger and bigger,” Lee says. “It was even faster than any viewer relations reporting or any hard copy letters that would be mailed to us or e-mailed. All coming in through social media as real fan engagement and feedback… And I believe that it can’t evolve on its own unless you really have a must-see series first. The content has to be that strong.”

TWITTER TO TIKTOK

Cameron Curtis, VP of multi-platform strategy and digital media at TLC, says the network meets 90 Day Fiancé fans “where they are” — from Twitter to Facebook, Instagram and, now, TikTok—amplifying viewer reactions across platforms.

“We are supportive of that conversation, which I think makes us very unique,” Curtis says. However, she adds casting a wide net has its challenges.

“There are so many platforms right now and we need to get on every single one in order to find that audience,” she explains. “I’m sure there’ll be a new platform next year that we’ll need to launch on as well.”

Kim Dingler, chief creative officer of global entertainment at ITV Studios, says Love Island has been planting its flag across popular social media platforms since the show first aired five years ago.

Like Curtis, she says it can be a challenge to keep up with the sheer number of social sites, each with their own unique needs.

“If you look at Facebook in 2015, it’s so different from Facebook in 2020,” Dingler says. “Our social media strategy has evolved to accommodate this. We do Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, but also newer social media like TikTok. We cater the content for all those platforms.”

Much like Love Is Blind and 90 Day Fiancé, the social media reaction to Love Island has been compiled in publications such as Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan and Bustle. Tweets about the show garner thousands of likes and retweets.

“There are so many platforms right now and we need to get on every single one in order to find that audience. I’m sure there’ll be a new platform next year that we’ll need to launch on as well.”

“Social is almost an umbrella of all the things you can do. Because you have marketing social that’s way more based on promoting the show, but you also have the content on social, where you let people talk and have influence on the show,” Dingler says. “It all has its place in the social media funnel.”

Huub van Ballegooy, the content and production consultant for Love Island, says social strategy isn’t one-size-fits-all, however.

“A non-interactive quiz on Saturday night has a different strategic approach than a format like Love Island, which targets a much more younger demographic,” Ballegooy says. “You look at the needs of the broadcaster, of your key demo, and this is where you adjust it.”

For Twitter’s Ross, producers, broadcasters and streamers can take their strategy on the platform further by educating cast members on the “do’s and don’ts of social media,” and allowing them to participate in the conversation. “The fans can dig in further than they would be if they were just watching on air.”

“WINDS OF SOCIAL MEDIA”

For producers, the viral status of a show offers myriad benefits, with perhaps the most important being the potential to drive more eyeballs to a series. And while historically there have been shows that have performed well via social but not via traditional ratings, the proliferation of social platforms and their different capabilities for marketing to specific demos might narrow that gap. Nielsen’s Social Content Ratings, for example, incorporates data from Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to help determine the impact of talent promotion on a show’s social engagement metrics, among other findings shared with clients.

“I think the fact that people are able to discover it because their friends were talking about it on social media is a huge help,” Coelen says. “As a producer, a lot of times you’re at the mercy of forces that you can’t control so to have the winds of social media on your side to help get the word out is incredible, but that’s not something you necessarily can control.”

More than ever, Ross says social media platforms like Twitter are helping people connect amid social distancing orders in place due to the COVID-19 crisis. For producers, broadcasters and streamers, there’s no better time to join the conversation.

“There is this FOMO [fear of missing out] factor a lot of the time, where I feel like Twitter has led a conversation and led the cultural pick up of some of these big shows,” Ross says.

“We’re all just trying to watch along together and share with everybody… I feel like that’s just going to keep picking up.”

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Realscreen magazine. Not a subscriber? Click here for more info.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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