Tom Thai, head of marketing and business development at Bluefin Labs, a leading provider of social media analytics about television, is well-positioned to observe the surge of interest in social TV measurement. "It feels similar to what was happening to social media years ago," he says. "It’s definitely early days of this, from a business-to-business standpoint, but we’re seeing a lot of interest. We have three types of clients: the ad agencies, the TV networks, and the brands themselves."
With consumer engagement with various forms of social TV exploding—last week’s "Social Bowl," saw a five-fold increase in social chatter compared to last year—ad agencies and their clients are taking notice. "Behaviors are being created that just didn’t exist a couple of years ago, and which were quite small last year," says Kate Sirkin, global research director at media agency Starcom MediaVest. "This year is the watershed moment."
Stacey Shepatin, director of national broadcast at ad agency Hill Holliday, agrees.
"I think last year there was a lot of experimentation from the content provider standpoint," she says. "In 2012, you’re going to see marketers wanting to be a part of that. I think you’ll see more and more marketers getting into the space and trying new things. There’s going to have to be some risks that are taken because there isn’t a lot of proof behind what’s right and what’s not right for any particular brand."
This will mean experimentation, like the program Disney Parks and Resorts ran with Shazam late last year during its annual Christmas Day Parade telecast. "We’ve been looking at second screen and at virtual TV for a while," says Christie Volastro, vice president of digital marketing at Disney Parks and Resorts. "I would say today we’re not looking at hard-nosed ROI. We’re seeking to learn and find out how we can create a deeper level of engagement with our customers."
The Christmas Day program, and subsequent ads, tested five different calls to action that served up everything from bonus content to a booking phone number, just so the marketer could get some insight into how users are interacting with the second screen.
"Top line, we were pleasantly surprised by the results," Volastro says. "We saw really solid engagement. We spent a lot of time on the program that we would deliver. Based on the results, it seems like that paid off, and people really enjoyed the experience."
"For the first time, television has an instant feedback loop the likes of which we’ve never seen before," says Mike Proulx, Hill Holliday’s director of digital strategy and coauthor—with Shepatin—of Social TV, a book tackling the topic due out on February 28. "It’s almost, in effect, helping brands close the loop from interest to actual action in a more direct response model."
And even where the second screen can’t yet deliver the fabled "buy now" button, the intelligence social chatter provides may prove invaluable for tuning campaigns mid-flight. Bluefin’s Thai tells the story of a client who heard objections via normal channels to a television campaign, but—because of positive sentiment on social media—they stayed the course (where they once might have pulled the effort) and reaped the viral rewards.
"Think of it as real-time, large-scale copy testing," says Sirkin. Very few clients can afford to do copy testing at the scale that this could allow and it’s all going on in real-time, in real-context. And I think that’s a huge win for this kind of data."
That said, it’s likely to get more confusing for brands (and consumers) in the near term.
"It’s going to get worse before it gets better," says Proulx. "Worse in the sense of many more players, companies, apps, experimentation happening, which is a good thing overall for moving, but during that stage, it’s very confusing to brands and it’s very confusing to the end consumers, about where and how to engage."
But even now, that engagement is there for those brands that are willing to jump in and grow along with the space. "We want to give them a deeper level of engagement and content," says Disney’s Volastro. "Absolutely that’s working today. We just need more and more people engaging in these behaviors."