Social Media at the BBC: Bridging the gap between audience and production

Friday 15 March 2013, 09:57

Rowan Kerek Robertson Rowan Kerek Robertson Editorial Lead

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I’m Rowan Kerek Robertson, editorial lead for Social Media in BBC Vision.

My job, along with a small team, is about helping to ensure that the BBC’s TV programmes and channels use social media in ways which are as useful, entertaining and engaging as possible be it on BBC Online like the TV blog and other blogs, or in places like Twitter, Facebook or flickr.

three.jpg Tweets from BBC Three


My team and I are dedicated to bridging the gap between BBC producers and production teams and BBC audiences by using the social web.

The BBC as a whole has a strong tradition of engaging with audiences and a long history of using social media (relatively speaking…).

In the past I often found myself talking to producers about the differences between broadcasting and conversation. Broadcast is, of course, a one way route but conversation requires you to not only speak but also to listen.

But now more and more producers are getting used to social spaces such as Facebook, Twitter and photo sharing services like Instagram, Pinterest and flickr.

This means that our main challenge is now less about helping producers understand the nuances of social media but working together with people like our colleagues in BBC Marketing to think about what we do and how we’re going to do it.

It’s the same challenge that meets every user of social media: if you can talk to the world about anything and everything that you do, how do you make sure it is interesting?  

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Watch the Queen Vic bust give her annual address to the nation...

In Vision’s Social Media team we help producers to get the most out of social in a number of ways.

We look at what content is coming up and which social platforms different types of audiences are using and help producers analyse activity that relates to programmes and brands as much as we can.

We then help production teams think about how much resource different kinds of social activity might require and the tone of voice or character their activity online might have.

Social media offers an increasingly elegant and effective way to ask people what they think, such as on the long standing Points of View message boards. It also helps people feed into our programmes in direct ways and to share extra content that isn’t part of what a linear programme can offer.

It can also help us get TV programmes and related content to people who might otherwise not have been aware of it.

The wide ranging output of my part of the BBC never ceases to amaze me. TV programmes which are so familiar that their theme tunes play in the nation’s subconscious like Eastenders and Strictly alongside series which mark the passing of the year like Springwatch, Eurovision and Comic Relief and brands which aren’t on TV but live primarily online such as Your Paintings, BBC Nature or BBC Food.

Because of the wide and diverse range of content there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to social media activity.

For Eastenders it’s all about sharing brilliant content and extending the programme for its real fans. So the Eastenders blog is full of photo spoilers and fun additional content like Queen Vic’s Speech 2012 delivered by the Queen Vic bust herself.

And alongside their official accounts on Facebook and Twitter (which have 2.9 million and 300 thousand followers respectively) you can also find fictional accounts from Eastenders characters popping up, like the one from cheeky chappie Fatboy who is followed by 30 thousand on Twitter. Those with an eagle eye will occasionally see references to his activity in the programme.

flickr-1024.jpg Stargazing LIVE and The Sky at Night flickr group


Stargazing Live is a lovely example of a BBC programme that’s using social media primarily to talk with its audience.

A panel of experts has taken part in live web chats during each series so far, answering peoples’ space-related questions as well as sharing behind-the-scenes photos and facts.

Stargazing and The Sky at Night also share a flickr group, which is crammed full of people sharing their honestly mind blowing photos. The group has five thousand members and 30 thousand photos which are well worth a few minutes of your time.

And as well as their support of projects like Zooniverse (you can literally help to map parts of Mars that you’ll be the first human to ever set eyes on) you can, from this series, follow them on Twitter along with 27 thousand others.

Perhaps because of the hardware divide between watching telly and being online, albeit a divide which is lessening all the time, UK television channels by and large haven’t been terribly big names in the social world.

Naturally it has been the younger channels which have led the way. For us, BBC Three has been digitally engaged with their audience for several years.

bbc-one-new1-1024.jpg BBC One on Facebook


BBC Three’s social media offers on Facebook (532 thousand fans) and Twitter (140 thousand followers) are great ways of staying across the wealth of new programmes that the channel puts out, as well as voicing your opinions about their thought provoking shows.

BBC One has recently launched itself into the social whirl of Facebook too. BBC One’s Facebook page, currently with 33 thousand fans, is all about sharing the love for some of the nation’s favourite telly.

You can also check out and like images of the first televised coverage of the Olympics Games, the first ever Children In Need and of course the inception of Trotter’s Independent Traders.

We’re also seeing more and more TV programmes bringing social activity right into the heart of live shows like Free Speech on BBC Three which includes audience reactions from social media within debate on the programme itself.

This is done all the time in BBC radio but on TV it can take considerable planning due to the scale of TV productions.

If you’ve participated in any of the social spaces I’ve talked about in the post I’d be really interested in your thoughts.

Rowan Kerek Robertson is editorial lead for Social Media in BBC Vision.

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