Q&A: Social media tips from BBC The Social’s Anthony Browne

We crowdsourced your questions to put to executive producer Anthony Browne who heads up BBC The SocialBBC Three's Give Me a Voice and the team overseeing BBC Scotland's social media.



Can you tell us what you do and what you look after?

I’m the executive producer of social media for BBC Scotland, which means I have a remit for the social media output of all of TV, radio, online, News and Sport.

I also exec produce BBC The Social, which is a project that I co-created with Louise Thornton and Muslim Alim.

Thirdly, I'm the lead on Give Me a Voice with BBC Three, which is a project that’s quite new for us. It came about when we spoke to Damian Kavanagh and Max Gogarty about the three pillars that make up BBC Three: ‘make me think’, ‘make me laugh’ and ‘give me a voice’). They said they were having difficulty with Give Me a Voice and we said “That’s The Social!”

So we’re finding talent from all over the UK using The Social's model which they’ll publish to BBC Three’s social media. We’re the only part of the BBC that does that model, and we’ve made lots of mistakes and done lots of learning, so that team working for BBC Three will sit with us.

Anthony Browne shows BBC Academy the social media planning wall at BBC Scotland in Glasgow

Anthony Browne shows BBC Academy the social media planning wall at BBC Scotland in Glasgow

You talked about the 'model' for BBC The Social. Can you explain what that is?

We commission young talent in Scotland to make social media content which we post on The Social's social media channels including Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube.

It’s not a UGC [user-generated content] project. Everything that’s made is commissioned by us. We commission people, not content and we look to develop relationships with individuals.

We work with new talent: we discover them, bring them in, talk to them about their passions and what they'd like to do with us and what other interests they have.

We work with them to develop content ideas.

Once we agree a treatment, they go off and make it and then send it in. They do all the production - filming, editing, presenting, everything.

We evaluate it and send them notes, they make the changes and submit another version. Sometimes it goes on back and forth, but hopefully it's one or two revisions and that's it.

Our team does the social optimising (i.e. the branding, making it square etc.) and then we publish it.

"One of the key differences between The Social and other projects is that we don't make content for young people - we make it with young people."

You could think of all our contributors as little indie production companies.

We don't send commissioning briefs -we take the lead from them because they’re the audience. That way we get a range of different perspectives and they, not us, are leading the agenda. It’s more of a blank slate.

We have a closed Facebook group for our contributors to share best practice and talk ideas so they don’t overlap.

How many contributors do you have?

We have about 100 contributors 'live' at any time.

What does The Social provide new talent that they couldn’t do on their own platforms?

Many of our contributors have their own YouTube pages but they have told us that working with us has improved their storytelling and shooting; they’ve started to think more about sound, lighting etc.

The young YouTubers didn’t have critical friends. Family and friends tend to just say "Well done, that's amazing." Nobody was saying to them "You could really tighten up that first 30 seconds" or "That ending is a bit weak." The more feedback you get the better you become.

Some of the contributors weren’t looking at the analytics, only how many followers they had and how many views their videos had – not how long people watched, what age they were, where were they coming from etc. So we give them the analytics to help shape what they’re doing.

We also pay for all of our content, so with some of our contributors, if they're doing a lot, it can add up to significant income. Many of them bank it and spend it on kit, which improves the quality of their content.

In terms of where else they can go, some have gone on to work for newspapers and publishers. Calum Maclean, who does the videos series Wild Swimming for The Social, got invited to present a segment on BBC Scotland’s Landward. And BBC Alba then commissioned him to make his own TV series. So in 14 months he went from being an Instagrammer to having a second BBC series commissioned - that’s the sort of talent development cycle we can do.

How much do you publish?

We aim to publish two new pieces of content each day. For the first half of 2017, we've reached an average of over eight million people per week.

It's mainly video content because Facebook is our biggest platform so far and the Facebook audience loves video. Recent research has shown one in four young people in Scotland now recognise the brand. 


Why did The Social develop in Scotland?

The Social came about in Scotland because there was a particular need. Scottish audiences have the lowest AI (Audience Appreciation Index) of the BBC of any nation.

At the time we were starting to develop The Social we’d come out of the Scottish independence referendum and young people were unhappy with the BBC and there was a lot of bad feeling. So we had a job to do with young people to win them back to the BBC.

More generally all broadcasters are experiencing issues as young people are moving away from linear media. So we asked young people what they liked and didn’t like on BBC Scotland, and they didn’t even know what was on it! It’s worse to be irrelevant than not liked.

One of the ways we become relevant to our audience is by reflecting them. But at the same time we also want to reflect Scottish people to the rest of the UK and the world.

"There’s a frustration among young people that the only time you see Scotland represented in a lot of the mainstream media is when it’s a story about grouse shooting, whiskey or using drugs."

Young people in Scotland see a vibrant, diverse country with great arts and a range of thoughts and world views, and this wasn’t getting reflected, in their opinion.

So we thought social media could capture the energy and excitement of young people creating online content, while using the skillsets within the BBC about media and storytelling to help them make the best possible version of what they want to say.


Is it only young people producing social content or are there opportunities for older people?

There's no age limit to be a part of The Social. But the audience is defined as 18-34, so as long as the content works for them then we are interested.

BBC Scotland social media also has social-first commissioning like This is LifeLost Scotland and a comedy strand called Short Stuff. Those are also open to contributors of all ages.

What do you look for in someone when hiring for your team?

We're finding that a lot of mid-career people in the media don’t 'get' social media.

What we're looking for is a creative ideas machine with people skills - someone who can develop people and communicate with them. They also need technical skills like knowing how to edit video and optimise content.

But they really need to be interested in developing content for our platforms. We've had people interview for jobs at BBC Three and The Social and they couldn’t answer questions about what they liked on social media!


How do you deal with trolls?

Sometimes we have content about gender politics - that’s something that brings out a lot of trolls.

We’ve tried to be quite pragmatic about it, and to understand them. There’s an underlying reason why someone is being a troll. No happy person is a troll. If I'm happy with my life I don't sit down and spew hate.

If someone just doesn't like the content we're fine with that. We’re producing content for 18 to 34-year-olds - those are very different age groups. So if they think it's rubbish that’s their opinion.

Where we do intervene is when they make personal remarks or threats towards contributors - we have to protect them. We've had death threats and horrible things said to contributors, so we will ban people and notify the authorities if appropriate.

We always protect our contributors because we have a duty of care to them. We're exposing them to the world via our platform, so we're always very careful to make sure we manage them and their feelings.

When somebody's submitting content we think might be controversial we explain what the outcomes might be and make sure they're comfortable with possibly getting certain sorts of comments. We also have pathways and support networks within the BBC if things escalate.

We've tried to take it on a case-by-case basis. In the past I have direct-messaged trolls and asked why they’re so angry, because our content is just someone sharing their opinion. Sometimes I've had trolls apologise, say they’re having a bad day and that they forget that contributors are real people. But sometimes you just get more abuse. 


Kilted Yoga has been your biggest success so far with more than 57 million views. Did you know it would go viral? 

Yes, we thought it would. The story of how it came about is interesting. We saw we weren't doing a lot of engagement with Dundee so we asked Liv, an apprentice we had with us at the time, to find some interesting people there.

She brought back Finlay Wilson who was doing yoga on Instagram and when we met him he said you don’t see a lot of guys doing yoga - it’s all po-faced, there’s no humour, it all takes place on beaches and there’s nothing for Scottish people.

Working with Anna Chaney from the BBC production trainee scheme and our producer Anna Fenton, we came up with a treatment to ham up the Scottishness of it - kilts, the forest, drumming music, two good-looking guys. The whole thing conveying freedom and determination like a cheesy motivational poster. We sent Anna off with nice kit so the shots would look good.

We instantly saw the figures going up the second we published it. The numbers just kept jumping up every time we hit refresh. Everyone got addicted.

But it took our production team out of commission for a week while they did international press with Finlay. People got flown to New York for the Tartan Day Parade and even CNN came out here. Finlay's now got a book out. 

Is there a formula that guarantees viral success?

There is no formula, but you can always do things to maximise your chances of something being shared.

First off, optimise all your content for the platform where it’s being delivered - for example, a subtitled square video for Facebook.

Make content that elicits an emotional response in the viewer to make them want to share it. If somebody watches it and goes "Wow, I didn’t know that” or "That’s funny” or "That’s sad" they'll want to share it.

If the video has that emotional response but it doesn’t look good, or the sound is a bit rubbish, people are less likely to share it. So you have to get something that’s nicely shot and uses a variety of shots.

There have been times we thought a piece of content was amazing and would get much bigger and it hasn’t just through pure chance. And then other times we’ve thought stuff was decent but it went crazy.

There’s a bit of magic that goes with it, like timing and landing on the right person at the right time. But if all the other things you can control aren’t in place it’s less likely to catch fire.


What's next for The Social?

We're starting to think about doing other things like mid-form videos and drama. For example, we're doing a five-part drama series of 10-minute episodes.

Garry Fraser, an Edinburgh-based film-maker who worked on Trainspotting 2, came to us and said he loved what we were doing, so we were able to get some money to commission his drama.

We're also developing podcasts, trying to establish an audience for short-form videos and other things that play around the edges.

The Social is going to be rolled out in Wales at the beginning in 2018, and we hope eventually to all the nations and regions.

We feel The Social can be the front door for the BBC. We want anyone in the UK who wants to get into media to come through that way. Then BBC Three can help them through Give Me a Voice and they can go UK-wide.

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