On an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” Sheldon Cooper went into a tizzy upon learning that one of his favorite shows, Syfy’s “Alphas,” had been cancelled. He repeatedly called the phone number of the vice president of programming, trying to find out how the last episode cliffhanger would have ended.
Most of Syfy’s fans aren’t quite that obsessive-compulsive, but they are that devoted and that willing to share their opinions. They just do it through the mediums of social and mobile, which are playing a bigger and bigger role in the genre network’s marketing strategy every year.
“At the end of the day, of course, we’re judged on viewership,” says Dana Ortiz, vice president of brand marketing for Syfy. “So it’s was important for us not to just tap out on engagement—we want to make sure that every time we put out a post we’re looking at ways to drive [ratings].”
Ahead of the Curve
Social and mobile played a huge role in the April launch of Syfy’s “Defiance,” a new post-apocalyptic drama that launched on Syfy in April. The network wanted to start spreading the word about the show as early as the July 2012 Comic-Con International in San Diego, which has become extremely important in generating buzz, particularly for shows with a science fiction bent. But it couldn’t just put up posters saying “Coming April 2013”—Syfy knew it needed content share with fans.
“So much money was sitting in the next year for media dollars, but we had to feed that social beat coming into Comic-Con, “ says Ortiz. “For something like ‘Defiance,’ we had the benefit of planning and having so much in the can so early on.”
Syfy created “behind the scenes” and “overheard on the set” content to share socially, not giving away too much about the plot as much as sharing tidbits like what the actors were doing, the make-up, and even what people were eating for lunch on the set. Two- to six-minute multiplatform pieces on things likes the show’s costumes, languages, mythology and histories were also created that could be repurposed for digital press tours.
“We worked closely with PR and it was quite a learning curve, from process to planning to budget,” sais Ortiz. “We set our KPIs against [similar skewing] cable and broadcast properties like ‘Falling Skies’ and ‘Revolution,’ but no one else started out [promoting] a early as we had. We managed to meet them every month.”
By the time it debuted in April, “Defiance” had over 250,000 Facebook followers. “That’s a healthy amount,” notes Ortiz. “Most of the time you’re coming out of the gate cold because the conversation hasn’t started yet. And we didn’t have the benefit of a well-known property, which can be both good and challenging.”
At Syfy, social media sits under the brand marketing team, which oversees both on-air and digital marketing. Every time a campaign got launched, it was magnified through every platform. The goal of course, was to make “Defiance” a pop culture phenomenon, but as Ortiz admits, you can’t just say it and make it so.
To put “Defiance” in the pop culture conversation, it bought air time on new show premieres that would resonate with the target audience last fall. A movie-style trailer was also created and released through PR channels.
Social media messages and live programming was created in conjunction with cutting edge live events such as TED and SXSW, as well as other events of cultural significance. For example, messaging around the Mayan Apocalypse centered not on the end of the world but the idea of change, playing up the “New Earth, New Rules” tagline of the show. Around this year’s Super Bowl, conversation centered on San Francisco, since the 49ers were in the big game and the city figures heavily in the story of “Defiance.”
“We’re able to do promoted tweets and take these moments in time and circulate for that conversation,” says Ortiz.
The cast and crew of “Defiance” are also heavily involved in the social media promotion process. Actors like Julie Benz and Grant Bowler tweet about the show regularly, as do behind the scenes folks like executive producer Kevin Murphy, who live tweeted with fans during a recent Monday night episode.
“We brought them into the fold and talked to them about how we approached social,” she says. “We share with them daily and weekly what we are doing, and suggest how they can get involved.”
Of course, live tweeting or posting to Facebook during your favorite show is great. But Syfy encourages fans to increase that engagement with Syfy Sync, a free app for the iPad and Android Tablet.
When broadcasts of shows like “Defiance,” “Warehouse 13” or the Hollywood makeup artist competition “FaceOff,” begin (either live, recorded or on-demand), viewers can start the app and play contextual games, take polls, read behind the scenes facts and trivia or see exclusive video.
Gaming is another major way that Syfy gets fans involved. Two weeks before the television debut of “Defiance,” a massive multiplayer online shooter game set in the show’s world launched for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Syfy works closely with the game’s developer Trion Worlds to crossover events from the game into the actual show, with characters from the game and the show crossing back and forth. “Defiance” has already been renewed for a second season, and the goal is that in between seasons, the story will continue in the game, to keep fans engaged.
With that same idea in mind, an app based on another series that runs on Syfy—the Canadian import “Lost Girl”—was launched in the U.S. at the end of that show’s third season in April, to keep the excitement going until it returns for a fourth season in 2014.
“We’re always hungry not to go dark,” says Ortiz. “Social is a 24/7 platform and viewers don’t care that you’re not on the air any more. “They want content, and they want the conversation to continue.”