May 18, 2011

Shock and Awesome. One Exec’s Twitter Journey.

Twitter, @syfy style. Enthusiasm, engagement, and a little snark. (It's all good.)

Craig Engler is the general manager and senior vice president of Syfy Digital, the wildly popular network devoted to science fiction programming owned by NBC Universal. He’s also the voice behind @syfy, and at last week’s Mashable Connect conference, he charted his evolution from Twitter neophyte to a popular and influential presence.

Craig had a couple false starts on Twitter, but decided to check out what was being said about Syfy and, specifically, the upcoming finale to Battlestar Galactica.  Right off the bat, he was struck by the volume – and degree – of misinformation bouncing around on Twitter.   Craig jumped into the conversation, setting the record straight and having good conversations with some of the program’s devoted fans.  And from that moment, he was on Twitter for good.

Admittedly, as his engagement deepened and his followers grew, Craig found that dealing with snark and the Twitter audience’s expectations for real-time availability were daunting.

“The low self esteem of the internet comes into play when you’re everybody’s friend and you’re away for 10 minutes,” Craig noted. However, as difficult as it is to talk to tens of thousands or millions of viewers at once within the social layer, he told us, brands can no longer afford not to do so.

“There is so much information and so little context that people don’t know what to do with it,” he says, describing his interactions through the @syfy presence as a combination of conversations, polling, sharing information and responding to queries.

Unsurprisingly, shortly after he re-established himself on Twitter, Craig found himself in receipt of a cranky tweet from a viewer unhappy with a recent Syfy program.  Really unhappy – as in the the last kind of tweet an exec wants to see in a brand’s stream. Craig recalled the shock and horror he felt upon seeing this tweet, and posted a slide that captured his own feelings at that moment:

Click on the picture to see the tweet that elicited this reaction.

But then he got his wits about him.  He fired a note back to the unhappy viewer,  who tweeted that a program was so bad she had go to the emergency room – conveying his wishes for a speedy recovery.   Humor – and humanity – won the day – the viewer was flattered and amused by Craig’s rapid response.

A larger and more important lesson was looming for Craig, however, namely the power of your audiences’ enthusiasm.

“When people understand your business, people are inspired to do things to help your business,” he told us.  And being active on Twitter enabled him to find and communicate with the enthusiasts who ultimately have helped spread Syfy messages and correct misinformation.

Craig illustrated this point with a specific example.  When he wants the followers to amplify a message – he asks them to do so, adding “If you’re a fan, please spread the word!” to tweets about programming.  He noted that adding the “if you’re a fan” language is crucial.  It cuts down on the “I hate your show, why would I tweet that,” responses.  And, even more importantly, the call to action – asking fans to help spread the word – works.  His followers re-tweet @syfy messages in droves.  The business results are significant: 47% of Syfy followers have sampled a show they weren’t already watching after seeing it mentioned in the feed, Craig revealed.

Craig closed noting that social media gives audiences direct access to employees – in Syfy’s case, everyone from network execs to actors to show runners – and they don’t know what to do with it.  However, an engaged brand presence can effectively generate and channel audience enthusiasm, and garner important feedback.  At this juncture, the @syfy is one of the most influential presences on Twitter, and is invaluable to the network.

Craig offered a few cautionary tips, reminding everyone of the importance of being polite and keeping the brand above the fray.   He also noted that once you start developing connections in the social layer, you can’t stop.  However, it was pretty clear to me that ceasing to Tweet is about the last thing on Craig’s mind.

More Twitter tips from Craig:

http://mashable.com/2010/11/05/tv-executives-twitter/

Author Sarah Skerik (@sarahskerik) is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

Many thanks to MBooth Communications and Rob Longert for use of the OMG monkey photo.

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