Mitt Romney stirred up a lot of online hubbub with his comments about Big Bird and PBS during the recent presidential debate. Whether you agree with him or not, one thing is for sure: when it comes to social media, you might want to avoid getting into a pissing match with PBS.
PBS has some serious game when it comes to social. No matter what your political leaning, they deserve props for their innovation, ingenuity, fearlessness, sense of humor and strategic vision.
As one blog post noted, PBS is proof positive that "you don’t need hefty budgets and major media spends to captivate viewers with great content."
Here are three areas where they are particularly strong...
PBS knows how to capitalize on things that are in a news and they do it with a speed that makes many big corporations look like dinosaurs. Following the mention of Big Bird's name and their own at the debate, in addition to more traditional fare, (like issuing an official statement) PBS played off of Romney's comment with a tweet from the big guy himself:
They also wisely made an ad buy on Twitter for the phrase, "Big Bird," to capitalize on the search traffic surrounding the comment and added a smart call to action to their tweets, sending people to accessible and relevant content about the matter on their site:
This isn't the first time they've newjacked. Historically, Sesame Street has done an awesome job of tapping into the latest happenings in popular culture for parody on the show, from their take on the show Glee to Cookie Monster's cover of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," to this spoof of Old Spice's video campaign, riffing on Isaiah Mustafa's "Smell Like a Man" spot:
Many people associate PBS with moments from their childhood, giving them a nostalgic glow that is difficult to sully. It's powerful stuff. (I'm not ashamed to admit that the first time I watched Mister Roger's Neighborhood as an adult with my own child, I teared up.)
PBS knows what these shows mean not only to children, but to their parents, so when they take time out to compile clips for us to take a walk down memory lane, we're all too happy to share them and help those videos go viral on PBS's behalf.
Three of most notable that occurred recently are their auto-tune mashups honoring Painter Bob Ross' "Happy Little Clouds," Julia Child's "Keep on Cooking," and Mr. Rogers, "Garden of Your Mind."
Note, when you visit these videos natively in YouTube, they include some sort of smart, "Please support your local PBS station [link]" message in the description.
The trick in starting a conversation as a brand in social media is to make your social community feel safe, interesting, and valuable, while at the same time assuring them that you're not going to exploit their contributions for commercial gain.
PBS has these skills in spades. For example, check out the "it's all about you" content on their Fan Page portal for parents, "PBS Parents."
They also are working social media to its fullest to build buzz about the (very buzz-worthy) show, Downton Abbey, including live Twitter chats* of the show, premiers and sneak peeks on the PBS and Masterpiece Facebook pages, as well as promoted tweets targeting both Twitter followers, and those who do relevant Downton Abbey-related searches.
Timely, heartfelt, and conversational, (Apparently, they consistently measure their efforts too.) You really can't ask for more from a brand in social media. Even Violet Crawley, Downton's Dowager Countess of Grantham, would approve.
*If you want some real entertainment, check out the very funny live tweets of Downton from comedian Patton Oswalt (e.g. "Damn, Maggie Smith refuses sauce like a GANGSTA! #DowntonPBS).
I’m a consultant, strategist, author, educator, and speaker with more than 30 years of professional experience. I’m passionately curious, fairly sassy, kinda dorky and seriously good at what I do.