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How Social Listening Powers FOX’s Programming and Beyond

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“Tweets, posts, and memes that you think are dominating the conversation, don’t always reflect reality.” David Sager, Associate Director of Social Analytics, Fox Corporation

Join us for #SMWONE May 5 - 28, 2020 and hear from 300+ speakers across 150 sessions.


When you work for a global entertainment brand, there’s more to look out for than when a star says or does something bad. With that said, it definitely does come up from time to time.

“We do have to protect the brand if a star does something stupid,” admitted FOX’s Associate Director of Social Analytics David Sager. But, as he dove into during his #SMWONE session with Talkwalker’s Regional Manager for the West Coast Nate Bonsignore, his time spent monitoring social dives far deeper than that…and has a far greater impact on the brand overall.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • Tweets, posts, and memes that you think are dominating the conversation, don’t always reflect reality
  • Don’t overlook the impact of “unstructured data”
  • Be open to experimenting and playing around when communities need it most

Protect: In Which FOX News Learns, “It’s Not All About You”

A telling lesson about our perception of social media emerged during the session, as Sager and Bonsignore conducted a poll: what was the most retweeted tweet of summer 2019, about? Given the opportunity to select between politics, music, and sports, the audience overwhelmingly chose politics. In actuality, the topic was music – the band, BTS. But it confirmed an assumption that many of us make: the frequency with which we see topics elevated in the media, doesn’t always reflect their actual prevalence in societal conversation.

This was a lesson that Sager shared with FOX’s news division, after concerns arose that Twitter was swimming in negative mentions about the network. The truth? The first mention of FOX News didn’t enter a list of most retweeted tweets until after entry 5000. “I had to stop scrolling,” Sager admitted. The lesson for marketers? Tweets, posts, and memes that you think are dominating the conversation, don’t always reflect reality. And more to the point, the degree of protecting you may think you need to do for your brand isn’t as high as you might think.

Measure: Monitoring the Massive Rise of The Masked Singer

One can only imagine the fun that comes from getting to track the chatter around, and success of, shows like LegoMasters and The Masked Singer. When it comes to the latter, Sager said, it can be fascinating to watch the aftermath of a celebrity reveal. “It’s always cool to measure how they make the reveal,” he shared, “and to watch what impact it has on the show.” This data has the potential to impact programming down the road; watching the data about how celebrities reveal their presence on the show, along with data about how fans make guesses and who else they’re fans of, could dictate who shows up on the show next—or even what shows enter development in the years to come.

In this conversation, the panelists also brought up a metric that is proving difficult to measure: the spread and impact of what Bonsignore called “unstructured data” like memes and other media not conveyed with text (think videos, podcasts, etc.). The Masked Singer yields a great deal of chatter online, but it has also given rise to a number of memes…which are difficult to measure with the same accuracy. “When something is memeable, the text [data] doesn’t always bear that out,” Sager noted.

Promote: Charting the Contributors, for FOX Sports and Beyond

Speaking of data that doesn’t always make it to the decision-making table, Sager also mentioned how he has widened the scope of where to look for impactful data. His team works with a social media ecosystem that charts the genesis of data from platforms like Reddit, Tumblr, 4chan, and Discord; through its amplification stage on a platform like Twitter; and finally its entry into mainstream consciousness on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Of Redditors in particular, Sager notes, “These are the really smart first wave people on the internet, and they’re self-segmented into communities.” What they’re identifying as popular early on—take 2017’s “dress” controversy or 2019’s “Yanny/Laurel” debate—eventually enters pop culture forcefully.

Sager’s used this ecosystem model in conjunction with FOX Sports as a way to identify talent that would succeed on the network, in one example of a framework that Bonsignore encourages organizations to use when grounding their decision making. The framework for FOX Sports included looking at prospective guests and their presence on Reddit and Twitter; both their audience reach (number of followers) and engagement (how people interacted with their content) were considered. “A healthy audience balances the two,” Sager pointed out, also noting that a good presence on Reddit could mean stronger numbers on Twitter (and, per the ecosystem, later on Facebook and Instagram) could help them find a guest that would resonate with audiences.

As Bonsignore mentioned as he opened the session, “the digital voice of the customer, the consumer, [and even] of trolls, [can] play out in organizations like FOX.” Sager highlighted a number of different ways in which the digital voice is more than just noise; to the contrary, when thoughtful and attentive social listening is taken seriously, it can reveal valuable data that highlights immediate steps to take to improve the work you do.

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