Ted Linhart, vice president of program research for USA Network, is better known as @TedOnTV to his 2,900-plus Twitter followers. While USA has its own official Twitter feed — which it uses for more traditional promotion of its shows — Linhart uses @TedOnTV to give fans the “inside baseball” perspective on programming decisions, answer their questions, dole out scoops from upcoming episodes and comment on ratings. SmartBrief editor Liz DeHoff caught up with Linhart to talk about USA’s use of social media.
How did the @TedOnTV account come about — and how did it become part of your job? How much of your day does it take up?
Every week, network president Bonnie Hammer has a senior staff meeting where we discuss major topics at the network, and social networking came up at one this past winter. Our head of original programming, Jeff Wachtel, suggested that we should have an inside personality on Twitter. Someone volunteered me because it fit my personality/passions — I love talking about TV, I’m always online or doing work, and I know a lot about what’s going on both inside USA and in the TV world. I was thrilled to be nominated and quickly said yes.
It’s so integrated into my life now that I don’t even thinking about it from a “taking up time” POV. I love giving news to fans, answering questions and reading feedback; it’s really a constant activity. I am always looking at tweets and making sure that I tweet enough to keep people engaged — especially when I have news to share — but not too much to overwhelm feeds.
USA Network has its own Twitter account, as do many of its shows. What is USA Network’s overall social-media strategy and how does TedOnTV fit into it?
Folks in our marketing department can probably articulate this better, but it appears to me we are using all the available tools like Twitter and Facebook to get people excited about our originals and provide multiple forums for people to interact with the channel, have a voice, and become more engaged with extras — pictures, videos, games, articles, etc. My role is to put a face and name to those behind the scenes who are making the decisions that affect our fans. I can also provide access to senior-level meetings — I tweet live from them sometimes with decisions we just made and answer questions. It’s really the most instant and direct interaction fans can get.
How effective do you find social media to be for promotion — do you think it increases viewership, excites the committed viewers or both? Have your interactions with fans helped illuminate some of the ratings data, and do you think those interactions improve ratings in any measurable way?
I think social media can be very effective in getting core and casual viewers more engaged and excited about the channel and — if you can reach enough people — increase audience. It does take some scale to do that, but over time, I think the impact will grow. My current level of followers cannot impact audience size, but I do think I have provided insight into how ratings work, how USA operates and to show that we do want to interact with our audience.
What kind of interaction do you have with writers, producers and actors in USA shows who have Twitter accounts, such as Jeff Eastin of “White Collar”? Do you encourage those who don’t tweet to get on board?
Up to now I have had limited interaction with the on-air and behind-the-camera talent for our shows. I will retweet some of their content and vice versa, but we are all working in parallel toward the same goal: Get people excited about our programs. I don’t really have access to encourage people to get on board, but I recently tweeted Peter Gallagher to have him and Chris Gorham to get Piper Perabo, star of our new show “Covert Affairs,” to tweet. I would love to see more of our talent get on Twitter, but I am not really in a position to do that — yet. But I am keeping a list of all of them on my Twitter page and will add anyone who joins.
How have your experiences on Twitter changed your perception of USA Network viewers in general and fans of the network’s original shows? Were you surprised by fans’ interest in certain shows or characters?
It definitely has changed my perception of our fans. I knew we had viewers because of the size of our ratings, but I didn’t realize how passionate some of them are. However, it didn’t take long once I started tweeting to see how involved viewers can be and how much enjoyment they get from our programs. This made me even more excited about my job — which I already loved — and made me take even more pride in our programming. And it’s not just our originals — “NCIS,” “House,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” also have passionate Twitter followings, as does “WWE Monday Night RAW.”
Even a movie title can generate a lot of activity. A few weeks ago when we premiered “Juno,” I saw hundreds of tweets about it that night and then saw it trending. This gave me some insight that the movie might do well in the ratings, and in fact it was the No. 1 telecast on all of cable that day in our key sales demos. So Twitter may even be a little crystal ball into the ratings before Nielsen gives us the actual numbers.
Image credit, Auris, via iStock Photo