Kristin Frank on Leveraging Social Media to Connect Fans to Talent, Artists

by Daina Amorosano, Viacom
Photo from Ad Age. Credit: Patrick Butler.

At Ad Age’s Social Engagement/Social TV conference this week, Kristin Frank, SVP and GM of MTV/VH1 Digital, treated us to some behind-the-scenes insight into how VH1 is leveraging social media to connect fans to their favorite talent and artists.

With model TV socializers Mob Wives star Drita D’Avanzo and VH1 Top 20 Video Countdown host Jim Shearer by her side, Frank spoke on how the network harnesses the power of its streams to provide fans with constant access to the celebrities and artists they love.

“Fans don’t stop being fans just because a season ends or a week ends or an episode,” Frank said, adding that the network’s viewers – adults 25-34 – demand immediate and frequent engagement.

Recognizing this, VH1 has been using social platforms to break through the boundaries traditionally delineated by an episode or a season. Moving beyond playing out its storylines on one screen at a time, it’s now intent on engaging the audience across all streams at all times, between episodes and between seasons.

“Simply put, we’re looking to remove the traditional and almost false confines of telling a story,” Frank said.

The strategy’s been dubbed ‘storytelling without borders,’ and social is integral to it – from providing additional content and updates and aggregating social commentary. The network capitalizes on opportunities to run parallel narratives and add texture to the storyline that runs on linear – often seeding conversation before an episode, positioning its social team at tapings, and offering additional content afterward.

“At VH1, when we write scripts and produce our shows, we do it with social platforms in mind,” Frank said.

But VH1 is also strategizing to bring talent into the conversation.

“We work directly with our talent to help provide them the ability to connect deeply and directly with their fans and continue those stories,” Frank said.

Specifically, before the premieres of all its shows, the network runs VH1’s Social Media Talent Education Program. D’Avanzo is one of the first graduates of the program.

With fewer than 500 followers before Mob Wives premiered, D’Avanzo wasn’t familiar with hashtags or @ mentions. She now is super active on Twitter, with upwards of 300,000 followers and 13,000 tweets. And if you watch how she engages with her fans, it’s really authentic.

“I think it’s the best thing in the world to tweet during an episode. They [fans] feel so close to you,” she said, explaining that the most helpful tip from the social media training program was to tweet before, during and after the show.

In the music space, VH1 is also harnessing the connection between fans and talent, introducing them to emerging artists early and taking them through the evolution of that artist becoming popular, using social to deeply engage.

Shearer, who hosts VH1 Top 20 Video Countdown – fueled by votes from fans who tune-in to see if their picks made it – said that through his show as well as platforms like “You Oughta Know,” which picks up-and-coming artists, VH1 Posted – a platform where artists can talk to tans through exclusive videos, pictures, blogs, etc. and interactivity like Create Your Own Pop Up Video, VH1 takes music fans on a journey aided by social.

“And it’s working for us,” Frank concluded, citing the download success of Costar, VH1’s co-viewing app.

Since the beginning of the year, VH1 has seen a 205% increase in Facebook fans and a nearly 350% spike in Twitter followers. VH1 was also the only network other than Fox with the two of the top social shows for the year.

Social growth is also fueling 360 growth, according to Frank, who cited a 40% growth in streams on the site, Primetime ratings up 33% in April, and VH1 snagging the No. 1 non-sports cable network among women 18-49 on Monday nights.

“We need to get beyond the false confines of just one episode,” Frank said. “On VH1 we do that on a regular basis, and that’s why our fans are so delighted.”

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