If The Voice twisted the TV talent show formula, it damn near revolutionized the use of social media in the live viewing experience.
For every participant in the process -- contestant to coach to couch potato -- the show provides engagement in multiple ways: fans at home can tweet their favorite finalists and coaches (and often get a response), and the show's stars can in turn rally the viewers for votes (and rattle each other); Finalists can solicit their followers for advice on wardrobe and hair decisions, while Voice producers can mine through an endless scroll of memes for comments on song selection, lighting and whether Carson Daly looks manorexic. It's all ripe for the reading and in real time.
"The kind of closeness, access and insider perspective that Twitter provides combined with a TV show is a really magical connection," says Chloe Sladden, Twitter's director of content and programming, who has been working with the show's producers since February. "The Voice has been savvy about it from the get-go."
What has the show done right? A perpetual hashtag, for one, to "inspire tweeting and word of mouth," says Sladden, who notes that as many as 70% of Voice tweets during the show's first live episode included the #TheVoice handle, twice the industry average; Doing so will at least double the amount of activity and could drive as much as 10 times the tweets. The Voice has also been smart about providing access to their talent and reporting on Twitter trends during the live shows, all of which "hook into this sense of real time and urgency," she says.
In addition, the show's digital team, which numbers 10, oversees multiple Facebook accounts, NBC-housed blogs and scores of photos and clips submitted by the artists. "There are over 110 [web] pages constantly being uploaded and, at one point, we were delivering 200 videos a week," explains Nicolle Yaron, a supervising producer on the show who's also responsible for keeping The Voice's social media hub, the V Room, humming, while the buzz is left up to special V correspondent Alison Haislip.
The strategy seems to be working. Yaron points to the show's premiere, when it swiftly became a top trending topic for the night. "So many tweets came in saying, 'What's The Voice? I'm switching over from Glee,' or from Dancing with the Stars. It helped propel our ratings, which increased every half hour." Sladden also cites the numbers: 200,000 Voice-related tweets on the June 7 episode, putting the show just behind a rerun of Glee in terms of digital engagement. "For a freshman show with a new format, it's great," she says.
Talpa Media Group's Sjoerd Demaret, who's based outside of Amsterdam and wrote the 88-page "digital bible" that every territory is handed when they license the Voice format, witnessed the correlation firsthand when the number of Twitter users in his home country jumped 25% during the show's first season run. "With the Voice audience, it's about connect, interact and redirect," he says, the latter referring to another key component of the plan: moving those clicks to commercial partners like iTunes or Sprint. "Broadcasters use social media to send out their message, but they don't always pick up the message the audience is giving back."
The Hollywood Reporter: When The Voice held its first press conference in March, coach Christina Aguilera had yet to sign up for Twitter. Were all the participants prepped for the amount of online activity that was expected of them?
Nicolle Yaron (The Voice): In the beginning there were people who had never been on Twitter before, but once we explained the possibilities and what these working musicians could do with these tools that we were giving them, they were all more than happy to get onboard. And with the artists getting unprecedented access to their coaches, which are some of the biggest names in music, we wanted to mirror the experience for the viewer at home. That's why it's important to us that the coaches are actively involved and it's why Christina joined Twitter for this show. We wanted the viewer to have a fraction of what the artist was getting.
We also wanted the [contestants] to know what it's like to be a real artist out there and, in this day and age, part of that is to market yourself through social media online. We didn't want to sequester the artists -- they're blogging, Facebooking, tweeting every day, they're sharing pictures and videos, they're doing fake talk shows in the hotel room. They're getting out there, actively engaging and empowering their fans to give feedback on what they should perform, what they should wear, and getting them to vote, which is really important in order for them to stay in the competition, and to buy their songs on iTunes.
Sjoerd Demaret (Talpa): We asked them, "Do you want to be part of the social media?" And we've seen how it benefited the coaches. Christina went into the first show with 20,000 followers, and I think she has more than 250,000 right now. But you can't force somebody to use Twitter, so we'd say, "It would be nice if you could help us out." We don't demand that they start tweeting. Still, everybody sees it's a win-win situation. It's good for the show and it's good for the coach, who can use the fan base not only for The Voice, but also to promote their own stuff.
THR: How do you classify The Voice's relationship with Facebook and Twitter, is it a partnership?
Chloe Sladden (Twitter): We work with lots of TV programming executives, marketers and creative talent, etc., but I would definitely call The Voice one of our partners. We define partnership as any time we invest ideas or support our colleagues in the industry. Our goal is to integrate the best possible content on twitter and drive the size of the audience and engagement.
Demaret: In Holland, we didn't have a partnership because it was a brand new brand. Nobody knew about The Voice. But given the fact we were quite successful in the Netherlands and in the U.S. as well, now I'm in contact with Twitter and Facebook to see if we can team up and come up with even better applications to make the show more attractive. I always say, keep it stupid simple. And of course, Facebook and Twitter also have pretty clever ideas of how we could add an extra element to the show. So currently, we're exploring all of the possibilities to use during season two in the Netherlands, which still is more or less a pilot country from which we take the best practices to other territories.
THR: What's in The Voice digital "bible?"
Demaret: It's sort of a guideline for the show. It focuses on the program's website, social media, starting the buzz around The Voice... We describe every step in the process and the philosophy behind the show. But we're just explaining. Talpa isn't demanding anything from the other countries [who license the format].
Yaron: It basically had a lot of screen grabs of what they did on the show and it gave a kind of wire frame of how their website was set up with some suggestions on how they did things. Certain things we took with us and some things we didn't, but for the most part, we did stay pretty true to the Dutch format of the show and the same with the digital format, we just expanded it and grew it exponentially. We're also dealing with a country that's 100 times the size of the Netherlands and three different time zones.
THR: American Idol had initially resisted social media in that contestants weren't allowed to have active Myspace pages or Twitter accounts. Their reasoning involved the issue of fairness: if one contestant has significantly more followers than another, viewers might feel that he/she had it in the bag and be discouraged from voting for a lesser contestant. How does The Voice see it?
Demaret: I always compare it to elections: you know the polls, you know what's going on, which parties are preferred, but in the end, it's a personal opinion. I also think the viewers really appreciate the fact that we make them part of the format. People know we are monitoring everything that's being [said on social networks], so they are heard.
Yaron: We felt the fairness issue was covered by the fact that we are giving them all the same tools. All of the artists have a blog on NBC.com, all have a Facebook page and a Twitter page and they all have had training on how to use all these things. They have the same access. What they choose to do with it is up to them, and that's how we feel like that's fair. It mirrors the music industry. If you choose to use Twitter and be Lady Gaga and have 10 million followers, good for you, you'll sell more albums. And if you don't, then that's your choice. It depends on what kind of artist you want to be. We've really been trying to keep this show very authentic and in social media as well.
THR: According to Twitter's own data, up until the week of June 7, when The Voice first went live, some 2.6 million tweets went out about the show, 200,000 of which were registered while the show was airing. Is this sort of rippled resonance the future of television? Should every network and showrunner be paying close attention?
Sladden: Social media integration is an absolute necessity that will only get more and more important. We are going to live in a world where there will be two ways to experience TV: on your own schedule or with real-time engagement. I think Twitter is helping return us to that shared viewing experience. It's bringing all that richness out of the platform.
Yaron: Active viewer engagement in our show is exactly what our goal was in developing the entire digital strategy. We want the viewers to be as engaged in the show as our coaches are with their artists, and our artists are with their coaches and the show. This is a show about access. It's about empowerment. It's about feedback. And all of those things are what social media is about. It's a perfect fit.