Engaging the Second Screen: Fans, Consumers and The Jewish Community

When we are crafting opportunities for engagement and leadership development, we need to think about the context for the programs we create. Are there clear paths to deeper engagement? Are there opportunities to expand connection of an idea or mission so that it permeates the overstimulated minds of our audiences meaningfully, but organically?

2nd screenby Esther D. Kustanowitz

(This is the first in a two-part series on how second-screen experiences relates to Jewish leadership and programming.)

Today’s attention span, the availability of personal online devices, and indeed, the pace of business, demands that we do multiple things at once, like reading our email in meetings and checking Facebook and Twitter throughout the day via desktop browsers and mobile apps. It’s barely even considered rude anymore – it’s considered acceptable, and increasingly, necessary.

Even our entertainment experiences are increasingly less focused. Nielsen, for many years known as THE name in TV ratings, reports that 40 percent of tablet and smartphone users use other devices while watching TV. But instead of trying to control this trend toward multitasking and lack-of-focus, today’s TV market is strategizing about how to make TV-watchers’ habits work for them.

Today’s TV shows live and die based not just on how many live viewers they have, but on how many fans they have. And the difference between a viewer and a fan is not just devotion from afar, but active participation in the marketing and promotion of the show in question. Today’s TV viewers – however they view, on traditional televisions, online or on various mobile devices – expect entertainment that they can get involved in. Fans can talk to writers and actors from Scandal, Modern Family, Covert Affairs, Psych, Suits and other shows on Twitter and Facebook fan pages, commenting on episodes from within a group of other fans, and knowing that the people who create the show can actually hear them. Scandal does this particularly well – most nights that a new episode airs, the cast takes to Twitter on their own handles, livetweeting the episode and their reactions at it airs. They interact with other cast members and fans, retweet the tweets of others, and create an approachability that resonates deeply with fans. An NPR article states that on the night of the Scandal season finale last Thursday, there were 571,353 Scandal-related tweets.

A rabid fan base can mean visibility in an overcrowded market, increased “stickiness” of a show, and even resurrection. Arrested Development, a brilliant piece of TV cancelled by FOX before its time and much to the fury of its fans, is about to return to us via Netflix. A recent Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign by Rob Thomas, the creator of fan favorite TV show Veronica Mars, had hoped to raise $2 million from fans who wanted a film return for the characters; they raised over $5.7 million, and continue to engage with the fans who funded them through regular email and video updates and promised perks. Today’s fans have the power to resuscitate the dead (at least when it comes to TV shows).

And so, the smartest people in the TV industry are paying increasing attention to what they call “the second-screen experience,” crafting ways for audiences – who were formerly considered merely consumers of a top-down product – to help shape the way that product is received and resonates in the world. People who focus on second-screen experiences acknowledge that they can’t stop people from splitting their attention between a television show and a mobile device, but are looking to convert that split attention span into twice the attention for their product in a way that serves their brand identity, the stickiness of the brand, and bolsters their relationship with advertisers. They’re partnering with and creating their own apps that translate the viewing experience into something else that viewers can connect to, and in many cases, purchase. Viewers of the highly popular political (melo)drama Scandal, who admire the well-tailored wardrobe of the show’s protagonist, can purchase those clothes through an app called “Get This,” which brokers “social purchases”:

“Get This works with each show’s production staff (producers and stylists), who tell them in advance which items will be featured on each episode. Then when viewers see those items, they pop up on their screens in the app. The idea being that if you see Washington wear a cute dress on Scandal, it pops up on your screen so you can buy it. An audio-sync button matches to the show and highlights items as they appear on screen. Get This makes money through an affiliate program with the 85 brands and vendors they work with.”

Second-screen is becoming so integral to the experience of television that shows have begun running “lower-thirds” or “chyrons” – captions at the bottom of the screen that nudge involvement over social media , exhorting viewers to “like” the show on Facebook and circulating relevant hashtags from the show itself or even from specific episodes. (Again, Scandal is a great example of this, with their “#WhoShotFitz” and “#WhattheHuck” tags circulating rampantly through Twitter earlier this season, not just during the episodes but filling the time between episodes.)

Why am I telling you this? What does this have to do with Jewish anything (leaving any “Jews & Hollywood” theories at the door)? Second-screen experience isn’t just a frivolous entertainment phenomenon centered on ecommerce and building rabid fanbases to avoid TV cancellation. From people who live-tweet presidential debates to Superbowl commercials and halftime shows, from hashtag commentary on webinars to Facebook discussion on off-Facebook experiences, from blog posts in advance of a big event to livetweeting at conferences, the second-screen experience not only cannot be ignored, but is growing in power and provides a real, in-the-moment reflection of how effectively we are reaching our audiences – whether we’re producing comedies or conferences. Sometimes these experiences happen by design, with feedback invited and monitored by the producer of a piece of content, but the discussions that grow organically from a passion point are often less contrived and more interesting.

When we are crafting opportunities for engagement and leadership development, we need to think about the context for the programs we create. Are there clear paths to deeper engagement? Are there opportunities to expand connection of an idea or mission so that it permeates the overstimulated minds of our audiences meaningfully, but organically? How do we create lasting experiences that stay with our readers, volunteers and constituents beyond the “main screen” of an encounter with our work and initiatives? How do we prompt meaningful and invested conversations? And how do we find the backchannels where the real conversations are happening, listen to them, and exceed everyone’s expectations for customer service and feedback?

And thinking more expansively about this as metaphor, what is the “Get This” of Jewish communal experiences? If there were an app designed for people who were engaged in our content, programs and initiatives, what would we want them to take away? What from that experience could they literally buy or figuratively “purchase” to take home with them? How can we think outside the box about what we offer, to create products that generate passionate fans who are invested in the work we do, not just as consumers, but as active partners in shaping content? If your project was dying because of lack of support, would your fans feel invested enough in your mission to mobilize the energy, resources and publicity to save it?

Most of these questions address issues and processes that may not be easily answered, although some organizations will decide that the answer is a viral video, or a blog, or a Facebook drive for “Likes.” These strategies are not answers to larger ideological questions surrounding mission and implementation, although they might be incorporated into a larger strategy. But to build engaging experiences, Jewish leadership needs to ask these questions, listen to the feedback of the crowd, and form a plan for action that doesn’t rely on a single person or media tool, but on ongoing engagement with the mission and the audience in a bidirectional flow of information. Our audiences, our users, can be our advocates, our partners. But we have to commit to building a shared vision, together.

Tune in tomorrow for part 2 of “Engaging the Second Screen

Esther D. Kustanowitz, a Los Angeles-based writer, consultant and Jewish communal professional, has written and consulted on Jewish innovation, pop culture and social media for many Jewish publications and organizations. A longtime consultant for the ROI Community of Jewish Innovators, Esther also works part-time as Program Coordinator for the NextGen Engagement Initiative at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She has been named to four major lists of Jewish social media influencers, and she blogs at myurbankvetch.com. Esther is currently writing a book about grief as a personal and communal experience, tentatively titled “Nothing Helps (But This Might Help): A Guide to Loss and What Comes After.”