TV needn't be first in your second screen strategy

If your business was a television show, what would your "viewers" be doing to participate with you?

The concept of "second screen" isn’t terribly new in the digital age, though it has gained significant popularity over the last four or five years. This becomes clearly evident when looking at "social TV" apps in your favorite mobile phone store or the "conversion" of popular TV and media blog Lost Remote to, in its words, "The Home Of Social TV." And those are merely two examples.

Lots of us were live-blogging television almost a year ago, which quickly evolved into live-tweeting, and so forth. Way back in 2000, however, ABC was looking to get people using their computers while watching the popular Who Wants to Be a Millionaire so they could play along from home.

Skip ahead a decade or so and second screen – or "social television" – is all the rage for networks, TV and movie producers, and even Twitter itself, finding new ways to leverage the instant gratification social brings to the table. Twitter’s Chloe Sladden, one of Fast Company’s "Most Influential Women in Technology" in 2011, is one of the reasons why. I had the privilege of meeting her in 2009 while I was working at MTV on It’s On With Alexa Chung, a project that started with social elements baked into its DNA. It was a great learning experience for me, the network, and, presumably, our partners, which included Twitter and others looking to crack the code of how to better leverage social for live events.

Fast forward a bit further to 2014 and social is everywhere. Cellphones, not lighters, are being held up at concerts. Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle just live streamed its bears receiving a birthday present in April – snow from a nearby mountain – generating dozens and dozens of social mentions. OpenTable has already included images from popular food photo app Foodspotting into its app for an entire year, effectively connecting the photo-hungry foodie with hungry diners looking for a reservation, some of whom may never have heard of Foodspotting. For a number of years, the Seattle Mariners have asked fans inside the stadium to tweet them with songs they’d like to hear on the public address system.

The key thing here isn’t about what each entity’s respective social media strategy is, e.g. what they tweet, what platforms they use, whether to write blog posts once a week, or so on. It’s about recognizing how people are interacting with them via those channels, inciting those activities themselves, or making fans, customers, and the general public feel as if they are involved or having a real impact on something.

This begs us all, no matter the industry in which we work, to ask the question – What is my second screen strategy?" And note that the first screen need not be a television. It’s someone opening my product they just received, meeting a brand manager at a trade show, walking into my bank, or even simply seeing my company’s logo. It’s about anticipating reactions and, more importantly, closing the loop on those actions.

We talk a lot about engagement in today’s marketing lingo, but that needs to go far beyond witty outbound Facebook posts that get a lot of comments, likes, or shares.

As you ponder this, perhaps a poignant question to consider first – If your business was a television show, what would your "viewers" be doing to participate with you?

Tom Biro is VP of Allison+Partners' Seattle office. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at or on Twitter @tombiro.

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