When Ken Burns walked out of the dugout and onto the field at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., he emerged in front of an electrified, smartphone-wielding crowd that was busily tapping away at pocket-sized devices to digitally document the historic evening. Burns was in town to promote The Tenth Inning, the latest chapter of his landmark Baseball documentary series, set to premiere September 28 and 29 on PBS. Coincidentally, the evening of Burns' ceremonial opening pitch also marked the long-awaited Major League debut of Stephen Strasburg as a Washington National.
Eager to participate in the city's growing baseball community, many of the game's attendees were fiercely checking into Foursquare, tweeting about the evening's festivities, and sharing high-definition videos of the event. Nationals fans following Strasburg's debut from home didn't even need to watch their televisions to know exactly how the pitching phenom was doing - all of the action was being published in real-time to social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
The social media frenzy surrounding Strasburg's debut is just one of several recent events that have demonstrated how the Internet is rapidly changing the way viewers interact with media organizations. From Shaquille O'Neal's three-million Twitter followers to citizen journalism on CNN's iReport, viewers are more involved in the world of media than ever before.
In the spirit of this changing relationship between content producers and consumers, UNC-TV, a PBS member station in North Carolina, has embraced social media as a tool to extend its community outreach programs beyond the boundaries of the pre-Facebook era. "Social media has allowed our staff to communicate on a daily basis with our fans via Facebook and Twitter," says R.L. Watson, Web Manager at UNC-TV. "Even if [viewers] don't always respond, there are many more opportunities for them to interact with us."
Watson has strived to incorporate social media into nearly every aspect of UNC-TV's community outreach initiatives. This summer, in anticipation of The Tenth Inning, the station teamed up with non-profit agencies, such as Boys and Girls Clubs and the Salvation Army, to host several 'UNC-TV Tenth Inning Family Fun Nights' at minor league baseball stadiums across the state of North Carolina.
"At the events, our staff members and interns captured unique video clips with our flipcams, which were then posted to Facebook as well as to our YouTube channel," explains Watson. "All of the ball clubs involved also provided items for promotional giveaways, which helped us give something back to our social media fans all summer long."
When asked to provide advice for other stations seeking to incorporate social media into community events, Watson emphasizes the importance of having a well-planned promotional strategy, as users are very aware of the messages stations are trying to convey. As he illustrates, "If all you do is post 'tune in' messages about particular programs, or simply post event info, you may not have many responses. For this project, we thought that encouraging people to share their baseball memories would be a great way to open an ongoing dialog with our online fans. It is also helpful to find allies in the community as well as through Facebook, that can help spread our messages to an even wider audience by sharing certain posts with their fan base and friends."
In the not-so-distant future, it is very likely that social media will have an even more profound impact on the media industry, particularly PBS member stations and other public media outlets. Social media allows PBS stations like UNC-TV to highlight many of the people and events which otherwise might be overlooked on television or in web-page sidebars. "At the same time," Watson adds, "for people that are not able to attend our events, it helps them feel involved and may encourage them to support us."
Is your station experimenting with social media promotions? Please let us know! As PBS gears up for the premiers of The Tenth Inning and Circus, we would like to experiment with localized promotions on the national PBS Facebook newsfeed. To share your social media-inspired Tenth Inning and Circus events, please send information to PBSI_StationServices@pbs.org.