Station Spotlight: WETA capitalizes on viral Downton Abbey buzz

by Kelsey Savage, PBS Interactive

It’s no secret that the Season 2 premier of Downton Abbey was going to be an exciting event in PBS history. Season 1, with its six Primetime Emmy awards, had everyone abuzz with predictions about how the Crawley Estate would react to their country’s wartime circumstances. PBS was able to capture this enthusiasm by organizing a Twitter Event that produced about 25,000 comments and made it a trending topic in the US and worldwide. Of course, stations were also able to join in on the Downton Abbey frenzy. In particular, WETA produced a noteworthy personality quiz that, almost immediately, went viral.

The Digital Media team at WETA could sense that there was a lot of social media hype for the show and was looking for a way to not only capture that online excitement, but also to promote television tune-in. As avid Downton fans themselves, they knew that viewers had particularly strong feelings about each character. For these reasons, Nick Scalera, Senior Director of Digital Media at WETA, explains “the personality quiz seemed like a natural fit” and would allow the team “to meet our goals in an interactive way that would take advantage of the strengths of our various online platforms.” Their initial aim was to “generate a moderate amount of traffic and maybe attract a few new viewers and members along the way.”

With this in mind, the Digital Media team worked on creating content that was the “optimal mix of length, complexity and ‘replayabiltity’”. They also specifically designed the quiz to make it easily shareable. “We did a lot of testing to make sure that clicking of the Facebook "like" button on the results pages would produce a cool-looking post with a correctly-sized and optimized image and fun and inviting text,” Scalera notes. “We also made sure to embed our Twitter handle in the hopes that we would attract more followers (which has been challenge in the past for us).” The team also drew up a promotional strategy that involved a variety of online platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, the WETA home page and e-newsletter. Yet, once the quiz went “viral”, Scalera recalls that “it literally promoted itself and was linked to by major media outlets such, Time and New York Magazine, along with various pop culture blogs, personal Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, and even good old-fashioned email.

Through Google Analytics, the WETA Digital Media team noticed that their visitor rates were soaring to about 300-500% higher than usual and a large portion of it was being referred from external sites, especially Facebook.

Besides going “viral”, the quiz also drew in new users to “Where normally our site attracts about 70% returning visitors on any given day, we were suddenly seeing 70-80% new visitors” Scalera explains. The best part of the quiz is that it looks like a lot of those new visitors then took some time to explore the rest of the website. For example, Scalera said that WETA saw “substantial increases to other parts of during the week after the quiz launched. Our FM listen live player increased 45% in pageviews over the previous week. Visits to our video player ( increased by 58% and our TV page was up by 44%.”

To Scalera, the best part of creating the viral Downton Abbey quiz was the amount of support the WETA team got from PBS and other member stations. “Really the most gratifying aspect of this whole experience for us has been how other local PBS stations have embraced the quiz and shared it with their own communities!” he said. “We hope the quiz helped spread the word about this amazing program and generate buzz for other local stations as well. We all share the same goal of attracting new audiences to public media”.

P.S. For all of you curious about the results of the quiz, here is a breakdown of the answers. We're happy to note that only 2% of respondents had similar personalities to Lady Edith.

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