In 2011 a grand experiment in transmedia and social TV launched in Canada. It was a documentary television show called Battle Castle that told the story of six pivotal sieges of European castles throughout medieval history. It was also a slick website, a couple of different online games and a very robust social media campaign. This kind of transmedia storytelling experience had not really been tested before for a factual TV series and saw the Canadian television producers bring together international, digital and transmedia partners to realize their vision. This issue of From Search to Screen takes a look at the biggest digital marketing success of the Battle Castle story, the social media campaign. It broke new ground and was held up as an example of what social TV should aspire to at the recent Storyworld Conference in California.
To Insource or Outsource?
Outsourcing is second nature to screen media. Production tends to be a collaborative art, bringing together many people with different skillsets to create a unified work. And with the new and wide scope of Battle Castle the talent pool had to be expanded even further to include digital and transmedia talent. While the social media was initially outsourced it did not attract much attention. That is when producers quickly realized there were members of the internal production team at Parallax Film Productions who had intimate knowledge of both the onscreen and behind-the-scenes stories. These personnel were actually the biggest asset Battle Castle had for the kind of interactions social media demanded. When writer Nicole Tomlinson and executive producer Maija Leivo took over the campaign that is when it really started to take off.
Leveraging Passion and Knowledge
Maija and Nicole were on a big learning curve in terms of social media, but they took the leap and weren’t afraid of looking foolish. They had some initial digital market research to point them in the right direction, but it was really their deep and rich knowledge of the material that carried the day. Not only were they able to come up with great tidbits to share, they also came up with creative campaigns like their medieval soup contest (where they challenged followers to make one of three authentic soup recipes and submit their experiences) to engage their audience and get them excited in ways that had nothing to do with warfare or siegecraft.
Opportunity Where Digital & TV Meet
Creating synergy between both the digital and television elements provided several unique opportunities for the Battle Castle team:
- Data. Even before the show was on the air, the online presence for Battle Castle was generating data on who was interested and what got them excited and involved. Maija and Nicole paid very close attention to the other “likes” of people who became fans on Facebook. This allowed them to do very small and targeted ad campaigns to others who liked the same kinds of things, very effectively growing the Facebook Battle Castle fanbase (which soon surpassed the “likes” of their Canadian broadcaster). The data also gave the team an understanding of what kind of content fans wanted and that’s what they gave them, resulting in a high percentage of fans also “talking about” Battle Castle and sharing that content even further.
- Structure. The online audience was being built long before the television series premiered in Canada. But they were very aware of the benefits of synchronizing and timing their efforts to the structure the TV schedule provided, wanting everything to peak on the night of the premiere driving up the numbers. This initially gave them an organizing principle and framework for their social media content strategy, and a very specific goal.
- Reach. Once the show was on air it also fed the social media and online presence for Battle Castle through network promotion on the History Television website and by including the URL in the show credits. The social media team also actively engaged in conversations with fans during the broadcast through Facebook and Twitter creating an early social TV success story (without any specialized app).
Challenges in the New World of Social TV
It was not all smooth sailing however. Early challenges included finding the right balance in the content that was provided online so that Battle Castle gave enough away to keep the social media audience interested, but not so much that they would not show up for the TV broadcast . The show was also lucky enough to be picked up in the UK and Australia, but these broadcast schedules were not synchronized whereas the social media campaign was a constant throughout. Some of the international challenges for the Battle Castle team were:
- Fewer resources. The team was reduced to one and other broadcasters were not able to invest or support the Battle Castle digital marketing in the same way as in Canada (and did not even include the URL in the show credits). This meant Maija had to do the same/more with a lot less. Luckily the digital footprint of Battle Castle was fairly well established at this point and it was being found more naturally through online searches. But it likely would have done even better with either synchronous broadcast around the world or continued investment by the other broadcasters.
- Keeping it fresh. With new audiences finding Battle Castle’s social media profiles, a new balance in content needed to be found – between giving the original core fans new stuff to get excited about, but also introduce and recycle older content for those who were just discovering the show. Luckily some of this was carried by the conversations within the community itself, but Maija was still required to manage most of this.
- Different countries/different audiences. Not surprisingly, different audiences in different countries have different sensibilities and expectations. Whereas the Canadian audience was primarily positive and loved the show’s style and content, the UK fans have been a tougher sell – demanding higher academic standards and less appreciation for the pop culture appeal. Maija has had to again find a balance when talking to all these disparate voices through the same forum.
Despite the challenges, Maija has done a great job at continued engagement, supporting a core audience that has not diminished in its enthusiasm or dedication to the show. Are there things she would have done differently? Not with the social media. Although she and Nicole were new to this promotional tactic, they were smart and listened to their fans (and the data they generated). This created well-informed instincts that guided the social media campaign and continues to grow and engage its fans to this day.
However, if there was any lesson learned, it was to trust herself more and the overlying vision for the project. As with any traditional media company breaking new online ground, there was a steep learning curve. It is easy to not trust yourself in these circumstances. Outside expertise is critically important, but it needs to defer to the original vision for the project. Finding a better balance between these two elements may have led to more success for Battle Castle’s transmedia and other digital assets.
What Do You Think?
Have you had experience with marketing a TV series online using social media? Did you find similar or different digital marketing challenges as those experienced by Maija and Nicole? What were the results? I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: [CASE STUDY] Digital Marketing for for Indie Film: Karen Lam & Stained