Inside the Social-Response Lab of A&E’s ‘Duck Dynasty’

In the ‘Duck Dynasty’ social response lab.

Dressed in camouflage and headbands, a crew of 25 social-media managers, strategists, graphic designers and copywriters, were glued to their computers Wednesday night with one goal in mind: get A&E Network’s “Duck Dynasty” trending.

Season three of the reality series, which follows the wealthy Robertson family, a gang of Louisiana duck-call makers, premiered last night. A&E was ready to capitalize on the massive growth of the series, which brought in 6.5 million viewers during its season-two finale.

The momentum is nothing to dismiss. With consumers bombarded by a dizzying array of video-entertainment options in these days of Netflix, VOD and iPads, communicating with die-hard aficionados of specific programs and getting them to spread buzz about their favorite is of critical importance to TV networks and production studios. To make these connections stick, more marketers and media outlets are experimenting with so-called “real-time marketing.”

Brands like Oreo and JC Penney have piggybacked off tent-pole events like the Super Bowl and Oscars to reach a wide breadth of viewers who are utilizing second-screen devices while watching TV. During the Oscars, marketers used the Twitter hashtag #oscarrtm as a means of discussing memes and graphics marketers deployed.

A&E clearly wants to engage fans and, perhaps even more important, get “Duck Dynasty” on to the radar of those who have never heard of it, said Guy Slattery, exec VP-marketing at A&E. Throughout the night, he pulled up tweets of people asking about the program after they saw it trending on their feed. A&E partnered with Interpublic Group interactive agency R/GA for the social-response effort.

While A&E utilized Facebook and second-screen apps like GetGlue as part of its promotional strategy ahead of the season premiere of “Duck Dynasty,” last night of was all about Twitter.

“This is where the in-the-moment conversations are taking place,” said Mr. Slattery.

The operation began a few hours before showtime, at 4 p.m., with the social-media team identifying influential fans with whom they could later connect. At the same time, copywriters, art directors and videographers are developing custom content that can later be deployed. The art team pulls photos of fans from their Twitter profile and integrating beards, headbands and other “Duck Dynasty” imagery. (This reporter even got her own meme.)

At 5 p.m., the team started retweeting comments from vocal fans who were already discussing the premiere. By 6 p.m., some of the custom content was distributed to fans and the Robertson family even joined the conversation. It didn’t take long for #DuckDynasty to start trending, albeit briefly, even with more than three hours until the new episode aired.

At 9:40, 20 minutes before the premiere, “Duck Dynasty” tripled the social mentions of “American Idol,” which was airing live.

When the first ducks quacked, it was go time.

A&E tried to “gamify” Twitter during the show. For example, whenever Si, one of the main characters, made a “Hey” sign — a phrase for which he is known by fans — the first person to tweet #Jack was to win a prize.

Getting celebrities involved was a big part of the community managers’ night, so when actor James Franco and “American Idol” winner Philip Phillips began tweeting about the show, they too got their own memes.

The video team had props on hand, including fake ducks, and also created Vine videos on the spot — the first time A&E has made use of the nascent social-media technology as part of a push during a show.

Applause broke out at 10:19 p.m. when #DuckDynasty began trending, and a few minutes later #Jack and #MissKay also became trending topics.

One meme received 57,000 likes on Facebook in just 11 minutes.

Outside of the response lab, independent shop Horizon Media — which works for A&E — was also on deck, bidding on keywords throughout the night. Horizon pre-identified more than 200 keywords in advance of the premiere and then identified other key trends to buy on the fly during the the night, Mr. Slattery said.¬†These included #Jack #quackpackisback #ionlygetmadwhen #backinjuniorhigh.

“All brands are trying to predict key words,” Mr. Slattery said. “Trying to buy predictable keywords is getting expensive.”

It’s hard to quantify what makes a successful social-media campaign, but the initial evidence is favorable. “Duck Dynasty” brought in a total of 8.6 million viewers for the premiere, making it A&E’s most watched telecast of all time.

“Duck Dynasty” was the No. 1 most-social TV show for the night, according to Trendrr, surpassing “American Idol” in total volume. The “Duck Dynasty” Twitter handle had nearly 30,000 new followers from 9 p.m. last night until this morning. At one point during the night @DuckDynastyAE was getting 300 new followers per minute, according to the social-response lab team.

“Brands try to get themselves in the middle of an event, but if you don’t really know the event you are getting in the middle of well, it can come across as unnatural, unauthentic and intrusive,” said John Mullin, executive producer, RGA.

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Inside the Social-Response Lab of A&E’s ‘Duck Dynasty’


Brands love the idea of enlisting people with big online followings to spread their messages, and now a startup called Linqia is pitching them on a way to automate the process.

Maria Sipka, CEO of Linqia

Launched last fall, San Francisco-based Linqia has developed a technology that matches brands with bloggers who have a carefully-tended social-media presence. The matching is done based on the content of an intended campaign. For example, a marketer can locate the parenting bloggers in California with an interest in environmental sustainability and provide them with material for developing a post on a related theme if they choose to accept to accept its offer. It pays Linqia on a cost-per-click basis for actions generated like clicks to a landing page, and Linqia accordingly pays bloggers a cut, also on a CPC basis.

Linqia has raised about $4 million from Javelin Partners, has 15 employees, and executed campaigns for marketers like Coca-Cola, Clorox, Dove, One Kings Lane, Method, and Nestle for Arrowhead water.

The notion of driving online buzz via people who are influential on social media has been undertaken by various startups, notably Klout, which developed a program for brands to distribute free products to users with a strong following around relevant topics. But Linqia’s CEO Maria Sipka said its value proposition is in tapping smaller communities with an average reach of about 16,000, as opposed to tech celebrities.

Linqia currently focuses on parenting and home-and-garden related content, but ultimately plans to expand into other verticals, Ms. Sipka said. The system has so far added about 2,500 English-speaking “communities” in the U.S., U.K. and Australia that were located through an automated process that includes web crawling.

Since Linqia has a high bar for adding bloggers to its system — only those that have contact information displayed and who post frequently, among other factors — brands have an incentive to develop content that will resonate with the writers and their niche audiences. (The most enterprising “community leaders” in the Linqia system could currently earn a maximum of about $1,000 or $1,500 a month, according to the company’s president Nader Alizadeh, so the company isn’t positioning itself to be their main income source.)

“Brands need to be able to provide some value to the end user that isn’t sales-oriented,” Ms. Sipka.

Method, the maker of environmentally-conscious cleaning and laundry products, has used Linqia to order up posts for two month-long campaigns this year with budgets of $10,000 or less, and more are in the works. The marketer initially sought out Linqia as an alternative when it had been obliged to end a blogger outreach program that had been managed through its agency, since it had decided to invest more heavily in TV ads this year.

Social-media manager Rachel Rosenblum noted that Linqia takes care of signing up the bloggers, which means that her team doesn’t have to be bogged down in contracts and thus reduces the expense. She develops content that writers can use to guide their posts, but the idea is for them to be creative about what they produce, like with this piece that starts as an homage to the writer’s baby. It includes an animated GIF of the baby playing with a bottle of Method hand soap, along with product links. (Linqia and the writer are paid when those links are clicked on.)

“I’m not going to tell the community leaders what to say because I find that the best content comes when they can be creative,” Ms. Rosenblum said.

Mr. Alizadeh noted that Linqia is aiming to be in compliance with the Federal Trade Commission’s guidance on the use of testimonials and endorsements in advertising, which holds that bloggers who are remunerated for posts should disclose the connection. Linqia staff currently manually check posts to ensure that the writers disclose that their sponsorship (which they agree to do when they opt into a campaign), but Mr. Alizadeh said the company is looking to automate that verification process as the company grows.


Startup Watch: Linqia Looks to Play Matchmaker for Brands and Bloggers

Startup Watch: Linqia Looks to Play Matchmaker for Brands and Bloggers