How Conan O'Brien Beat Leno and Letterman: Social Media

"I know what you guys are thinking: 'Hey, it's the guy from Twitter,'" joked Conan O'Brien, before launching into a mock-impression of his Internet fans. "Why am I doing that!" he began laughing. "Those people saved my ass! Talk about biting the hand that feeds you."

Indeed, a strong Internet following fed Conan, who debuted his new show last night on TBS, very well. Bolstered by his almost 2 million Twitter followers, a first-of-its-kind social media strategy, and an innovative digital team, Conan soared on the late-night scene with huge ratings, besting both David Letterman and arch-nemesis Jay Leno with 4.2 million viewers. What's more, in the coveted 18-49 demo—the same demo that's probably watching his YouTube videos and checking in for his Foursquare badges—Conan drew a massive 3.3 million adults.

"Conan’s audience has been very vocal online, and he clearly made a smooth transition from Twitter to TBS," said Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks. A writer for Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood echoed that sentiment, calling Team Coco's digital strategy a "brilliant launch campaign that incorporated social media better than I've ever seen."

As for Conan, he will continue to focus on social media to keep his ratings high.

"It feels great to be back," he tweeted today. "To all my fans: Thank you. You are the reason this happened."

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  • Bud Thompson

    All the social media was good for one night. His ratings went down to below Letterman and Leno the second night and continued to fall the third.

  • Jeremy Victor

    The headline of this article is bogus.

    It's completely wrong to place the entire success on Social Media.

    What about the Conan Blimp that must have been shown a thousand times a game during the playoffs?

    And the Conan television commercials?

    Did TBS place any prints ads with you? You gave some editorial coverage on page 30 of the November issue.

    Sure social media played a part...the success of Conan's launch is the acknowledgement that in the world we live in today - you need to be influencing people in every channel through a combination of owned, earned, paid, and created media.

    Sure, social media played a part, and likely a big one at that, but its not the sole reason he beat Leno and Letterman.

  • Nicholas Zgorski

    It's definitely good to see that Conan is back. He seems to have taken everything in stride and it's pretty amazing what he has been able to do with the social media to attract viewers to his show. To be able to attract more viewers than Leno and Letterman is pretty incredible. It will be interesting to see how long these ratings last, but after what happened to him with NBC I hope they stay this way for a long time.