Twitter’s Fred Graver On 5 Ways To Engage Second-Screen Viewers

One of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, Fred Graver, talks about how TV producers can embrace Twitter for turning fans into empowered evangelists.

Twitter’s Fred Graver On 5 Ways To Engage Second-Screen Viewers
During the Duck Dynasty premiere, whenever Si, one of the main characters, made a “Hey” sign–it’s like his catchphrase–the first person to tweet #Jack won a prize.
For more on global leaders in technology, design, media, music, movies, marketing, television, and sports, see Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People In Business 2013 report. Read more with Fred Graver here.

It’s Fred Graver’s job to make time-shifting your programming with a DVR feel like missing out on an experience. Luckily, his previous gigs provided a crash course in immediacy. As a former writer for the Late Show with David Letterman, he learned how to make a crowd respond to jokes. As the creator of Best Week Ever on VH1, he successfully brought an Internet news sensibility to TV. But since joining Twitter last summer, he’s become more interested in turning the microblogging platform into TV’s extra dimension.


Events like the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl have gotten a boost from the viewer engagement Twitter offers, and weekly scripted shows are starting to take advantage of the added interactivity as well. Graver often meets with show runners and executives long before airtime, dreaming up new ways to reward viewers for their second screen usage. Below, some of his advice for how producers can get their viewers to become Twitter evangelists for their favorite shows.

Embrace Your Hate Watchers.

Any viewer or anybody else who wants to talk about a show that much is often as insightful as someone who loves the show. The people hate-watching are more inclined to tweet and talk and stir the pot than people who are passively just watching and enjoying it. It’s like opening up a carton of milk and asking someone to smell it.

I met with the people at Showtime a while ago, and I am a huge fan of their programming. We spend a lot of time before we get to a network watching their shows and preparing some thoughts. There’s one show I don’t like, but still watch, though, and I had to ask, ‘Why is Californication still on the air?’ The executive then proceeded to tell me which shows she hate-watched. I think they’re basically thinking, Bring it on.

Glee: “The Breakup”

Anticipate Big Moments In Scripted Shows.

It’s a cool trick to live-tweet, or interact with the audience on-screen some other way during prerecorded shows. What we’re aiming toward is, if you know that a new hashtag has sprung up, you can splash it up on the screen, which is a way of saying, “Yeah, we get it. We know what you’re saying.” On the show Workaholics, for instance, there was a recent episode where the lead characters discovered a new verb, lording, and kept using it a lot. Comedy Central put up the lording hashtag coinciding with the first time it was used. Or you can also flash a hashtag before a big moment on Glee, like a breakup.

An example I love is from last year at the BET awards. Jay-Z came out in this gray suit, white shirt, and a bowtie, and within minutes #Peewee started trending. Audiences know at this point to make their own hashtags. You just have to catch them and put them on screen, or anticipate them.

“Gamify” Recurring Moments In Unscripted Shows.

A&E “gamified” Twitter during the most recent Duck Dynasty premiere by giving fans a lot to respond to within the show on Twitter. For example, whenever one of the main characters, Si, held up a sign with his catchphrase (“Hey”), the first person to tweet his other catchphrase (#Jack) won a prize.

Fred Graver

Get the Cast to Retweet Fans.

The celebrity retweet is the new autograph. It used to be if you got an autograph from a celebrity, you were a fan for life; now if you get a retweet from a celebrity, you’d jump off a bridge for them.

Show On-screen How the Twitter Audience Affects the Show.

Obviously, having your tweet appear on TV is a big deal, but in general, the bigger-picture reward for the audience is to somehow be able to affect the show. How they vote on Celebrity Apprentice or The Voice—you kind of have to reflect the second-screen experience back at them. Everything from tweets per minute to showing heat maps around the country. ESPN has been working with word clouds based on who’s been talking about this topic. It’s important to look for new ways of reflecting how the audience is talking about something or assuring the audience you’re listening to them.

[Photo by Joi Ito]