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.”AC