The Power of the Crowd: What Brands Can Learn From CNN’s Crossfire

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Whether you’re on the right or the left, there’s no debating the fact that controversial politics draws high levels of audience engagement. Even though it’s generally not a good idea for brands to get involved in political conversations on social media for fear they will alienate consumers, there are lessons they can learn from at least one cable news program.

Political debate show Crossfire, which originally aired on CNN from 1982 to 2005, was resurrected by the cable channel’s new president Jeff Zucker this fall. The show has four hosts: former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and New York Daily News columnist S.E. Cupp, on the right; and Stephanie Cutter, former campaign manager for President Barack Obama, and Van Jones, former special adviser for green jobs under Obama, on the left.

What does that engagement look like? Since re-launching Crossfire has grown its Facebook fans tenfold to 30,000; increased its Twitter followers five times to more than 10,000 and saw approximately 600 Twitter mentions per 1,000 followers on a weekly basis in October, with the hashtag #Crossfire trending 26 times on 14 days last month.

In addition, politicians, athletes and celebrities—the kind of Twitter magnets that other brands crave to have as commenters—have often tweeted about the program’s content.

For example:

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What’s the show’s secret social sauce? And what can brands learn from the program’s success?

Michelle Jaconi, executive producer for cross-platform programming at CNN, told Ebyline that it is debate that makes the program a natural for social media. She also cites the show’s use of voting technology from Poptip.

“Since the show dives deeply into a single topic from politics to sports, it invites—and provokes—discussion, cheers, jeers and, now: votes! It is one of the most fun parts of the new Crossfire, you get to vote every night along with the hosts and the guests, and those votes from Twitter and Facebook are tabulated in real-time graphics that the hosts react to on the show,” says Jaconi. “This is really new ground in the news space, and it is editorially interesting as well as technologically cool.”

Crossfire uses the Poptip platform to post a daily question on Twitter and Facebook. It then embeds the results onto the Crossfire blog, crowdsources the results, and shows the results on the air during a crowd opinion segment. The show began using Poptip on Sept. 2 and, according to Poptip, 26,794 people have voted on Crossfire, and 23.5 percent of those viewers have answered more than one Crossfire question.

Some of the questions that have drawn the most engagement from fans:

  • Should the requirement to buy health insurance be delayed for a year?
  • If you were in Congress, would you vote to authorize a strike on Syria?
  • Do you think members of Congress should be paid during the government shutdown?

 

Brands can learn from Crossfire’s runaway social growth, even if they don’t have the stage that a cable channel provides:

  1. Get your customers and potential customers involved on social media. Don’t just automatically assume they will engage with you—ask questions on subjects that they care about, and share those results with the world.
  2. Use hashtags to keep track of conversations going on about your brand online, and encourage others to use them. Hashtags are also an effective tool when it comes to monitoring social media contests.
  3. Know your social media influencers. Even though Jaconi says Crossfire doesn’t ask guests to tweet, or draft tweets for them, brands should monitor which of its fans have the most followers and gets the most engagement, then move quickly to build relationships with them. That way when you want to get a message out to a significant audience, he/she will be happy to spread the word. Develop an influencer program that provides perks for your influencers.
  4. Use mentions of people, other brands and organizations in your social media posts. When you include a mention, that business or entity will receive a notification and likely appreciate that you’re calling attention to them. Crossfire makes sure to mention upcoming guests in its tweets.
  5. Retweet posts from your customers that you think all your social media followers would appreciate. Crossfire retweets posts from its guests on a regular basis.

 

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