Broadcast Social Media: The BBC’s ‘socialness’
Hugh Garry (left) throws in his two-penneth into a ‘Social Objects’ discussion he had with a couple of people last night. I’m ashamed to say I’ve no idea who they are. Bite me.
His point is a timely reminder however. Long before social media became the phrase which haunts my friend who works in distribution on the fourth floor of the building I work in, the BBC has been trying desperately (and for the most part succeeding) to get it’s audience to interact with the organisation.
Hugh – understandably – sees this primarily as an illustration of the differences between how the BBC thinks about audiences where commercial organisations think about pounds.
The best – most personal and perhaps effective – example is that of Blue Peter. As a kid I engaged with the programme not solely because of the stuff I watched on screen but because of the opportunities offered up by Biddy Baxter and her considerably typing pool.
Unlike some TV programmes obsessed with commanding it’s audience to ‘text in and tell us what you think’ during the SMS high in the late nineties and early noughties, Biddy Baxter’s vision forty years before was refreshingly sincere.Interacting with Blue Peter (and to a lesser extent Swap Shop) never felt like it was an excuse to extract ‘content’ out of viewers. More, it promoted a connection. Promoted the sense of ‘family’, reducing the gap between broadcaster and audience.
Every kid who wrote in to Blue Peter got a reply. There was a card index. There was even a book of some of the letters sent in. Biddy must have been a formiddable character to secure the budget necessary to keep that particular ship afloat.
The opportunity offered to young audiences to interact created a fantasy world. It helped bind the individual audience member with the presenter. The audience part-owned the product. And they continue to part-own that product long after they’ve come to realise how twee the programme was when they watched it.
But that interactivity helped reinforce the brand alongside more traditional efforts like the Blue Peter annual. The annual publication was another way in which young audiences felt connected with the programme. Long before web pages made the process of sharing instructions on how to make the stuff demoed in the programme, the annual featured the favourite projects on paper pages instead.
My ‘era’ was the ‘make your own model TV studio‘ make. It was contributed to my lifelong obsession with the BBC, the media and Television Centre.
The Blue Peter annual was a way of audiences feeling connected with the programme when it was off-air (at least I remember) and provided another point of inspiration which might lead to kids writing in to the programme. The fact that the letter wasn’t read out on air was necessarily the point. The reply signed from Biddy Baxter was enough.
And it’s that personal element which can still be lost in a lot of what the BBC’s social media activities. For me, merely having a social media account on x platform isn’t enough. Tweeting or posting Facebook updates isn’t enough either. Noise is pointless. Counter-productive. It’s personal one-to-one engagement with the audience which should remain the focus of all our goals.
Put simply, the BBC’s ‘socialness’ should be rooted in one simple aim: recreating the very same experience Biddy Baxter offered us when we were kids.
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