Last week, dozens of Toronto-area bloggers gathered at a local bar, bringing with them their iPhones and Blackberries. Amidst watching Viking re-enactors fight it out on stage and playing trivia, the group got ready for the main event of the evening – watching a tv show about the Pergamon and Neues Museums in Berlin, Germany, and tweeting history.
The bloggers/tweeters were there for a viewing party organized by the makers of Museum Secrets, a Canadian television show, and were busy tweeting about the episode, which featured Viking swords, ancient sculptures and the bust of Queen Nefertiti.
The viewing party was just one of many new efforts by two Canadian-made history shows, Battle Castle and Museum Secrets, to promote themselves to the online world. The programs, which air back-to-back on Thursday nights on History Television in Canada, are using their websites, Facebook and Twitter to reach out to an international audience.
Museum Secrets organized the party, finding bloggers and web experts interested in history to attend. Besides having a demonstration by members of Torvik, a local Viking-history group, the party also included contests and prizes. When the show came on at 10pm, the crowd began to tweet, using the hashtag #MuseumSecrets. Meanwhile, History Television also featured the same hashtag as the show aired. Amanda Connon-Unda, Social Media Lead at Kensington Communications, the makers of Museum Secerts, said, “Viewers at home seemed enthusiastic and engaged with us about the stories on twitter. They also engaged with the guests at our party who were tweeting.”
Museum Secrets, which is halfway through its second season in Canada (and is also seen in Australia and the United Kingdom), has been working hard at establishing an online presence through its website – www.museumsecrets.tv – and through social media. Amanda Connon-Unda explains, “For us it’s important to build the Museum Secrets community at a local level but also online, when we can’t connect in person around our common interest in museums.
“The show is also about more than just museums – It’s an intriguing and sometimes funny show about history, mystery, science and travel. It speaks to those interested in archaeology, anthropology, the natural sciences and present day culture and research. We want to connect with others who are curious about the world and provide a place to discuss ideas through the content of the show and each of the 14 museums now up on our website.”
Those attending the party agreed. Nicole Hoye, who tweets under the handle @iheartmuseums, said, “It was fun during the viewing to follow the hash tags and see what each of us was gleaning from the episode. Viking dress up was great, too!”
The event and promotion garnered hundreds of tweets under the hashtag #museumsecrets. It was more good news for the makers of Museum Secrets, who just learned that their show has been renewed for a third season.
Meanwhile, across the country in Vancouver, Parallax Film Productions has just launched its new TV show, Battle Castle, which features some of the world’s most interesting medieval fortifications and how they fared when besieged by enemy armies. After creating their own website – www.battlecastle.tv – the producers looked at how they could use social media.
Maija Leivo, Series Producer for Battle Castle, explains “At the beginning we knew we would have “something” on Facebook and that Twitter might be useful. What we’ve done most, is test. We try by posting content and gauging what engages people. When we get a response we do more, or modify the approach on the less successful offerings. We want to avoid a hard sell (watch our show or else!) and instead share some of the other cool stories we have. Naturally the platforms themselves have also changed and we recently adopted the Facebook timeline. It’s morphing as a great storytelling platform for us. In comparison, Facebook hasn’t been as successful while the show is airing and we will be focusing exclusively on the Twitter feed for the next broadcast.”
The premiere episode of the show, which featured the Crusader fortress Crac des Chevaliers in Syria, had viewers flocking to the website – so much so that the site crashed for over an hour because of the high demand.
So far, Battle Castle has been able to attract over five thousand followers on Facebook and Twitter, and over 25 000 videos views on their YouTube page. Maija Leivo notes that these different social media platforms bring in different audiences too. “Without over generalizing,” she says, “we tend to have more women who like us and engage with the content on Facebook and more men who consume the videos on Youtube. I also think people regard their Facebook pages and feeds as their personal space and as a content creator, you need to respect that. On Twitter, it doesn’t seem like such a big issue. People don’t seem to mind a long series of Tweets.”
For the creators of both Battle Castle and Museum Secrets, the success of their shows, in Canada and around the world, will be determined in part by how they can use social media tools to reach out to their audiences. But using social media is also helping them understand what their viewers want to see and improve the quality of their shows.
“Social media has been very exciting for us,” Maija explains. “We have never had a direct relationship with our audience before. We would just ship the tapes off to the broadcaster and let the chips fall where they may, with the exception of an email to people who participated in the production.
“Now instead of just having an audience, it feels like we are building a community around the content. As a human being it is really great to post a clip that made me smile or laugh and get feedback. I think it would be great for people to tell us: ‘Hey I like this, do you have any more?’ I can also imagine going forward that it might even change the shows as we make them.”