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February 25, 2010

Social Media and Conan O’Brien

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The way I see it, NBC has little chance of survival in the next ten years. They’ve proven themselves so caught up in the normal TV schedule way of thinking that they fail to understand their audience, what little of it is left.

Their lack of knowledge about social media, how it’s formed and how it can control the conversation is part of their failure in this situation and may very well be part of their failure as an organization.

Conan O’Brien on the other hand was able to harness the internet and social media to make a stand and, in the end, become more famous than he ever was before.

I’m going to explain this slowly, for the folks at NBC, if they are reading this. Let’s think of Conan O’Brien & Jay Leno as a brand, and that the internet is the next big media thing, where there will be millions and millions of Americans making decisions about their life based on what they read on the internet. When people run a search on this website called GOOGLE, they get thousands of pages of choices that they can read about the topic in which they are interested. That perhaps in the future, someday, consumers and people who watch television (aren’t they the same?) will be able to type in “Conan vs Jay” and get real time results that help shape their thinking about the subject, and therefore create brand identification and/or brand alienation depending on what happens.

Now for the rest of us, who understand Search Engine Marketing, Search Engine Optimization and a bunch of other three word phrases with Affiliate, Marketing, Search and Interactive in them, here is some more high level explaining.

NBC, as a company, is still very much focused on Television being the predominant source of entertainment in the next ten years and hasn’t done much thinking beyond that. Despite paying people like Jay & Conan ridiculous amounts of money, their audience base plummeted each year as more and more people turned to independent internet entertainment. So they never considered exactly what might happen, if they started to make changes in their schedule, move Jay Leno back to his previous slot and basically kick Conan to the curb.

Jay Leno, as funny as he might have been, isn’t exactly a representative of a young, fast-paced, growing generation. He might get some people to stay up and watch the news before falling asleep during his monologue – but on the whole, no one can say he has his finger on the pulse of… well… anything.

You say, and perhaps the executives of NBC say, “we need to prop up our affiliates and their news shows, before we lose them.” So what? Television as a medium is on the way out, or at least changing. I don’t know anyone who actually watches the news at 11, let alone cares that Jay or Conan are right after it. The news has no relevance, since most of us have already learned about it 6 hours earlier from some blog or websites. As for humor and jokes, we’ve already spent most of the day on YouTube instead of doing our job, watching some kid falling down five flights of steps while eating a cheeseburger. Jay Leno isn’t going to keep our attention for more than one minute, while we wonder what his chin would like in 3-D.

So, what does this have to do with marketing? First of all, Conan O’Brien has managed to come out looking cleaner than a toothbrush at a Palin family reunion. When you google results regarding his dispute with Leno, you find tons of commentary and articles supporting him, putting him out there as the champion of the people, the underdog, the teabagger of comics.

While it’s more than likely he will just appear on another network, there is also a chance that he will take this momentum and create something completely unique on the internet. Anything he does on the internet will immediately be covered with millions of links, tweets and AIMs – all pointing to his new project. With the NBC money that he is walking away with, he could easily just make his own website, his own comedy channel, his own comedy network and become very wealthy on just the buzz surrounding his name.

I sincerely believe that Conan knew exactly what was going to happen, and used the internet to his advantage. Many of his writers and publicity team are very young, having grown up on the internet. They knew that if they needed good publicity they would only have to turn to the internet in order to get the point across.

They used social media to secretly create “I’m with CoCo” groups while at the same time constantly making sure there was new “buzz” to pass around on twitter. From posts on Craigslist of Conan selling himself to the highest bidder for favors to late night tweets from the writing staff to their fan base, they knew that they could always win the war with an audience – that frankly is a lot more internet savvy than the Leno fan base.

Anyone engaged in social media marketing, needs to look closely at how Conan did this, how he made it seem to be organic and natural and then allowed it to seemingly take its own course. He knew how to create buzz, but more importantly content for internet buzz fodder. He knew that the one-liners that could be posted on Twitter were a thousand times more powerful than any ten minute monologue that could be spoken by …urhmm… that other guy.


In perhaps the fastest growing industry ever, one person has made a name for himself as a leader and innovator. Pace Lattin, the publisher of the top newsletters in new media and online advertising, is one of the inventors of many of the technologies and methods that have become standards in the industry. He has been called many things, including a rabble-rouser, a guru, an innovator and a watchdog — but one thing stays the same: he is one of the most interesting leaders and commentators in the online advertising industry. Marketing Sherpa, a leading marketing research publication called him the most influential journalist in online media for a reason. IndustryPace.com

17 Responses to “Social Media and Conan O’Brien

    avatar Timo says:

    I don’t think that social media helps people become famous….I have never heard of Conan O’Brien!!!!!!!

    avatar Frank McLoughlin says:

    That was so much funnier than a Leno monologue. Actually, that’s not much of a compliment.

    I loved this article, because during all of this nonsense it was actually palpable which way public opinion was going.

    They should rename NBC the history channel.

    avatar 24ondemand says:

    That’s about NBC or Internet

    avatar Mason Barge says:

    Although I agree that NBC-the-broadcast-network is floundering and may someday disappear, it’s a bit excessive to 1) ascribe this entirely to the internet, 2) extend the prediction to broadcast television, or 3) ignore the numerous strong cable channels owned by NBC Universal.

    Even as far as the broadcast network is concerned, the really horrendous lack of performance lies in the Programming Division, as NBC News and NBC Sports are very strong. Yes, I realize that a lot of challenges apply to all four of the major broadcast networks (which continue to lose audience share as a group), and that internet-provided media is responsible for much of the decrease in overall ratings, but the ineptitude of the Programming Div. is why the article focuses on NBC rather than Fox or CBS.

    IHMO, even if NBC TV dies due to the ineptitude of Zucker and Silverman, it will just mean we go back to three broadcast networks instead of four. There is still a place for them, as the ratings for the Winter Olympics demonstrates.

    I’d be interested to know how much of NBC’s audience has been siphoned off by its fairly strong cable division, which owns, in whole or part, a LOT of strong cable stations. These aren’t broadcast television, but they aren’t internet, either.

    And finally, let me point out that no matter how strong Conan O’Brien’s presence may be on the net, there’s no way he’s going to earn the kind of money from it that he and Leno have made from NBC TV, even given the huge loss of audience over the past few decades.

    avatar Mickey Dee says:

    Why the jab at the Palin family? That one comment made me take all the good info in the this piece and throw it out the window.

    avatar snt says:

    I don’t think NBC is going to disappear. Conan has been a underdog for a decade. For his level NBC paid him too much. I don’t think he is going to be any better than he is now. Internet is definitely going to change the entertainment landscape, but Television is not going to disappear.

    avatar seoApril says:

    Great article, Pace. I too agree that Conan used Social Media to his advantage and made Leno look more archaic than ever before. Boradcast TV will never disappear completely…but they will continually lose viewers to Internet TV watching.

    avatar Terry says:

    It is obvious this author does not have his finger on the pulse of america either.

    Not all of America are technophiles that eat sleep and dream internet. Have you forgotten the baby boomers? Many are embracing the internet and texting and cell phones in general, but they are also watching the 10/11 o’clock news and the 5 million Leno tonight show viewers were not hampsters.

    Perhaps someday broadcast TV will go the way of the Dodo, but not in the next ten years. There are billions of reason for not abandoning it on your say so, and they will not be in your wallet.

    avatar David Lowe says:

    I don’t disagree with what you say, however, it’s just another progression and not the end.

    As AM radio gave way to FM, and FM gives way to satellite radio. As newspapers gave way to TV, TV gives way to cable and the internet. Social media is a phase in the continuum. It too will give away to something new, maybe a chip implanted in our brain that will allow communication without texting or talking. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll rediscover face to face communications where people will actually look others in the eye and engage in conversation.

    No matter what the future holds, social media will play a part in getting there, nothing more than a link in the long chain of other media that has served its purpose in the chain.

    Great article. Good to see you are still doing what you do best… Laura :-)

    avatar Wolfbernz says:

    It amazes me that NBC hasn’t taken the social media part of our society seriously.
    I have to agree with the statement – who wants to stay up and listen to some monologue that should be funny – but we saw it on our favorite blog because it was Tweeted four hours earlier!
    Anything that is going to become popular with the general public will come from the internet as it does today and will be reported to those who still watch the box mounted to the wall for their information but this too will change as our youth grows up using the web.

    Hmmmm… I wonder what J Leno’s chin would look like in 3-D as he swung his head around, would you feel like ducking…LOL

    Wolf

    avatar Joon says:

    Really interesting article. Think this could apply to all of them really.

    avatar Model Agency says:

    bahahaha Beautifully written. It’s amazing the profile of people and organisations not acknowledging the importance of winning battles online.
    The world lives here on the Internet now, people!!!

    avatar thb44 says:

    Interesting piece, Pace. Jay Leno (part of Baby Boom Generation, born 1942-1953) vs. Conan O’Brien (part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965) reflects a broader battle happening throughout Western cultures: the emergence of Generation Jones leadership vs. Boomers clinging to power. GenJoneser Obama’s ascendance following 16 years of Boomer Presidencies is the most visible example, but we find it throughout the West, where more than two thirds of EU leaders are part of GenJones (following two decades of Boomer dominance).

    Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten lots of media attention, and many prominent commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press’ annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here’s a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones: http://generationjones.com/2009latest.html

    It’s important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. And most analysts now see generations as getting shorter (usually 10-15 years now), partly because of the acceleration of culture. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978

    avatar Perry says:

    i quit reading at the Palin family mention..

    avatar Fred D. says:

    Pretty much agree with Perry and Mickey Dee; the unnecessary Palin reference — followed by the obvious slur, “teabagger” — trashed all credibility for anyone allegedly “in the online advertising industry.”

    Check out MSNBC’s plummeting ratings to see what that gets you, dummy.

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