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February 25, 2010

Social Media and Conan O’Brien

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.


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