NAB: The explosion of social media offers a valuable opportunity to grow audiences and increase engagement in shows, according to US TV execs at NAB in Las Vegas.

Cristian Cussen, director of business development for social networking tool Ning, said the barriers to entry for producers were low.

“Be authentic and imperial,” said Cussen. “Rather than spend a lot of money don’t be afraid to start imperially. It’s inexpensive and just costs you your own time.”

Robert Hayes, senior vice president and general manager of Showtime Networks, ran an immersive social media campaign for drama series Californication starring David Duchovny, which included a character chronicling a fictitious book launch across Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

“It’s important to work closely with the creators of the show to evolve the storyline,” Hayes said. “Fans of the show love it and it also helps to spread the word to their friends.”

Hayes underlined that the barriers to entry to launching a social media strategy were low and any targeted attempts to reach an online audience could prove successful.  

“Find where your audience is engaging, seed content out there and see what hits. Then find some brand moderators you trust and start a conversation with those people about your content who talk about it and create a swell of activity,” he said.

Social media remains more of a marketing tool than a direct revenue generator although Jason Klarman, general manager of NBC-owned studio Oxygen Media secured online sponsorship revenue from Ikea to brand its social media activity around reality show Tori and Dean.

“Anyone who launches a show and doesn’t have a way to activate communities is not doing things right,” he said.   

But Hayes warned about trying to target an engaged online community with inappropriate offers.

“Our e-commerce division tried to sell some expensive jewelry to our fans but the community spoke out very quickly and we changed the whole strategy,” he said.

Kinsey Wilson, senior vice president and general manager of radio news network NPR said interacting with listeners via social media boosted audience numbers and engagement levels significantly

“Make sure you immerse yourself in social media from the ground up not the top down,” said Wilson.