Betty White Teaches NBC's SNL a Thing or Two About Facebook

Last Updated May 10, 2010 6:35 PM EDT

Seeing the stellar ratings for Betty White's hosting of "Saturday Night Live" this weekend makes you wonder: is network TV paying enough attention to Facebook?

The reason, I ask, of course is that White made it to the host's spot because of a Facebook campaign to install her, and the result, in addition to glowing reviews, was the highest ratings "SNL" has had in a year and a half. Taking into account a few other things that made this special -- like that it's not every day that an 88-year-old hosts a show (and a live show at that) the fact of the matter is that consumers programmed the show, and not only programmed it, but took the initiative to program the show. That consumer involvement was a massive part of its success.

While there are examples out there of TV shows reaching out to their audiences online, there aren't that many instances (save for maybe the failed campaign to keep Conan O'Brien on "The Tonight Show") where social media loomed quite so large. More than a half million people joined the "Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!" Facebook group (membership required), and the show's aftermath is something to behold as well. As of this afternoon, excerpts from the show are absolutely dominating Hulu's "Popular Clips" section -- including outtakes that never aired on the actual show. This episode of "SNL" looks like it will live virally for a long time to come.

But instead of just basking in the afterglow, what NBC -- and other networks -- should do right now, is find more ways to bring the audience into the programming process, using Facebook, Twitter and other broad social media platforms that have mass audiences. (This has been dabbled in for years, but never been totally part of the TV modus operandi.)

If anything is obvious about the Betty White/SNL phenomenon, it's that once consumers are involved in the making of a show -- even if all they did was suggest a host -- they have a vested interest in it succeeding. Most of the buzz I noticed prior to the show's airing, came from consumers who are active in social media, not the usual endless on-air promos. I should point out that this can be far more scientific than many people think. There are tons of analytics people in the social media industry right now who are figuring out, for instance, what the speed of growth of a Facebook group means for the eventual success of whatever the group's promoting. What a research goldmine that could be for someone trying to build a successful show!

The phenomenon of social media goosing the ratings for event TV hasn't gone unnoticed here at BNET, but 88-year-old Betty White is the signpost of how that model can be advanced -- by involving consumers not just in the hyping of a program but the creating of it.

More Betty White on BNET:

5 Marketing Lessons From SNL's Betty White Show