Who’s Number One? Shoot for Engagement Over All Else – Lessons from Local Television News

by Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.

It’s February — and that means it’s time for local television stations across the nation to get out their measuring sticks.  Here in Minneapolis, and on this day, that notion carries a double meaning.  For one, the local weather forecasts are calling for maybe a foot of snow and blizzard winds after that — so we’ll be crawling along come drive time.  But more importantly, February is also known as a “sweeps” month, when the Nielsen company measures and reports local news ratings.  For decades, these sweeps months (November, February, and May being the key months) have been highly important to television stations because they establish viewership and, in the end, dictate what a station can charge for its advertising.

I think there’s a lesson in the local news landscape about the new rules of engagement for all of us in the connected professions – where relationships matter and personal branding is taking a key role in business development.  Traditional measurements of who’s number one should not be relied upon alone.

For example, here in the Twin Cities television market, KARE and WCCO (the NBC and CBS affiliates, respectively) have been duking it out for the Nielsen top spot in recent years.  The ABC affiliate (KSTP-TV) has been trying to fight its way from the bottom of the rankings since the 1980s.  The local FOX affiliate (KMSP-TV) hasn’t had too much Nielsen success, either, at least in the evening news rankings.

But then, look to one of the new measures of engagement—Facebook followers—and the FOX affiliate actually reigns supreme.  And look at the wide gulf between WCCO and KARE, who, if close in Nielsen rankings (or solidly #1 and #2 to say the least), shouldn’t they have similar Facebook followings?

Facebook Followers (main station page):

KMSP (FOX)             150,291

KARE (NBC)             129,562

WCCO (CBS)             58,586

KSTP (ABC)              34,526

I’m not sure I’d endeavor to explain why the Nielsen rankings don’t correlate with the number of people plugged into these local brands via their Facebook pages.  At least not in this forum.  I do think it’s important to simply recognize the disparity in the metrics — and appreciate it.

If KMSP – branded “FOX 9” locally – is nearly three-times more “plugged-in” with a Facebook following than WCCO, which has been ranked #1 in a lot of local news time slots in recent years, I think we at least have some evidence that measuring and ranking brand connectedness is about more than the traditional totem poles.

For lawyers, the analogues to the Nielsen ratings are well known.  You have the storied list of AmLaw 100 firms, your SuperLawyers, the list goes on.  But who’s number one today may not be number one tomorrow.  I realize that there are–and will always be–new media naysayers out there—the people in your law firms who question all the social media engagement (and this non-billable .75 1.1 blog post).  But keep in mind that today’s book of business isn’t tomorrow’s book of business.  And when there’s a legal dollar to be spent in the future, who is going to be top-of-mind, as our marketing friends say?   Probably the gal who’s plugged-in and engaging, building her personal brand… today.

I would assume that our local FOX affiliate here in the Twin Cities is fairly proud of its Facebook following.  They’re always engaging, always in my Facebooke news feed, and one day soon, could be our top local news brand in this media market, no matter what the Nielsen folks have to say about it.  (Monetizing that can be someone else’s blog topic, haha.)

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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