NBC is today launching 'fan it', a initiative that the company describes as a "win-win opportunity that broaden's [our] shows' visibility" ... "What better way to spread the word about our shows than with the help of our loyal fans," asks Adam Stotsky, president of NBC entertainment marketing. Quite right.

Essentially viewers interact with shows and they're rewarded with fan points, and points mean prizes; be they exclusive early access to shows, merchandise, or discounts. You can even win 'big-ticket sweepstakes items', like props from the Office.

There's much to be lauded about NBC's effort. It's rewarding fans of shows for being fans of shows, which generates that most potent and valuable of comms properties: word of mouth. But rather than having a WOM strategy that at best involves an occasional email and at worst involves crossing fingers and hoping for the best, NBC are investing in WOM that they can consistently stimulate, interact with, and measure.

But I wonder if it goes far enough, and fear that its doesn't... there's a danger that this is seen as the newest and shiniest way to promote programmes... A bit like this:

Old school TV marketing trap, with Social as added-on component

But Social is a different and much more potent beast than conventional advertising. For one, it's intrinsically part of the shows that stimulate it. There's no filtering or polishing, no Photoshopping up the best bits; what people generate based on what stimulates then is what gets created and deployed.

For another, there's less control over how much gets created and what the sentiment of it is... conversations and word of mouth can go both ways. NBC would never create an ad saying, "This show isn't as good as we thought it was going to be, but stick with it 'cause it's got a great team and some legs yet," but that could easily be the nature of a conversation around one of its shows in the social space.

And finally - unlike advertising - when social media talks back you can hear it. The many whoops and sighs, cheers and jibes that echo around online conversations (and beyond) as a result of TV shows that we know and sometimes love are there for the social network and broadcast network to hear. What the broadcast network chooses to do with that social networked conversation, with that collateral, is up to them...

I'd suggest that for all these reasons, Social is better seen as a 'shell' which surrounds TV product. A shell which is intrinsically part of the TV product; reflecting, amplifying, and sometimes influencing the content that stimulates it.

New school TV marketing opportunity, with Social as shell which is amplified out

This is the real role of Social Media for TV. NBC have taken a glorious step with 'fan-it', but Social is not a block on a schedule to be added on, rather it's the prism through which shows are advertised. And moreover, it's the collateral that's there to be deployed online and - increasingly - on-air...

'fan-it' can be a broadcast network-out initiative or it can be social network-in conversation. The choice - and the challenge - may be NBC's, but 'fan-it' remains a brilliant next step - for both networks - towards a new TV media ecology.