In anticipation of its 30th anniversary, the non-profit arts organization POV sought to elevate its brand and generate greater visibility for the contemporary social issues it highlights in its storytelling by leveraging a combination of social media platforms in 2016: Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and email.
POV is the longest-running independent documentary series on television and one of the world's most renowned documentary brands. Since 1988, POV has presented bold and innovative documentaries on PBS, and has earned a reputation for showcasing the early work of filmmakers as diverse as Laura Poitras, Marshall Curry, Michael Moore, Errol Morris and Terry Zwigoff. For its pioneering efforts in bringing new forms of media to new audiences over 30 years, POV has earned 36 Emmy Awards, 19 George Foster Peabody Awards, 12 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards and three Academy Awards.
But without a big budget to launch the kinds of campaigns commercial brands could easily pay for, POV sought other avenues to innovating in today's media landscape. This follows a tradition POV has kept for over 20 years. In 1993, POV introduced an early crowdsourcing project called "Talking Back." Two years later, PBS's first program website—pov.org—launched in 1995. And in 2002, PBS's first web series, "Borders," came to life. That POV would launch new digital innovations in 2016 is a natural extension of the organization's history.
POV decided on a fully multi-platform campaign to take leadership among the documentary community—including filmmakers, fans and public media consumers—with new approaches to increase engagement with the unique audiences of each platform. Because of its limited non-profit budget, POV needed to be creative. As a result it leveraged novelty and its team's strengths as well as strategic partnerships. Since POV did not enter into any paid partnerships that guaranteed placement or promotion on the platforms, essentially all traffic would have to be earned organically.
On Snapchat, POV aimed to become the first producer of films for Snapchat Discover. The project would unveil a new format for non-fiction film, combining the qualities of traditional documentaries with the interactive qualities of Snapchat. Through that unique medium, the project hoped to highlight underrepresented communities while providing vital counterprogramming to the other outlets on the platform, which are typically devoted to celebrity news. Public media was not already a producer for Snapchat Discover, so the audience would be new for POV, necessitating brand-new content built around them.
On Facebook, POV would create public media's first bot and post video from a new installment of the wildly successful "Whiteness Project," an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as white experience their race. The project had already been one of the most widely viewed interactive public media projects ever produced.
On Twitter, POV would post streams of original content generated for filmmakers, sourced from POV's popular "For Filmmakers" subsite, which includes a widely read blog, lists of funding opportunities and a deadline calendar.
On email, POV sought to embed creators inside The New York Times to produce documentary content for the new newsletter "Race/Related." The project would aspire to signal the new ways in which non-fiction filmmakers could engage with the public about critical social issues via email, an often-overlooked medium in the documentary community.
Snapchat: POV partnered with the short-form digital content creator NowThis to create films for Snapchat Discover, earning 4.7 million views and 600,000 unique visitors over two 24-hour windows. The engagement was a validation that young Americans will engage with challenging storytelling.
Twitter: POV's useful, timely, authoritative documentary content proved to be successful for engagement. @povdocs tripled its number of followers (organically) to 150,000, making it the second-most followed independent documentary organization after @frontlinepbs.
Facebook: Whiteness Project received 5 million video views on Facebook (and 500,000 on Snapchat, a collaboration with Vox), exceeding the reach of typical independent documentaries, while Facebook Messenger was home to POV TV Schedule Bot, public media's first bot, which provided broadcast information, trailers, filmmaker bios and more.
Email: We are unable to publish Race/Related newsletter engagement metrics, but videos produced by POV creators embedded inside The New York Times (including series on "Implicit Bias" and "Racist Objects") received front page placement at nytimes.com and on the mobile app, and 2.5 million views on Facebook and tens of thousands of reactions and shares on social media, indicating how widely the content was shared over email.
The impact was not confined to social media. Our efforts translated into amplication in outlets including Variety, Tubefilter, CBS, Fox, CNN, Buzzfeed and Mic, as well as record traffic at pbs.org/pov in August, September and October, successfully furthering our mission of presenting vital non-fiction stories from perspectives rarely featured in mainstream media.
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