How To Be The #1 Trending Hashtag On Twitter: Lessons From Nat Geo’s #KillingKennedy Campaign

The National Geographic Channel regularly uses both organic and paid campaigns to engage audiences on Twitter. For its film, Killing Kennedy, timed to premier the week before the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, Nat Geo wanted to make a big impact on Twitter to build excitement and drive viewership.

Armed with Twitter-savvy celebrities and a wealth of visual assets, the team employed Twitter TV ad targeting for the first time to reach beyond its follower base of just over 520 thousand followers.

Nat Geo and its agency Mediahub/Mullen encouraged the cast — including stars Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin, both of whom were already active on Twitter — to tweet about the film during production. Nat Geo also used engaging graphics pulled from their website to tease the film.

The campaign was highly successful. During the November 10 premier, the hashtag #KillingKennedy was the number one trending topic on Twitter in the U.S. Nat Geo’s website experienced record traffic, and the film set a new ratings record for the network with 3.4 million viewers. These were no small feats for a small network up against big name shows during its timeslot, as noted in a tweet from Rob Lowe.


According to Twitter’s campaign wrap-up, Nat Geo saw average engagement rates of 10 percent on Promoted Tweets, which was 110 percent higher than the network’s historical average. TV ad targeting also proved to be highly efficient; costs fell 82 percent.

I spoke with Katy Anadale, Director, Digital Marketing for the National Geographic Channel by phone about the planning and execution of their first campaign using Twitter TV ad targeting.

Asked if the team set any specific goals for the campaign, Anandale says they didn’t peg goals for metrics such as number of tweets, retweets and comments, so much as they wanted to surpass what they’d done before. Historical performance was the benchmark.

Planning Ahead

Anadale says the team began planning early for #KillingKennedy. “This was a big priority for us so we started planning for this far in advanced. Putting things on paper was at least six months in advanced. For social we started talking earlier than we normally would in part because we had assets and information already available to us.”

With a typical series premier, Nat Geo starts promotion about three weeks out on air and turns to social within the two-week time frame before the first episode airs. Anandale says for Killing Kennedy, “We tried to be out in front, so we weren’t competing with all the other news about the 50th anniversary.”  Nat Geo began to tease the premier on social media in June, shortly after Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin signed on to play JFK and Jaquelyn Kennedy, respectively.

The cast members also tweeted during filming to get fans excited. Nat Geo white listed Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin’s Twitter accounts to be able to promote their tweets about the film. Some of those celebrity tweets reached engagement rates of 20 percent.

KillingKennedy Rob Lowe Promoted Tweet

The Power Of Visual Assets

Nat Geo and Mediahub/Mullen began to incorporate visual assets much more heavily with TV ad targeting  n the week leading up to the premier.  Anadale said, “Some of the assets were created specifically for us to use for social, but none were created specifically for the Twitter TV ads campaign.  The only thing we did differently was write specific tweets to try to resonate with viewers of certain shows. But what we learned, is that photos and infographics still did the best.”

KillingKennedy Promoted Tweet Twitter TV Ads

For example, during a mob-related TV show, the Nat Geo team used Promoted Tweets about Kenendy’s rumored ties to mob. They found those types of tweets didn’t perform nearly as well as the photos and infographics.

Anadale says, “If you stay true to what works well in Twitter and social, it’s going to work. The Twitter TV ads reinforce what they see on television. If you have that visual reinforcement, the connection is just more immediate. We saw more tweets, retweets when we used visuals. TV viewers saw the emotion we have in our promos and were able to share that on Twitter.”

Media Buying And Social Teams Need To Work Together

Mediahub/Mullen handled the media buying and monitored performance at an aggregate level to provide insights, while the Nat Geo team monitored their feed throughout the day and executed the tweets.

The client and agency both echoed the need to have close collaboration between the social and buying teams to make the most of TV ad targeting on Twitter.

Sarah Stroller, Digital Media Advisor for Mediahub/Mullen, said via email, “From Mediahub’s point of view it was incredibly helpful to work so closely with the client to optimize our campaign and leverage the celebrity tweets. We were on call most of the weekend leading up to the premiere to promote celebrity tweets the minute they were posted to capture the full social potential of the cast. Our efforts paid off as these celebrity tweets resulted in extremely high engagement, adding to the success of the Twitter campaign as a whole.”

“We have a very good relationship with the buying team. You need to stay close and share your plans with them so they understand the whole process and larger picture. It does take some last minute planning,” said Anadale.

Nat Geo has more Twitter TV ad campaigns planned. Anadale says in the future they’ll try to tailor assets to specific shows or network audiences.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Features & Analysis | How To Guides: Marketing Strategy | How To Guides: Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing: Advertising | Top News | Twitter | Twitter: Advertising


About The Author: writes about paid online marketing topics including paid search, paid social, display and retargeting. Beyond Search Engine Land, Ginny provides search marketing and demand generation advice for ecommerce companies. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter

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