As part of Social Media Week Channel 4 hosted an event yesterday that provided some insight into the ways it is using social to drive engagement with its TV programmes.

It currently has 150 Twitter accounts and 100 Facebook pages, and recently launched genre-specific pages to build a captive audience that can be used to develop new shows.

Several programmes were used as case studies to show how social media can be used to engage audiences in different ways, all with the same ultimate aim of growing viewing figures.

One of the most experimental campaigns involved ‘Hippo: Wild Feast Live’.

Following on from a similar programme involving an elephant, the documentary examined the food chain on the African savannah by tracking which animals ate a dead hippo over a two-week period.

In the build up to the broadcast in November 2011, live footage was streamed 24 hours a day online and via mobile, with experts on-hand to provide commentary, conduct experiments and answer viewers’ questions live.

C4 multiplatform documentary commissioner Kate Quilton said the programme was a trial to see how the broadcaster could attract a new, younger audience for natural history documentaries.

We can’t compete with BBC in terms of natural history and spend millions on something like ‘Frozen Planet’, so we had to try and engage our audience in a different way.”

The TV show and live stream was promoted using daily two-minute spots live from Zambia where presenter Mark Evans asked the C4 audience to send him questions.

Quilton said the hippo hashtag trended on Twitter, which was positive even if people were simply asking what the show was about.

The main hippo documentary achieved 2.3m viewers, better than the elephant variation, and the 40,000 people who tuned into the live stream stayed for 19 minutes on average.

It was perhaps the most elaborate marketing campaign we’ve ever run and we achieved some good results, but we are looking at how we can move on from that.”

Another case study looked at an online campaign called ‘New Year Revolution’ which promoted two new TV shows – ‘Fat Fighters’ and ‘Superscrimpers’.

It encouraged people to sign up for one of three goals as suggested by the shows’ presenters – either ‘stop wasting money’, ‘get fit’ or ‘try something new’.

Those who signed up were sent a daily challenge throughout January and could share their experiences on a purpose-built social media platform in order to tap into “group willpower”.

Andy Bell from Mint Digital said that too often the focus is on Facebook and Twitter, but by building a bespoke platform C4 retained more control over how content was shared – and gave viewers a new way of interacting. 

When pitching the idea to C4 he said it became apparent that the introduction of digital media means that TV shows are no longer commissioned in the same way.

New commissioning for digital programmes is how can we come up with a digital idea that has a TV element.”

The main objective of New Year Revolution was to promote long term engagement with the two TV shows using social media, with the secondary objective of getting people to sign up for C4’s single sign-on system.

In total 73,000 people signed up for the campaign and uploaded 42,000 pieces of content.

Bell said the production team assumed users would want to host videos on YouTube, but it became apparent that they would prefer to upload to the C4 site with the option of sharing on YouTube. 

The bespoke platform also made the creative process easier for viewers as the mood and theme was already set for them.

There are lots of people out there with the skill and desire to create video content, they just have trouble coming up with ideas. If you tee them up with a challenge it takes that side out of it and allows them to go off and be creative.”

Also showing that the simplest of ideas can also work well, the Made In Chelsea webchats also proved popular, clocking up 120,000 replays during the series.