This Q-and-A is with Gayle Weiswasser, vice president of social-media communications for Discovery Communications.

How would you describe Discovery’s social-media strategy, in a nutshell?

Across our networks, we use social media to deepen our engagement with our fans. We do this by building community among fans of our networks and shows, delivering valuable content that extends and enhances the viewing experience, identifying and embracing the existing communities of viewers of our shows beyond our own platforms, and strengthening the relationship between fans and talent. In the end, we hope that this deeper engagement drives our fans to tune in to our shows, click through to our websites and share their enthusiasm across their personal platforms.

We use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and our hosted fan sites to execute this strategy, and have seen great growth over the last year. Currently, we have over 16 million “likes” across our Facebook pages, and over 1 million followers of our Twitter accounts. We are also working with emerging platforms like social TV check-in site GetGlue to reward our most active fans who check in to our programming as it’s airing. Social media has reinvented the traditional watercooler, and we are eager to be part of the conversation around our shows and encourage and reward the fans who are engaging in that dialogue.

What does that look like, in terms of staffing? Do you have a dedicated team just for social media?

We have a centralized team housed in our corporate communications and digital groups that focuses entirely on social-media strategy across the networks. That team works hand in hand with the network brand marketing and communications teams at our U.S. networks, who set the messaging and marketing strategy for our programming, as well as with the producers of online content on our websites. Our team members are embedded in the networks, but they also do a lot of cross-network promotion, group brainstorming, and development of best practices, policies, and templates that we use across networks. The team is currently about 10 people.

How do you measure return on investment for your team’s efforts?

Like most companies developing a robust social-media strategy, this is a question we are grappling with. It is a challenge to correlate social-media activity directly with ratings, but we look at many quantifiable benchmarks: numbers of fans/followers; level of engagement and activity (shares, views, likes, retweets) of those followers; traffic from our platforms to our websites; views of our corporate blog; etc. to get a handle on how our efforts are paying off.

There is strong anecdotal evidence as well that our social media activities drive awareness and enthusiasm for our programming. We also spend a considerable amount of time researching and reaching out to bloggers across a wide range of niches that are relevant to our breadth of programming, which helps spread the word about our brands and offerings. We are in the process of drilling down even deeper on the analytics we get from our social-media platforms to determine the return we’re seeing on our efforts.

News of the recent hostage situation at Discovery’s headquarters hit social-media channels almost instantly. Was your team involved in monitoring and responding to those conversations?

Like everyone else at the building that day, our team was focused on the quick evacuation and safety of our colleagues and the children in our onsite day care center. Because we were dealing with a volatile, unpredictable and dangerous situation, we opted to be totally quiet across our official platforms until it was safely resolved. At that point, we worked in lockstep with our corporate communications and internal communications team to use our platforms, including our corporate blog, to push out Discovery’s official statement about the incident. We did monitor the platforms to ensure that the information being posted by our employees was accurate and did not in any way compromise the success of the ongoing police strategy and negotiations.

Image credit: cybrain, via iStockPhoto

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