Thousands of fans of the NBC series "Chuck" are rallying for the show's renewal with campaigns on Facebook and Television Without Pity. What makes this campaign different from the many other "save our show" campaigns is the suggestion that fans buy foot-long sandwiches at Subway, because the sub shop was recently a featured advertiser in the show. Star Zachary Levi and Subway are actively participating in the campaign (check out this video of hundreds of fans following Levi as he buys a sub in Birmingham, England).
Since this happened with the show "Jericho" (remember the 20 tons of nuts?), we can learn from the past. In that case, CBS un-canceled the show in part because of the deluge of nuts from a groundswell of loyal viewers. CBS asked the viewers to recruit their friends to watch the show. But the ratings didn't reflect much enthusiasm, and CBS canceled the show again.
Moral: Thousands of visible, loyal viewers does not equal millions of actual viewers. Objects in the groundswell may be smaller than they appear. People who congregate online are not a representative sample.
So, what should NBC do?
- Acknowledge the enthusiasm by wading into fan forums and commenting directly with an identified NBC spokesperson. (Why do companies have so much trouble doing this?) Ask them to prove their loyalty by recruiting viewers for summer reruns. Buying foot-longs is transient; recruiting viewers is proof they have influence.
- If an insufficient number of viewers show up, take the show and its small but loyal following to an NBC cable network such as USA.
What should Subway do?
- Continue to provide places and encouragement for viewers regardless of where the show goes. This sort of affinity group is hard to find. But ...
- Acknowledge that while this may generate a new set of Subway customers, they may not be permanent. Subway needs its own affinity group; borrowing one from "Chuck" is a just a short-term boost. (There are hundreds of thousands of Subway fans on Facebook -- but I don't see the company doing much with these fans.)
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Josh Bernoff is the co-author of "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," a comprehensive analysis of corporate strategy for dealing with social technologies such as blogs, social networks and wikis, and is a VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. He blogs at blogs.forrester.com/groundswell.