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A Master Class in Twitter with Syfy's Craig Engler (Part 1)

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When I decided I wanted to interview Craig Engler, the Syfy network's SVP of all things digital, I reached out to him in the format I thought to be most effective: Twitter. Sure enough, a few days later I heard from Syfy PR and had the pleasure of talking to Engler over a brief phone call, before emailing him my lengthy Twitter-themed questions, which he gamely (and quite speedily -- I might add) answered.

In the time that Engler has been the mouthpiece for the network via Syfy's Twitter feed, he has amassed upwards of 27,000 followers. Through Twitter, he regularly talks to viewers, indulges Syfy fans in Q&As, interacts with development executives, and occasionally offers up breaking Syfy-related news announcements. He's another Twitter success story, perhaps more so than any other public figure in the TV industry as he has become the personality behind Syfy, helping to navigate the network through a controversial rebranding and focusing on topics Syfy fans really care about.

Not only did Engler articulate many opinions I share regarding the ways Twitter can benefit the world of television, but he genuinely expressed a real enjoyment for using the platform to engage with Syfy fans.

The first portion of our interview covered the Syfy rebranding and Engler's use of Twitter in conjunction with that process, as well as his Twitter strategy.

When did you join Twitter? Why?
It was around the time Battlestar Galactica was ending, and I was checking out Twitter to see the live reaction to the final episode. A lot of misinformation was going around about whether it was canceled (no), or if the creators chose to end it (yes), and so I stepped in to clear things up.

What was the catalyst or inspiration for starting the Syfy Twitter account?
By that time I had been on as "CraigAtScifi" for a while and people seemed to really enjoy it (as did I!), so when we changed our name it seemed like the natural progression to start using Syfy. I started using the name on Twitter a few weeks before the network officially changed over, which was fun.

What sort of impact did the Syfy Twitter presence have on the rebranding, if any?
Mainly it helped answer a lot of questions and dispel a lot of rumors, and it gave people an actual person to talk to. A lot of people don't get the name change at first, so I try to explain it to them. Even if they don't like it, they usually understand why we did it.

Tell us a bit about the Twitter account for _S_A_R_A_H_, which actually predates the rebranding and your Twitter account.
That was an idea from our marketing group and was well ahead of its time. I wish I could claim even a small amount of credit for it, but I can't. Can you name one other show that has a house that tweets? _S_A_R_A_H_ is the smarthouse on our show Eureka, and having her tweet was just all kinds of genius in my opinion.

Are there any Syfy shows you feel have really been aided by the Syfy Network's Twitter usage? Which ones?
I think all of them have, though probably Ghost Hunters has benefited the most because almost the entire cast is actively engaged on Twitter. They are all great follows.

Have you seen a correlation between audience numbers since the Twitter account really gained steam? Granted, this is difficult to quantify, but can you take a guess?
Nothing definite. I have a ballpark guesstimate that it would take 100,000 followers to truly move the ratings, although I get a lot of feedback that people have watched shows because of reading my feed.

How has Twitter positively and/or negatively impacted Syfy's public perception?
I only ever get positive feedback about how I use Twitter, so I'd definitely say overwhelmingly positive.

What's your Twitter strategy?
I try to let the viewers talk about what's on the network whenever possible. If there's a Caprica marathon coming up, rather than me just saying that, I'll try to find a viewer who tweeted about it and retweet their note to my followers. They love the fact that 27,000 people see their note, and I like the fact that the Syfy feed isn't just me spewing out information all the time.

How did you convince the network to let you become the public voice?
The short answer is, I just asked to do it. The slightly less short answer is, I pitched myself as a "digital ambassador" because I'm online constantly and as that's where a lot of our viewers are, I know enough about the network to answer just about any question asked.

Did it require a lot of effort to gain followers, or were you able to just let them come to you? In other words, to gain this Twitter following how much active outreach was required from yourself and the Syfy marketing team?
The followers seem to come naturally as long as you're tweeting about interesting stuff. We have mentioned it on the network and on our main website Syfy.com, but that never seems to drive many followers. I like to do giveaways, which my awesome followers seem to love. That started out because I had some Syfy schwag in the office and I thought our fans might get a lot more enjoyment out of it than I would just having it sit here in my office, and it proved to be very popular. If you want new followers, give away a Cylon toaster!

Did you ever expect to have upwards of 27,000 people following you? Do you ever have days where this just totally freaks you out? Or do you always love it? Are there moments when you just feel like you don't want to Tweet?
Just the opposite! I have to stop myself from tweeting MORE! It's incredibly fun and gratifying to have instant contact with so many fans from around the U.S. and around the world. And I've made a ton of business contacts on Twitter, which has really helped me with my day-to-day work.

What ideas do you have for utilizing Twitter, beyond Q&As and giveaways?
I use it for research, getting information out there, sharing fun stuff I come across, meeting new people... It's like the Swiss Army knife of the Internet. It does 50 things in one small package. It's also great for travel advice!

Check back soon for the second part of this interview, where Engler responds to some questions from his followers and gives a glimpse into his role at Syfy. Also: I ask him to reveal the identity behind Caprica's tweeting robot Serge Graystone!

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