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A Master Class in Twitter with Syfy's Craig Engler (Part 2)

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(For Part 1 of this story, click here).

While Craig Engler may be the most notable TV network representative on Twitter, one of the mysteries surrounding TV figures using the social media platform to engage with fans is how much of that fan-driven conversation makes its way to the ears of development executives. While many show-runners are on Twitter, they are not responsible for the creative direction of a television show on their own, even if the show is their original conception and vision. Studio and network executives contribute greatly to the development process -- and for perhaps the first time, Twitter allows invested audiences to add to that discussion as well.

Do the development executives pay attention to what the fans tell you on Twitter? Are any of the development/creative executives on Twitter?
Yes and yes! I regularly use Twitter to give feedback to the rest of the Syfy senior team as well. Many of our actors, writers and producers are on too. It's like a giant Syfy family.

I love being on Twitter during the debut of a new show so I can get instant reactions from viewers. I'll spend most of the show retweeting viewer comments so everyone can listen in and participate. And yes, I will retweet bad comments along with good ones! I capture a lot of comments and share them with the rest of the Syfy senior team the next day.

How involved are you with the development process, if at all?
As a member of the Syfy senior team I see and give feedback on every pitch or pilot script we're considering making. We have big meetings a few times a year to greenlight shows that I'm part of, and I have access to all the scripts and rough cuts throughout the development process. If the development team wants feedback on certain things they may give us specific homework, or we may just get the material as "optional" reading/viewing. As I type this I have the first four scripts for season 2 of Warehouse 13 to read through, and am looking forward to getting the first script for our version of Being Human. We also look at TV pitches that might work better starting out as online series, and we look at online pitches that might be better as TV series.

What else do you do as the SVP/GM of Digital besides field Twitter questions all day? How much of your day, is, in fact, devoted to Twitter?
You'd think reading my feed it's all I do, right? But really I only spend about 15-20 minutes throughout the day to handle, since 140 characters is pretty limiting and I'm a fast typist. I'll also tweet from home or the road as it nicely fills in any downtown anywhere you are. My actual job is to oversee all the digital content for Syfy, which includes,,,, all our broadband video, new digital business ventures, our mobile efforts and quite a lot more. It's a ridiculous amount of fun actually.

What's your favorite thing about Twitter?
The sense of community, absolutely. It's a great bunch of people who have found their way onto Twitter.

What is the most frustrating or limiting aspect of using Twitter to engage with fans?
When people ask me a question that cannot be answered in 140 characters. Some days I think I need one of those outdated blog things for the longer stuff. For instance, there is lot of confusion about who actually owns TV shows and who has rights to show what shows in what countries, etc. Try explaining that in 140!

Many of your Twitter followers are hung up on the notion that Syfy often falls prey to the curse of the "Friday Night Death Slot." Here's your chance to clear that up! Any comment?
Yes! It's WRONG! There is a notion that science fiction shows don't do well on Friday nights, mostly because of a lot of Fox shows that have tried to take the timeslot The X-Files used to have and have not done well. But we've done VERY well with Friday nights over the year. The truth is, every night of TV is a tough night to be successful on.

Do you ever get frustrated by the amount of misinformation you've encountered online?
No, I've come to expect it.

One of your Twitter followers asked, "Why no web marketing campaign for Caprica? New Cap City & V-World seems like a no brainer. WE WANT TO PLAY!?" An interesting question! How much involvement do you have with marketing campaigns/digital tie-ins for individual shows? Any idea if there will be a major digital campaign for Caprica, especially if it gets picked up for a second season?
We work very closely with the marketing team, and if creating New Cap City was happening, we'd be all over it. It's a great idea but I suspect it would be VERY expensive to do well.

From another Twitter follower: "maybe ask Craig if some of the more offensive tweets ever bother him or if he just shrugs them off, I've seen some pretty nasty ones." That's a great question - how do you handle the nastier tweets? Ever tempted to really get into it with someone?
From time to time people will say nasty things, mostly because they are frustrated with something that doesn't make sense to them. I try to write back and find out what's bothering them. 99 out of 100 times they turn out to be nice people who just never thought anyone would see (or reply!) to their notes. A few people out there simply don't believe the business of TV works they way it does, and you kind of quickly figure out you're at loggerheads, so then I usually bow out with a "let's agree to disagree." 99% of my interactions online are with wonderful people though.

Who's your favorite Tweeter to follow? Why?
William Gibson (@GreatDismal) is my favorite. Not only is he a brilliant writer, he throws out great Twitter links. A close second is TV writer Ashley Miller (@ashman01), who is not only funny but mercilessly irreverent. Be warned, Ashley is the definition of NSFW.

If you could offer a word of advice to other network executives on Twitter, what might it be?
Have fun. Be honest. Share what's interesting to you. Respect your viewers. Treat them like they are super smart, because they are.

Why do you think Syfy and Twitter go together so well?
For oh so many reasons! Our audience is brilliant at finding and using new technology, and it works well with our content. It's all made of win!

Now, you're usually limited to 140 characters, so if there's anything you're dying to say, reveal, clear up; now's your chance!
I only think and type in 140 characters these days.

Finally, can you reveal who is tweeting behind Serge Graystone, the robot from Caprica? If not, can we get a few hints?
As it happens, Serge is perfectly able to Tweet on his own, so we just let him do his thing.

I have to admit that while a little birdie at Syfy revealed to me the real identity behind Serge, this might be one of those times when we'll just let the robot speak for himself. Afterall, it's another example of how perfectly the world of television benefits from social media.

On a whole, Engler's Twitter use is further evidence of the new era of television development, one in which the fans have a say, and networks and shows provide real personalities behind their brands.

To ask your own Syfy-related questions, follow Craig Engler on Twitter here. Other brands and individuals can learn much from his sincere enthusiasm and online presence - and for all those public figures in the world of TV, he's excellent example of someone who definitely seems to have the Twitterverse all figured out.

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