Facebook’s ‘Trending Unit’ coming soon as battle over social TV heats up

unnamed Ninety-five percent of the social conversation around TV is taking place on Twitter, Twitter has said.

But Facebook shot off another volley in the battle to own social TV at Mediabistro’s Lost Remote Show in Los Angeles on Friday. Said Kelly Davies Michelena, Strategic Partner Development of Broadcast for Facebook, in her opening remarks: “We have 5 times the social conversation around television than any other platform—combined.”

With Facebook’s powerful data largely inaccessible behind privacy settings (many people have their posts set to friends only or another non-public setting), Twitter has thus far been able to dominate the social TV conversation.

But Facebook now has a global team dedicated to TV that didn’t exist six months ago, Michelena told the audience of TV marketers during the panel discussion. The group has grown from one person to 10 in that time period.

In addition to Facebook’s recently released Keyword Insights and Public Feed API, she said the company would soon launch a new tool marketers can take advantage of—a trending unit, previously reported as a box prominently featured on the top right rail of News Feed. The unit will display trends based on hashtags and keywords, she said (e.g., Simon Cowell could trend based on people typing in either #simoncowell or “Simon Cowell.”). Michelena added:

I can’t talk too much about it. I’m in a beta version right now just being an employee and I’m a little bit obsessed with it. You can click on it and see not only what your friends are talking about, but what influencers are talking about. So it’s surfacing really great public conversations.

She did not mention whether the trending topics would be based on the individual user’s social connections, a la Twitter, or the Facebook community at large. Like Twitter, Facebook is focusing on leveraging star power, with teams in L.A. and New York dedicated to reaching out to public figures, Michelena said. (Among their successes: Channing Tatum debuting the first pictures of his newborn daughter on Facebook.)

Facebook is encouraging celebrities to share unfiltered, real-time content—and they want broadcasters to take advantage of it. “You don’t see a lot of broadcasters bringing in what people are actually doing in real time,” Michelena said, giving this example:

Heidi Klum had Instagrammed what she was wearing to [a major awards] show. And I’m watching all this red-carpet coverage and up to 45 minutes later, people are still talking about what Heidi Klum might be wearing. No one was really paying attention to the fact that this is actually happening in real-time, and that would have been excellent to pull in on air.

Michelena also emphasized the longer shelf life of Facebook conversations, drawing an implicit comparison between Twitter owning real-time reactions as people are watching TV, and Facebook conversations happening before, during and after major TV events. Importantly for the TV crowd, she argued for Facebook’s ability to drive tune-in to TV shows, citing its collaboration with Dancing With the Stars:

We worked with the talent there and said ‘Hey, give a personal, in-depth experience to the show.’ And [Jack Osbourne] just said, ‘Sure, OK, no problem.’ He blogged in long-form about his disease and how it was difficult for him. That was happening when the show wasn’t on air. And that was making news—it was on People.com, Huffington Post—on Sunday one day before the show, which is great tune-in potential. We’re really stressing, if you take an authentic investment in this, especially if you’re on TV, with five times the reach of 1.2 billion users [worldwide], you could see real payoff.

Then again, nobody’s arguing with Facebook’s reach. The question is, how will they let marketers use it? Whoever develops the best answer to that question just may win social TV.

Readers: Do you post on Facebook or Twitter (or both) as you watch TV?

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