Optimizing Short Form Digital-First Content. An Interview with A+E’s Shannon King

Shannon McGarrigal King, SVP Digital Content Partnerships & Social Media at A+E actually began her career in banking where she honed her skills in general business management. But she soon realized that, while she wanted a career in sales & marketing, “that banking was not nearly as interesting to me as media & entertainment.” 

So King left banking and entered media where she worked for both  a series of digital start-ups beginning with Moviefone (later acquired by AOL), and then leading digital sales innovation and integration within established media companies such as Yahoo! and Time Inc. As COO, she then lead Levo, a career navigation network which helps young millennial women in the first years of their career establish networks, gain mentors and create a professional foundation. From there she accepted her latest opportunity – helping to create a new short-form & social media agency for the highly regarded and strongly branded A+E Networks. 

Charlene Weisler: What are your responsibilities at A+E?

Shannon King: I am responsible for the distribution and monetization of short form digital-first content as well as managing the social media platforms for all of the A+E brands.  At the heart of A+E Networks we are a video storytelling company. 45th and Dean is our new dedicated effort to tell those stories on platforms beyond the linear TV format.  Through careful and strategic use of data, we help enable the development of digital and social-first content as well as determine the best platforms to distribute it. 

Charlene Weisler: Tell me about 45th & Dean. 

Shannon King: 45th & Dean is a multi-platform video storytelling hub and full service studio and social media agency. We develop short and mid-form video content for our brands and our advertising partners. The name comes from a combination of where our headquarters are located on 45th Street in Manhattan and where our new production facilities are located on Dean Street in Brooklyn. We are a team of award-winning social, digital and television talent whose goal is to reimagine brand stories by integrating advertising partners’ messaging with A+E Networks characters, shows and themes for audiences across all platforms. 

Charlene Weisler: How does Analytics and Data factor into your mission?

Shannon King: Analytics and Data are at the core of everything we do. We analyze the performance of our content using real-time analytics and adjust accordingly. We put the content out there on Facebook, for example, and see how it works. Then we learn from the data results, adapt the content and push it out again – learn, adapt, push. What we are finding is that different content works on Facebook as compared to Twitter as compared to Snapchat. We look at each of them with a different lens. What is the audience and what creative works best? What business model makes the most sense?

Charlene Weisler: What are the differences you see across the major social media platforms and how do you use them to give your brands a voice of their own beyond individual shows?

Shannon King: You can’t ignore the sheer scale of Facebook- We typically use Facebook for video and mass reach. Twitter is great for live events such as the Critics’ Choice Awards, etc. often as a companion piece to other content where we can use talent directly to promote and interact with fans. Snapchat works well for talent engagement and behind the scenes. Since this content disappears quickly it feels exclusive to our fans. We also use other sites like Reddit which offers a deeper dive about a certain topic. Recently we covered the DB Cooper mystery and used Reddit to continue the conversation via live chats. 

Up until now we used social media as an extension of our shows to drive tune in.  Moving forward, we are focused on organic conversations relating to themes that give each of our brands their own voice. Examples are – Lifetime and our Fempire campaign about strong women and equality for all, while History which is about people and their stories. We focus on the tenets, the core themes related to each brand and how to ladder to that theme. The digital versions of our brands have an identity of their own. They are not just used to send promos out. The audience is different for each brand, and they expect different content and experiences from each platform. Social media can be used to share memories that are common to us and allows our audience to participate. An example is our 9/11 programming. We can run a full length documentary on air, and then compliment the experience by utilizing an Instagram gallery to invite viewers to post photographs relative to the content with a hash tag. It enables us to allow our viewers to participate in the storytelling by remembering. 

Charlene Weisler: What are some of the challenges that a traditionally "TV-centric" media brand has to overcome in a digital first consumption environment?

Shannon King: Powerful brands like A&E and History are so well associated with TV that it’s hard to get people to think of them in any other way. That’s a huge challenge for us. At the core of A&E, History and all of our brands is excellent storytelling. We understand that consumers want to interact differently on different platforms with our content. So long as we continue to tell compelling stories with this in mind we’ll be sure to deliver the premium content our fans expect from us across all screens. 

Charlene Weisler:  What are the advantages that your linear platforms bring to your social and digital platforms?

Shannon King: For me, combining TV and digital is the Holy Grail in my career. I have a digital background and being able to tap into the linear space is an exciting prospect. The two are the perfect complement to each other, they boost each other. Being disruptive in the digital and social space is a challenge and to have access to powerful brands, programs and talent is a huge advantage. TV is one of the biggest drivers of conversation. Digital and social publishers rely on it whether they have their own linear property or not. Luckily we do and we’ll continue to use our linear, digital and social platforms together in an effort to deliver engaging360 degree experiences and conversations for our audiences. 

Charlene Weisler: How do you achieve work/life balance?

Shannon King: I laugh every time I get that question and believe that balance is a misnomer and sets the wrong expectations for men and women alike -it’s more like juggling or integration. There is never a perfect “balance” because every day is different. You can’t say that you will do the same things at 9a or 5p every day. Life-- neither at work or at home-- is simply not that predictable. To be successful, one needs to be able to constantly reassess the priorities of the day or hour and realize that in fact each layer of your life adds to the other with a compounding effect. Finally, we all need strong support systems both at home and at work.

Charlene Weisler: What advice would you give the next generation of media executives?

Shannon King: Say yes first and figure it out later!  You can do a lot more that you think you can do. Say yes. Then you can decide how and even if you like it, but you don’t want to look back and say “I wish I had tried that.” Say yes first and figure it out later. 

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