Twitter was just banned at The New York Times, but it’s the next big thing for MTV. This week, MTV announced a nationwide search for its first-ever “Twitter Jockey,” — TJ for short — a digital version of the network’s early Video Jockey (VJ) job. The campaign, dubbed “Follow Me: The Search for the First MTV TJ,” will pit 20 Twitter all-stars together over the summer to compete in online challenges, with a winner picked during a live special in August. It’s a smart strategy for MTV – the campaign will help to reach and engage the network’s viewers, while increasing its brand relevancy in the digital age.
MTV isn’t a network known for laying low, so it makes sense to make the TJ campaign a very public search. Instead of opening a Twitter account and formally hiring someone to do the job behind the scenes, MTV is acting in typical fashion and going all out – capturing attention and engaging its audience in a big way. The network has already selected 18 finalists of its own — names and stats will be released in a few weeks — and is asking its audience to nominate two more. With nominations open to anyone, the list of nominees to fill the remaining two positions is growing each second (interested viewers can watch nominations happen in real-time here). Viewers will be involved in the process from the start – by nominating themselves and friends for the job, participating in online challenges, and voting for their favorite finalist. Once the winner is chosen, viewers, fans and followers can continue to interact with the TJ online – and they’ll know exactly where to find them.
The position of Twitter Jockey isn’t just for show – the winner will be put to work immediately, both on-air and off. MTV is relying on its social media guru to become the voice of the viewers. He or she will constantly interact MTV’s online audience, processing feedback from all digital channels and social networks. Using this feedback, he or she will report to MTV execs, and they’ll adjust their programming to give viewers what they want. “Twitter and Facebook enable us to make smarter decisions,” Stephen Friedman, MTV’s General Manger, told the Associated Press. “This will benefit us hopefully as much as it benefits the audience.” The Twitter Jockey’s role will also serve as a digital influencer for MTV; he or she will define the brand online, mobilize and engage the community, and continually build the brand’s digital network.
Twitter is the perfect place to find this audience, as MTV found out during its 2009 Video Music Awards with the Twitter Tracker. Along with Radian6, MTV developed its own Twitter monitoring service to track what people were tweeting about during the MTV Video Music Awards. The network could see what celebrities people were talking about in real-time, visualizing trending topics at key points during the show (not surprisingly, the Kanye West incident generated the most buzz). As more and more Gen Yers adopt Twitter and other social networks, it seems like a natural way for MTV to keep itself relevant with its audience, while also establishing its digital brand.
In the past few years, it’s become clear that reality programs have taken the place of the “Music” in “Music Television” on the network. However, MTV’s shift toward reality TV seems to be a response to the overall popularity of reality shows across all networks, and viewer’s changing interests. MTV’s adoption of Twitter and other social media networks is another response to popular culture and a new kind of reality — real-time Web. With a Twitter Jockey, the network will be able to hone in even more on what its audience wants. MTV should continue the TJ campaign year after year, as a way to continually engage its audience, keep its brand relevant and fresh, and bridge the gap between television and digital media. The network should also think about expanding into other networks like Foursquare, like Bravo has done. MTV certainly has the potential to popularize its brand in the digital era much like it did in the cable era, and the TJ campaign is a great way to start.