Channel 4 marries learning with social media

Channel 4’s promise? To strengthen their connection with young audiences by embracing mulitple platforms and devoting £6 million of their budget to higher risk projects.

Last week at Thinking Digital, Commissioning Editor for Education and New Media at Channel 4 Matt Locke spoke about the channel’s fondness for social portals and innovative marketing techniques.

Channel 4 has a proven track record of tapping into the youth market. The Skins marketing campaign with it’s Myspace pages for individual characters and personal blogs cranked up the “buzz factor” before the show itself and set the precedent for what could be done across different platforms.

The channel hopes to carry this through to their education department. Late last year the channel teamed up with the – a social networking site that matches up learners and teachers within an open forum of learning. The two are currently working together to revamp Channel 4’s education remit in the light of slumping viewing figures.

Prior to C4’s online move, the education budget was tied up with early morning term-time programmes. As C4’s bosses watched the viewing figures fall before their eyes they realised that something had to be done. Young people are spending less and less time watching television in the home and even when they do, which is becoming less frequent, it’s via mobiles or laptops.

Social media sites blur the line between public and private. Sites like Facebook and Myspace are regularly mistaken for being private when they are readily accessible. It’s a tricky field to navigate for businesses and users alike but it’s something that’s been happening in mobile for years.

Today with mobile and hands free the days of conversations taking place in enclosed public call boxes are all but gone. In turn we’ve developed unique sets of gestures to signal that we’re having a private conversation in public. The most intimate of conversations often take place on the bus, on the way to work, without a second thought.

For Locke and his team social media is no different. They came up with six different kinds of social media with their different behaviour patterns, language and gestures:

• Secret Spaces – private communication with its own slang or code and no communication from third parties.
• Group Spaces – reinforces the identity of a self defined group. They share a sense of belonging and mild competitiveness. (Facebook, Myspace, Bebo)
• Publishing Spaces – creating your own content or showcasing talent outside of your usual social group. (Flickr, Youtube, Revver)
• Performing spaces – playing a defined role within a game structure while experimenting through rehearsal. (MMORPGs, Sports, Drama)
• Participation Spaces - rules or structures that help co-ordinate activity towards the goal. (Meetup, Threadless,, MySociety)
• Watching spaces – passive viewing of a linear event as part of a large group. Organizing an event and sharing experiences after. (Television, Cinema, Sports, Theatre)

All of these different spaces have distinct codes of conduct and idioms all their own. The key to Channel 4’s success seems to be the ability to distinguish between these groups and respond with a unique approach to each.

The Bow Street Runners is a perfect example of a multi-media approach that’s making learning interactive and enjoyable. In the light of dwindling viewing figures for education, Channel 4 has had to find alternative ways of making their budget work. Rather than putting all the cash on one roullette square they’ve hedged their bets before spinning.

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