The Voice of the Voter: Interactive Voting Tools, On-Air Polls & Surveys

SmithGeiger has noticed an increasing number of stations using voting on-air and online/social to connect with their audiences.  When used correctly, interacting with the audience can have some significant benefits.  When done poorly, such on-air surveys can damage the brand, the newscast and the digital success of the station. 

There are six reasons we’ve identified to consider interactive voting tools:





1. Revenue – If stations can sell the concept to local advertisers and make money, that is reason enough to consider using this tool day after day on multiple platforms.  That said, stations have to know how to do it well.  If a station makes a few dollars but ruins a quarter hour rating day after day with poor execution of on-air questions/contests, it can cost a station money in the long run.  

Recommendation: Discuss where such interactives will appear and how often before sales is engaged to sell any voting presentations.  SmithGeiger can provide additional recommendations on what content and concepts work best across screens. 

2. Page Views – If stations do on-air voting and point to the website for the voting effort, it can lead to increased traffic to the website.   That can be a place of sponsorship mentions, but it can also be a source of additional revenue from ads in the page beyond the sponsor mentions, not to mention additional clicks to the website from the voting page.  

Recommendation: Look at the voting experience like a viewer each time such is used on-air and see if the digital team can embed videos or point to related videos and other links.  The vote page should be a recirculation engine to other content if at all possible…come to vote and stay for another piece of content. 

3. Digital Products – It can be a reason for people to download our app if we make that the easiest place to vote.

Recommendation: The vote page can be a way to encourage people to use station apps, newsletters, or OTT offerings but only if stations create value on the page that points to those products. 

4. Audience Retention – One argument could be made that it can encourage people to stick around for the results and thus can get people from four to five.  

Recommendation: Point ahead to the results coming up but not over longer stretches of time (who would come back hours later for a poll result).  

5. Audience Engagement – One can argue that it can make the on-air and digital sticker by making TV interactive and leveraging the mobile second screens in the viewer’s hand.

Recommendation: Target questions and interactives at the core audience needed to win and focus on keeping the most valuable loyalists engaged with interactive and real time results. 

6. Audience Insights – While these are HIGHLY UNSCIENTIFIC, it can show that a station, network or syndicated program care about the audience’s opinions and that the on-air team is listening.  Well-constructed and well-voted questions can be useful to editorial leaders for the insights they provide into audience feelings in real time.   

Recommendation: SmithGeiger often asks “Is a team actually listening…or just putting it out there and moving on?”  Pay attention to the data that voting can generate that can help teams learn more about the “voting” audience (a subset of the viewers and users)…what devices they use, how quickly and when and where do they vote. 

Varieties Of Interactives
Stations can do a wide range of polls and interactives with most of the tools/widgets or self-created vote options that stations use.  Most newsrooms get stuck with just a few uses and formats.  

Recommendation: Consider the topic, the time of day, and the program that is presenting the question or interactive.  Sports can often be a great place to try a range of questions as the topics of sports are often local, “safe” opinion focused, emotional/nostalgic, and have a passionate audience of potential voters.

Interactive Instructions
Just make sure the team who does these understands exactly how to explain how to vote.  Nothing derails viewer engagement like confusing questions or confusing instructions.  

Recommendation:  Come up with super simple approved language that matches the screen that teams can use over and over.  Don’t be afraid to have on-air talent show how simple it is to vote especially at the beginning of any type of interactive. 

The Questions
The value of a survey or poll depends on the quality of the question.  Asking a time-stressed producer to come up with great questions day after day is not going to generate the consistent excellence of questions needed for long-term success.  Asking good questions takes time to consider.  The best surveys are simple but intriguing questions, ones that fit the brand and don’t express a bias, intended or unintended that could create animosity towards the program.  

Recommendation:  SmithGeiger encourages teams doing any on-air or online polls that they track their questions, track the questions of their sister operations (to look for successes and failures) and look for which questions trigger the best responses.  A constantly updated spreadsheet that all producers and digital have access to of type of interactives, poll questions, the show it was asked in, the success of the question, can often be a great resource for future questions or interactives that a team wants to create.  

Anchor Involvement
A key ingredient in getting a response to a good question is the passion and energy shown by the anchors who pose the question on the air. The more interest an anchor shows in the question and answers, the more responses such a question will generate.  This direct anchor involvement avoids the bland “our question for today is…” feel. 

Recommendation:  Consider tasking anchors with thinking of questions they want to know the answer to so they can say “I want to know/hear from you” with authenticity and specificity.

Display On Air and On-Line
Be careful about where poll/survey/trivia are placed in a newscast.  Such questions can easily speed bump or slow down the flow of a newscast.  Make the questions short, simple and large so that they can be easily read across the room.  Remember to repeat the questions exactly as asked on screen several times for the many viewers who listen and don’t always watch TV. 

Recommendation: Beware of putting a question over a story or video.  This can lead to information overload when there is too much to take in.  The viewer will often read instead of listening and miss some of the reporting.  Don’t forget the large monitor “BAM” options to display interactives but carefully tailor the look so the results are clear on the screen at home. SmithGeiger has seen too many poll questions or trivia contests that are difficult to read behind the talent.

If we do this right, the promise of interactive on-air polls/surveys/contests is that the voice of the viewer being heard pays off across all platforms for a station.  Such efforts, when done well, can grow affinity to brand as the station is seen as truly listening to their loyalists. If the questions asked are consistently strong, and the viewers interested in the answers, the viewers not only vote but stay to see the results.  Finally, such interactives could create loyalty as the audience wants to see more of this and engage more driving more tune in and traffic to the apps and website.

If your station, syndicated program or network is considering voting tools and interactives, talk to your SmithGeiger consultant.  We can help with a variety of efforts to make the time and expense of these efforts pay off for years to come. SmithGeiger has workshops, best practices, and recommendations around:

1. Best practices in educating and inspiring producers and EPs to make the most of this unique engagement and second screen activity.  SmithGeiger can provide guidance around creating local super users and advocates – To build a sense in the audience, station and the advertisers who sponsor it that the other stations aren’t contemporary TV news because they don’t have real-time interactions with viewers as your station does.

2. Best practices in packaging the interactive survey/poll/contest content on-air, online and in social to make it as appealing as possible to viewers. SmithGeiger can help position these moments so that they are not a speed bump in the program but instead an accelerant and a retention mechanism. 

3. Best types of questions so that the questions create an irresistible itch in the minds of viewers. SmithGeiger can help create checklists, templates, and “cook books” for interactives that create not only more engagement with a broader range of viewers but deeper engagement where the question creates needs for more news viewing. 

4. Best types of presentation and interaction on the digital platforms so that the experience is as frictionless as possible.  SmithGeiger can provide a range of conversion and conversation possibilities that contribute to the success of clients across all screens.  

SmithGeiger looks at interactives on-air from the perspective of viewer recruitment, retention, cross-platform conversions, social interactions, and monetization.  Talk to your consultant for their latest on-air interactive insights.