Social-media celebrities and six contestants get paired up in an original MSN Web series to test their skills and discover if they have what it takes to call themselves social media experts. The series, "The Tastemaker," launches Monday on MSN.com.
The series, co-produced with Los Angeles-based Agility Studios, aims to help build the MSN brand into the go-to portal for creative and original content, according Rob Bennett, general manager of network programming at MSN, focusing on entertainment, video and sports. Through these efforts, Bennett "wants to find those who can set the Internet on fire through their work."
That work might mean motivating others to take action related to a cause or educate about a specific topic such as discovering Bill Gates' plans to stop the spread of malaria. MSN, which attracts both men and women ages 25 to 44, has been trying to push the envelope when it comes to original content by introducing and using topics like social media -- something not previously done online.
Celebrities include RotoHog CEO Kelly Perdew, best-known as the winner of the second season of NBC's "The Apprentice." Shira Lazar and Stefanie Michaels will judge contestants Christina Esther, Jesse Draper, Morgan McKean, Jonathan Nafarrete, Raymond Roker and Brett Gursky through a series of three challenges designed to test their social networking abilities on Facebook, Twitter, Messenger and other social media tools.
Through a call for submissions, contestants submit applications through MSN's Facebook page and are chosen based on past experiences, online work, videos and casting interviews.
Social media can motivate and educate. The series calls attention to an idea, brand, product or message through the challenges. The first challenge focuses on the contestants' abilities to reach out and touch the broadest number of people. The second centers on the contestants' abilities to motivate an audience to take online action on a range of topics from cooking to driving education. The third focuses on the contestants' abilities to move their online audience from virtual to physical participation.
Bennett hopes viewers will use the same tools contestants do to spread the ad-supported content from the Web series around the Internet, driving people back to MSN.
Backend analytics using proprietary tools will collect data on the number and length of time videos are viewed. The aggregated data identifies trends to determine whether Bennett and the Web series teams need to tweak subsequent challenges throughout the weeks.
Bennett admits that what's missing is a tool that enables MSN to identify the influencers sharing content, and how many people the influencers share content with actually pass the content to offers. It's about finding the "true influencers, what happens after I hit the 'Like' button, and how many people did I impact," he says. "Rating the influence and ranking is something no one has really cracked, yet."
HootSuite is working to expand on a tool that does just that. Through backend integration with Klout, which Perdew invests in (according to his LinkedIn profile), the tool rates influencers by identifying the number of people who actually retweet a tweet or shares a piece of content, and serve up the stats on HootSuite's social media dashboard.