Background

At the outset I must admit to being a fan of Masterchef Australia. With each series I get totally hooked on the entire package – the judges, contestants, locations and all that food. And our house is littered with Masterchef cookbooks and those of the judges and past winning contestants. We buy into the drama of the eliminations and the various other contests even whilst recognising some of the obvious ‘set ups’.

You would have to live under a rock not to be aware of the Masterchef phenomena. Its the highest rating show in Australian television history and the final last year scores over 3 million viewers. Its changed the way Australians think about food, cooking and dining out. Its a simpe format – take three celebrity judges with the ocassional well known guest judge; 24 final contestants and put them through a series of cooking tests to final an eventual winner.

Two of the regular judges are well known chefs – Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris whilst the third, Matt Preston, is a larger than life international food critic. Guest judges include other local and international chefs and cooks.

The show is a tour de force yet lately a few cracks have been showing. It has lost the ratings battle in its timeslot on a few occasions – though it would be difficult to beat the State of Origin football!  And we started following the hashtag #masterchef which surprised me in terms of the often nasty, negative and crude commentary related to the show and its contestants. That in turn prompted me to look at how well Masterchef Australia is using social media in general to support the show. The results of that analysis have surprised me and led me to believe that Masterchef Australia is not using social media as well as it should be.

The Data

Much of the strategy appears to be to drive the fans and watchers of the show to the website. There are about 1.9 million web hits per week for Masterchef though not all are for the Australian web site. However, it does have strong traffic. The website has replays of the episodes, photo’s, behind the scenes video’s, recipies, contestant profiles, competitions, background on the show and the judges; links to related social media properties and communities or forums.

The communities are password protected so you need to sign up to participate. The forums are well managed but it often appears that posts which are not entirely complimentary are very quickly moved to an ‘off topic’ forum. For example, whilst doing this research one post on Matt Moran at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival was quickly dispatched. The forums are well managed though no information is provided on the forum managers. Its also very evident that no one directly connected with the show participate in the forums. The most popular forums are those on ‘Episode Chat’ and ‘Masterchef Discussion’ whilst amongst the least active are those on ’2011 Contestants’ and ‘The Judges’ which is really interesting given they are the core of the show and the brand.

There are fairly static links to the judges profiles, bio’s and recipies and very much the same for the contestants. There are video’s of ‘exit interviews’ for those eliminated. There are no links to related social media properties external to Masterchef except for the blog of a former contestant. Nothing on the judges other social media presence. And finally on the website, messages can be left for your favourite contestant – but they are never responded to.

The MasterChef Australia Facebook page has just over 505,000 ‘likers’. There is nothing outstanding about the Facebook page – the ‘wall’, ‘info’, events’ and ‘check in’ being the four areas. There is nothing in posted in events at all. ‘Check in’ uses Get Glue and then sends a tweet indicating you are watching an episode of the program with the hashtag #masterchef along with your message. You can win minor prizes for doing this but the stream just gets cluttered with this awful GetGlue spam – more on the hashtag soon. There is generally one post per day just prior to the show or just after; ocassionally one the next morning posting a question. No post on those days when the show isn’t on and generally posts attract ‘Likes’ of 250 or more and up to around 1000 comments. Many have comments around the 400 to 700 mark. These commments are never responded to by the brand, only by other people posting. The brand itself only ‘Likes’ 15 other pages – 12 of them being other Channel 10 program pages, one being Matt Preston the judge and 2 being truly outside the family. Amazingly, at the time of writing they haven’t even ‘Liked’ their own Masterchef Magazine page and they dont bring their own Twitter stream into Facebook – or the website.

Matt Preston has over 15,000 ‘Likers’ and at least his Twitter stream is on the wall. He is active on Twitter and this makes his page look more alive. He also tweets a lot about Masterchef related matters. He also recognises that there are points of interest outside Masterchef and Channel 10. Neither George Calombaris or Gary Mehigan appear to have their own Facebook presence; though George does have his own website.

The twitter handle @Masterchef_Aust has over 23,000 followers at the time of writing. As you can see, there are international followers but the overwhelming majority are Australian. @Masterchef_Aust only follows 38 others. It should be no surprise by now that they are largely other celebrities in shows on the same network or they have been contestants or judges on the show.

Matt Preston is active on his own twitter account with over 29,000 followers, whilst George doesnt seem to have one and Gary Mehigan does but he has sent out three tweets in a year.

The hashtag #masterchef is unfortunately a very polluted twitter stream. Some of that ‘pollution’ comes from the brand Masterchef Australia which sends out these constant spam messages using GetGlue from the Facebook page. There is also some confusion with MasterChef in other countries – for example, Master Chef seems to be running in the UK at present and is starting in the US with Gordon Ramsay so there is a lot of confusion in the stream. And even more unfortunately, there is a lot of invective, foul langauge and other totally unnecessary commentary in the stream showing once again that cowards who can hide behind twitter handles proliferate every part of the social stream.

Analysis

At first glance, the MasterChef Australia  brand is almost invinceable. Millions of web hits, half a million Facebook followers and almost 30,000 Twitter followers. But much of what we see is extraordinarily closed.

There is no real conversation going on between the brand and its fans or followers. The Facebook posts always refer to the web site and the current episode. There is never any response to a fans comments. Ever. This doesn’t encourage people to come back to Facebook. When you think about it 1000 comments from 500,000 fans is a .02% response. Very very low. And 250 ‘likes’ is only .0005% response to a post. There is no engagement, no conversation, no reason to come back. And to the brand, nobody exists or there is nothing interesting outside the few other Channel 10 pages it ‘likes’ in return. Its stars, outside Matt Preston dont seem to ‘get’ social media at all and are missing so many chances to engage and cross promote.

The same is true on Twitter. The brand never ever responds, it never retweets someone elses content and looks like what it is – is very non engaged brand treating its followers with a considerable amount of disdain. It is perhaps one of the most ‘closed’ brand related twitter streams we have seen.

There is not much content sharing between the social presences (like Facebook and Twitter integration) and the web site. Yet the strategy appears to be to drive people to the website – where the brand will ignore you again and the key representatives of that brand will not respond directly – but at least there is good content in term of food, recipes, and background materials.

Conclusion

I just wonder whether there is a correlation between a few of the ‘cracks’ in the machine and the lack of social engagement? Is Masterchef Australia beginning to reap what it sows?

It is not going to fade into obscurity anytime soon. But the whole basis of social networks and social media is interaction. Conversation. Two way dialogue. Are the fans tired of not being responded to? We see a lot of frustration in the forums and streams at not being responded to. We also see that some, like Matt Preston himself are much more engaged than the brand.

But we also see so much lost opportunity for Masterchef Australia. Bringing the twitter streams into Facebook and the website would make them more alive. It provides better cross promotion opportunity as well. What about having the eliminated contestant online after the program? Given the show is taped there is heaps of opportunity to time interaction with the contestants and the judges around the show that is not used. And if they just responded to us poor human beings out there they could generate even more loyalty. The current contests are pretty lame for the most part and the one way spam from using GetGlue is a real detraction.

But someone also needs to get to George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan and explain to them what social networking can do for them, their personal brands and the overall Masterchef Australia brand. And  why is there not more use made of related blogs.

Finally, the brand also needs to consider being much more open. Whilst we would all ‘kill’ for half a million Facebook fans the brand is so closed that the amplification in social networks and the web is nowhere what it could be. If they recognise that good things in food circles can happen outside Channel 10 properties and celebrities they would achieve even greater reach.

I am still addicted to the show. My wife will still buy the books. But I am much more engaged by other brands who do a far better job of having conversations with me. What about you?

Will Bosma