TV has always been social ­– from water cooler chatter around Game of Thrones recaps to Academy Awards results and Super Bowl games. We like to watch TV with others, talk about what we’ve just seen, and share our opinions about what transpired on the screen.

In the last few years, social media has satisfied our appetite for shared TV experiences, and our desire to share is still growing. Social media activity like tweets, Facebook updates and check-ins, has jumped significantly during prime time broadcast television – up 194% in April 2012 over the prior year. Currently, 50% of mobile users in the U.S. use their device while watching TV. Now family TV night can be anywhere with anyone.

Social media has become just as vital to TV as traditional advertisements, and marketers need to start thinking about the second and third screen experiences (including laptop, smartphone and tablets) to better capture the attention of consumers where they are already engaged ­– on mobile and social platforms.

Who’s really watching? While traditional television advertising still has a place in the marketing mix, brands can’t necessarily count on viewers to pay attention. If the audience is busy on their mobile device or computer while those ads air, the impact is muffled.

It is now more important than ever to create compelling and active advertising that is integrated with second and third screen experiences to capture and keep your audience’s attention.  A bevy of social sites are helping brands leverage multi-screen engagement by giving viewers special deals, exclusive content and interactive experiences. We’ve got our eye on them and have three tips on how brands should use them.

Offer viewers real deals and rewards for check-ins on Get Glue

Get Glue, a niche community around entertainment and media, lets users check-in to tell people what they’re planning to watch, or are currently watching, and earn rewards for doing so. It’s seen great initial success with the networks.

HBO’s Game Of Thrones saw massive buzz generation for the show’s premiere. Check-ins reached 50,000 on Get Glue, eventually crashing the server. Get Glue also reported 90,000 check-ins leading up to the premiere, letting friends know they planned to watch. For perspective, Mad Men’s season premiere had 22,000 check-ins and season 2 of The Walking Dead had 43,000. Many of those check-ins were also shared across user’s entire social graph.

Brands are starting to leverage this check-in concept by integrating it into their marketing campaigns and offering users discounts and exclusive content. Beyond incentivizing viewers with virtual “check-in” badges, brands are seeing effective engagement by giving away real prizes and rewards. Case in point, Get Glue and Entertainment Weekly partnered over the last year to reward audience check-ins with physical items rather than just virtual stickers.

The Gap also sponsored an engagement promotion last fall rewarding users who checked in to a series of Entertainment Weekly’s recommended fall programs. They received a virtual sticker that entitled them to 40% off a regularly-priced item at Gap stores the following month. Mobile phone company HTC sponsored a summer movie promotion as part of the EW/Get Glue Partnership. To enter, consumers checked in to EW’s Featured Films section of Get Glue, unlocking stickers that served as an entry into the sweepstakes to win a pair of movie tickets given away daily.

Gamify the consumption of media through points collection, awards and sweepstakes with Viggle

Viggle is an emerging loyalty program where users watch live TV programs, earn points and get rewards. It’s proving to be very effective competition for a viewer’s attention during commercial breaks. By providing viewers with contextually-relevant material like sweepstakes, an interactive game, or digital coupons, brands are driving viewers’ attention to content, and engaging directly with consumers.

Viggle uses audio recognition to identify what you’re watching and rewards points for those check-ins. Once a user has accumulated enough points, they can redeem them for various gift cards to stores like Old Navy and Starbucks. Some networks are using Viggle to offer higher point values to shows that need a boost or early in a new season before viewing habits solidify, encouraging regular viewers.

But other brands are experimenting with Viggle as well. As part of a wider Dove Men+Care’s March Madness ‘Journey To Comfort’ campaign, Viggle users who watched the brand’s videos and ads from the campaign were awarded with points. As audiences are more distracted by their multi-tasking, this kind of reward-based engagement is keeping brands from losing that moment with a consumer.

During big events like the Grammys and the Super Bowl, Viggle hosts Viggle LIVE events where users’ actions are worth more bonus points so they’re more attractive to engage with. During the Grammys, Viggle users could watch commercials and answer polls or trivia questions to earn points. Through a sponsorship, Bing incorporated a button within the Viggle app so users could search for answers to trivia questions and offered hints to help answer questions.

Develop engaging content by listening to your audience with IntoNow

Brands can leverage IntoNow as a channel to listen to what viewers are saying and create engaging content around relevant conversations in real time. IntoNow is a mobile app and, like Viggle, it uses audio recognition to identify what you’re watching. But unlike Viggle, it also audio fingerprints live television and OTT services like Netflix and Hulu and can tag repeats and old movies played on local channels. Similar to the other platforms, it allows for buzz building and sharing of what you’re watching with friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Kraft’s Velveeta supplemented on air ads with display ads and a series of polls on the IntoNow interface during the Golden Globes in January. Velveeta Cheesy Skillet-branded polls pertained to celebrities, nominated films, and red carpet fashion. The success of their social TV campaign wasn’t just about getting ad clicks or having people download branded content on IntoNow, it was really about driving engagement. And the results were impressive: 27% of the audience in the app participated in the polls and there were 180 discussion threads about the brand’s content during the show.

To drive excitement and viewers to the last two episodes of this season’s Revenge, ABC and Lexus partnered to provide a sweepstakes prize. After checking in to one of the episodes, viewers could seeRevenge trivia, engage in conversations with friends, and share what they’re watching. Their check in also gave users a chance to win a vacation in the Hamptons to “live like Grayson for a week.”

Wrapping up

In addition to traditional media and advertising, and social media engagement on Facebook and Twitter, brands that start leveraging second and third screen apps will capture an active audience that uses mobile and social as a complement to their TV watching. There is an opportunity to engage audiences in deeper, more meaningful ways than traditional television advertising and by incentivizing viewers to engage with branded content, marketers are helping raise awareness and connecting to consumers in relevant ways.

Sara Kowal is the vice president of product innovation at ePrize, a global leader in digital engagement that incentivizes consumer behavior across mobile, social and web for the world’s largest brands. Follow her @sekowal or @ePrize.

Photo via Scott Macklin/Flickr