The television industry knows full well that the TV isn't the only screen viewers are watching at home. Smartphones and tablets mean Twitter and Facebook activity—and lots of social mentions generally means higher ratings. (And, perhaps, vice versa.)
Most of us aren't ever just watching TV anymore. Before we strategically position ourselves on the couch, we position smartphones, laptops or tablets within reach. Perhaps we are even watching on these devices themselves—which makes the switch between streaming shows and live Twitter feeds a little more difficult.
Live-tweets, hashtags and mentions are the premiere link to connecting avid TV fans to their beloved programs and characters. Producers and advertisers as well are able to monitor immediate feedback about what is and is not working. By providing online-only photos and video extras and getting their talent to interact with fans, TV knows exactly what the viewership wants and just how to serve it to them.
With reports that Facebook is drawing in more 18-24 year olds during prime-time hours than the four major networks, television execs are making serious efforts to capitalize on the advertising reach the social network giant presents. Facebook released its own statistics about the on-site public conversations occurring during prime time hours, reporting that between 88 million and 100 million Americans are using Facebook's second screen during peak viewing. The Game of Thrones "Red Wedding" episode garnered 1.5 million Facebook mentions alone.
Social data analytics site Trendrr has unveiled a study in partnership with Facebook analyzing second-screen Facebook activity during a week in May. The study reports that Facebook user's engagement with television was five times as much activity than all other social networks combined.
Nielsen and Social Guide release a daily data set that collects the top 10 most-tweeted-about shows from the previous night. They report that for premiere episodes, an 8.5% increase in Twitter activity correlates with a 1% increase in program ratings for adults 18-34 years old.
In this chart from the week of July 21-28, the most-tweeted spot is taken by MTV's Catfish with an astounding 536,309 tweets:
TV's Social Strategies #socialshows
Of course, separating cause from effect here isn't easy. You'd expect more popular shows to have broader social followings; similarly, a growing social following could boost viewership by drawing in its members' friends and followers. But whether one causes the other, or whether both phenomena stem from a show's underlying popularity (or lack thereof) remains much harder to discern.
That hasn't stopped Hollywood, of course.
Networks are taking note of the second-screen phenomenon, recognizing that social networking follows viewers even when an episode has finished airing, a season has wrapped, and the TV is turned off. Producers who have made the transition into social media understand its benefits of creating dialogue and keeping viewers satiated with photos, videos and behind-the-scenes extras. The point is to retain interest, knowing that if excitement is generated online, it will be manifested in the ratings.
Here are three shows whose smart and persistent social media strategies have earned their ranks in the top five most-Tweeted shows from July 21-28.
After Season 1 of VH1’s Love and Hip Hop became a social media darling in the summer of 2012, plans to accelerate Season 2’s social traffic went into high gear. Web series spin-off Check Yourself amassed 1.7 million streams and birthed a Love and Hip Hop ATL Social Leaderboard, a summary of the show's social performance tracked across various platforms. Various episodes of the show accumulated between 206,566 to 640,637 unique tweets, and mobile activity following the April 2013 premiere showed a 49% increase from last year. Ratings followed suit—by the wrap of the Season 2 finale, Love and Hip Hop dominated the Monday night cable slot.
MTV’s Teen Wolf has a well-known track record of intense and effective social engagement. After the wrap of Season 2, Teen Wolf instituted The Hunt, a Facebook-scripted social game that spanned eight weeks, a lengthy project during the show’s break to quench the thirst of rabid AlphaPack fans. This game helped Facebook Likes on the Teen Wolf page shoot up by a whopping 127%.
Another fandom-driven television show is ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, whose four main actors are active on Twitter, often replying to fans or posting behind-the-scenes photos or videos on set. Much like Teen Wolf’s The Hunt, the ABC Family drama released a web series aptly titled Pretty Dirty Secrets that ran during their break after the Season 3 finale.
The TV-watching experience has become a social package deal for the millions who live hashtag their viewing. Second screen apps have taken this and wrapped it neatly in a bow.
GetGlue allows users to “check into” a show they are watching in order to access the show’s “feed,” a thread where other viewers can post comments, pictures, quotes, and video. ABC Family posts everything from videos of the latest story arc, to announcements of actor’s live tweets on the Pretty Little Liars GetGlue page. Actors engaging with fans on social media has become a primary way to get viewers excited and participating.
The CW Now app combines both the social and viewing experience by allowing users to watch a show and browse at the same time. The incorporation of commentary to the playback feature is social engagement at its easiest, as viewers are able to watch a show on the same platform where they comment, Tweet, and create conversation. Taking out the middle man of separate screens makes interaction a simple, one-step process.
The symbiotic relationship between TV show and fan is this: producers use social media to talk to their viewers, and vice versa. A pretty simple method, really, but the consistent ratings numbers for social heavy shows proves this method is doing it right.
Lead and GetClue images courtesy Alloy Productions, Arrow image courtesy CW Network.