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Nielsen Confirms What We All Knew: Tweeting Leads to Tune-In

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It’s no secret that marketers use social media in conjunction with live events and programming to drive real-time success. This strategy has been exceptionally popular among entertainment brands, with buzzwords like “social TV” and “second-screen” entering – and eventually dominating – the lexicon in that space.

While this strategy has become tried-and-true for many entertainment brands, it has been hard to prove the exact correlation between social conversations and TV ratings. That is, until this past Tuesday when Nielsen announced a new report validating the link between tweets and actual tune-in.

Nielsen’s research uncovers what most of us would file under the “duh” category – a spike in tweets will cause a statistically significant spike in viewership. But what’s most interesting about this study is that it confirms the cyclical effect that social chatter has with regards to ratings: Twitter drives ratings, which lead to a higher volume of tweets, which in turn drives increased viewership, and thus even more tweets.

As shown in the diagram below, this pattern aligns with the leading objectives of most TV networks in social (engage your audience, drive programming conversations and increase tune-in).

Of course, tweeting for the sake of tweeting won’t automatically drive widespread social chatter or fuel ratings success. Content is still king in both programming and in social support.

Let’s take Shark Week, for example. You’ve probably noticed the influx of shark talk across your social media feeds this week as the Discovery Channel kicked off its 26th year of programming on Sunday with a new mockumentary (“Megalodon”) and the debut of a live talk show called “Shark After Dark.” The one-two punch of these new programs, combined with a knockout social media strategy, drove not only nearly 1 million tweets and 3.4 million Facebook interactions in one day, but also garnered the highest TV ratings in Shark Week history.

While there are many ways in which networks can leverage social to help drive ratings, there are certain practices that can help them get the most out of the causal effect that social chatter has on tune-in. Here are three simple rules (inspired by three of our TV clients) to live by:

Drive buzz early by providing the show-related content fans crave. Sparking conversations in advance, through content and relevant partnerships, can help boost buzz and anticipation for a show premiere. For example, with the return of USA Network’s hit series, “Suits,” fans were able to interact with the characters on Tinder to unlock exclusive show content. And for USA’s new “Summer Camp” reality show, the network launched a Tumblr content series called ‘This One Time at Summer Camp’ that featured the most hilarious, awkward, embarrassing, sentimental and iconic moments from fans’ past summer camp experiences, and got them geared up for the show.

Activate impulse behavior with real-time, tune-in related content. Since we know that fans are actively engaged on social networks while watching shows, brands should seek to lead show-relevant conversations in real-time. For example, 360i client Bravo posts real-time tune-in messages that amplify key OMG show moments to drive conversations amongst fans for the chance to be aired in on-screen “Social Editions.” Another example: this past spring, USA Network smashed social TV records with its “Psych Slumber Party” – an all-night social media event that married online activity with an on-air programming marathon.

Keep conversations going even after the show ends by rewarding fans. Networks have experienced success in providing more immersive show experiences that involve fans at the core. For example, just last week Bravo launched the “Watch What Happens Live Clubhouse,” a dedicated YouTube channel that not only gives fans more content, but also lets them be a part of it. Similarly, HBO created a “Bad Things” Tumblr experience for True Blood fans to confess their “sins” in exchange for a custom-made graphic of iconic True Blood character moments that feature their “bad thing.”

Marketers have long been searching for a unified way to quantify the effects of “social TV” and “second-screen” experiences, thus Nielsen’s latest validation marks an exciting time for entertainment brands. Employing social activations that engage viewers leading up to airtime, spurring conversations during the show and building loyalty in the long-term, will allow marketers to leverage social TV behavior to best meet their objectives.

Further reading:
Q&A with Univision’s David Beck: Harnessing the Power of Social TV
Beyond the Second Screen: How TV Shows are Extending the Story to Digital
Nielsen Study Confirms: Yes, Tweets Do Drive Tune-in
Nielsen Twitter TV Rating: Making Sense of the Noise

Cover photo via TechCrunch