Twitter, the social media giant, is changing the way audiences view television. The days of watching your favoriteTV show and discussing the plot the next time you get your hair cut at the barber shop are over. Viewers are running to Twitter in real time to chat about their favorite scenes, characters, and story lines. And fans are not just chatting amongst each other, they are asking their favorite cast members to join them in the conversation.
Neilsen, the leading global information and ratings company, recently announced that the company will launch a Neilsen-Twitter TV rating in the fall of 2013. The news is important because it acknowledges Twitter as a “source of real-time television engagement data,” but it is even more significant because it reveals a larger change that is occurring in the television world.
Television shows are inevitably being forced to think through, build and establish social strategies that engage their audiences via Twitter on a regular and longer term basis. This change is not optional for networks or their shows. Twitter has become a natural bridge between social and television. Users flock to the social site because it is easy-to-use (140 characters or less of typing), fast paced (in real-time), provides an unlimited, yet customizable amount of information and it is free of charge (simply open an account). As such, on a going forward basis, TV shows will have to find creative ways to interact online with their audiences, working to not only engage with and manage expectations among current viewers, but also to attract newer audiences and ultimately boost ratings.
Scandal (@ScandalABC), one of ABC’s top rated dramas, which airs on Thursday evenings (10pm EST and 10 p.m. PST) is a great example of a show that has capitalized on the Twitter opportunity. On September 27, 2012, during the premiere of the show’s second season, ABC launched Scandal’s live-tweet campaign, offering its fans engaging, real-time conversation, updates and information. Scandal fans, also known as “Gladiators,” have been taking to Twitter ever since to interact with the entire cast and each other. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Scandal fans produce 2,200 tweets per minute when each episode first airs. Even the show's lead writer, Shonda Rhimes (@shondarhimes), her writing team (@scandalwriters), and the show’s make-up team (@scandalmakeup) are joining in on the online conversation.
Scandal’s creative hashtagging style is proving to be effective as well. According to the same Hollywood reporter article, Scandal represents an average of five of the ten trending topics on Twitter feeds on Thursday evenings. Scandal’s social team releases theme-based hashtags regarding specific upcoming episodes and/or story plots. The #WhoShotFitz campaign was launched during season two and instantly spread throughout twitter feeds, inspiring different theories, predictions and ideas around the assassination attempt of President Fitzgerald Grant, Tony Goldwyn’s character. When the show finally revealed the identity of the assassin, the network launched the #FreeHuck campaign immediately after to keep the online buzz going. Scandal has a created a natural rhythm of back and forth between new plots and storylines and fan feedback.
The special hashtag #AskScandal, launched on October 24, 2012, and allows viewers to tweet in questions and comments live to the cast during the airing of the shows. #AskScandal appears as a trending topic weekly on Thursday nights. Furthermore, Scandal does a great job of releasing additional teasers on Twitter, including lines from the scripts of upcoming episodes, video clips and photos of the cast on-set. The show has successfully built a platform on Twitter to engage audiences and to maintain both its online and offline connection with fans. And it’s making a difference in the show’s rating. Scandal currently boasts of over 8 million viewers (as of April 4, 2013).
Some would argue that Scandal fans would watch the show without Twitter and that the growth in ratings is due to the show finding its focus. However, the show has picked up two million viewers between its first and second season, since the launch of the social media campaign. The online buzz is also leading to significant offline press as expressed by Oprah Winfrey in her recent comment during her ‘Next Chapter’ interview with Shonda Rhimes and Kerry Washington.
“On my Twitter feed, everybody was talking about [Scandal], and I was like ‘What is this show?!’ … So I started watching because of Twitter.”
The influence of Twitter on television will only gain momentum, especially considering the growing number of tv viewers using a second-screen (a laptop, a tablet or a smart phone). Mike Proulx, one of the co-authors of the Social TV: How Marketers Can Reach and Engage With Audiences by Connecting Television to Web, Social, Media, and Mobile states that “Between 60-70% of people, when they’re watching TV, also have a second screen device.”
A social shift is occurring, and TV shows, as a result, are becoming increasingly reliant on Twitter to help them build and maintain customer audiences. Pretty Little Liars (@ABCFpll) and Vampire Diaries (@vampirediaries) are examples of other shows that are successfully using social to engage and attract viewers.
Twitter is creating a “new normal” and paving a path for audiences to ask for more and expect more from their favorite shows. The television world can no longer be passive. TV shows have to find their fans on-line, engage them and inspire them to become ambassadors.