Do Social Media Boost TV Ratings?

Today’s ratings system is in flux. Nielsen has begun using Twitter as a way to quantify viewing. And, broadcasters are betting social will play a big role in the future of how their programs are evaluated by advertisers. But no one has all the answers… yet. Kim Wilson explains how television stations can use social media.   

Nielsen mails out more than a million paper diaries every year. These are diaries as in, take out your pencil and write down the show you’re watching. To say it’s arcane is being generous.

Yet naysayers of the Nielsen diary system are a silent bunch compared to the fever pitch of protesters demanding hard data on social media and its effect on TV tune-in.

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The reality is there’s mounting evidence of causation but no slam dunk. Today’s ratings system is in flux. Nielsen has begun using Twitter as a way to quantify viewing. And broadcasters are betting social will play a big role in the future of how their programs are evaluated by advertisers.

But no one has all the answers… yet. After managing broadcast newsrooms most of my career, I founded SocialNewsDesk, and created our social media management tools, in part to help newsrooms find these answers and more.

In August, 2013 Nielsen released its first major study showing tweets actually caused increased viewership. It found tweets led to increased viewership in 29% of the cases they looked at. This is the first study to show not just correlation, but causation between social activity and television viewing. Yet if one rounds up a dozen local affiliate broadcasters and ask how Twitter has impacted ratings, few have hard numbers — or suggestions — to share.

Travis Mayfield, director of audience engagement at Q13 in Seattle, a SocialNewsDesk client, is one of few who can point to real growth. “I have seen DMA specific ratings growth in key demos for certain entertainment shows in prime in at least two markets after developing and executing a season-long strategy to live tweet those shows,” Mayfield says. In addition to Q13, more and more local news outlets are putting live tweeting to the test to promote breaking news, a live event or in the case of KOMO-TV, to promote network programming.

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Kim Wilson
As with most social media initiatives, the best part about this is it’s easy to try. Very few resources are needed to run an experiment to see if live tweeting can cause a bump in the meters. Here are a few tips:
  • Start talking about the event several days before with predictions, etc. so that people get used to using and seeing the hashtag ahead of time.
  • Encourage everyone at the station to participate in the threads, not just experts and anchors.
  • Be sure to phrase the "initial posts" as questions so the community is encouraged to participate and respond.
  • Run a story in the newscast the night before teaching how to participate.
  • It is more fun if there is an “in-person” element to these types of chats; consider an in-person party to post photos of everyone hanging out, maybe a small viewing party at the station to amp up the excitement.

Details on the connection between social activity and ratings are hard to come by. Yet in overwhelming numbers, broadcasters are seeing a direct link between social and Web traffic.  Steve Baron, VP of digital content and technology at Tribune Broadcasting, another SocialNewsDesk client, says, “We see a correlation between high-performing TV stations ratings and website traffic, and high-performing social stations and website traffic — but we haven’t been able to quantify a hook between good social performance and TV ratings.”  

And at KBMT in Beaumont, Tex. , also a client, General Manager Bruce Cummings tells a similar tale. “We’ve enjoyed ratings improvement in a number of areas, but connecting the dots to social is difficult at best,” Cummings says. “I can tell you our Web page views have grown significantly. That’s certainly not to diminish our enthusiasm and aggressive posture with social… just that I can’t give you a tangible story. ”

Contests and promotions have become key to growing social reach and according to Mayfield, key to ratings success, too. “During key ratings periods, I have seen a flagging newscast recover and end victorious after a targeted and carefully calculated social contesting campaign was introduced,” he says. “[I’ve also seen] a single newscast on a crucial night retain 100% of its prime lead-in and finish with a win after orchestrating a concerted and methodical social contesting element.”

Facebook contests can be strong drivers of online and on-air engagement. SocialNewsDesk client WNYW Fox5 in New York has grown from 10,000 likes to more than 500,000 likes primarily through Facebook contests.

If you survey a hundred broadcasters and ask, “How does social impact your TV ratings?” the dominant answer will be — “I don’t know, but I think it helps.” While concrete proof of the correlation may be elusive, the anecdotal evidence is mounting and making true believers of more broadcast newsrooms.

Kim Wilson is a former newsroom manager turned entrepreneur and the Founder/President of SocialNewsDesk, the only social media management tool created specifically for newsrooms. Follow her on Twitter at @kimsnd. 

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Comments (3) -

Ron Stitt Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Smart broadcasters are acting aggressively in social media and laughing at the ones that are still debating correlation vs causation.
Insider Nickname posted over 2 years ago
50% of my marketing works......
MediaBigData Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Nielsen called it causation (rather than correlation). Not saying that's true, but we have heard of some regression analysis (looking at a station's social media clout/rankings and TV ratings) suggesting it may account for as much as 8% lift in ratings. Those were in overnight markets. Wonder if it's even more in a diary market. These are really good questions that could be game changers, if such studies are repeatable. But, then again, why wait for affirmation?


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