Posted March 22, 2013 4:17 pm by with 7 comments

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Nielsen and SocialGuide made a very interesting statement this week. They say that an increase in Tweets about a TV program equals an increase in ratings for that program.


For 18-34 year olds, an 8.5% increase in Twitter volume corresponds to a 1% increase in TV ratings for premiere episodes.

A 4.2% increase in Twitter volume corresponds with a 1% increase in ratings for midseason episodes.

For 35-49 year olds, a 14.0% increase in Twitter volume is associated with a 1% increase in TV program ratings.

For those who prefer to see things graphically. . .

nielsen tv tweets


What are we to make of this (besides a broach and a hat)?

Mike Hess, Executive Vice President of Media Analytics for Nielsen says:

“While our study doesn’t prove causality, the correlation we uncovered is significant and we will continue our research to deepen the industry’s understanding of this relationship.”

I’m a little confused. First, let’s be clear that we’re talking about Tweets that relate to a live program. In TV terms, that means it’s airing right now, not necessarily airing “live” as in Saturday Night Live. This means that any action that happens online could have a real time, measurable effect. But which action is the cause and which is the result?

Scenario 1:

Susie is watching a new episode of The Vampire Diaries. On screen, Damon takes his shirt off. Susie tweets: “OMG Ian Somerhalder just took his shirt off on #TheVampireDiaries !!!”

Susie’s followers see her Tweet so they rush to their TVs and turn it on just as he’s putting his shirt back on. . . damn. But they’ve tuned in, so they stay and the ratings for the episode go up.

Conclusion: Rabid fan tweets cause more people to tune in.

Scenario 2:

The Vampire Diaries promo suggests that there will be a big reveal (in addition to Ian Somerhalder’s bare chest) in the next episode so more people tune in than normal causing the ratings to rise. Since more people are watching and 40% of smartphone and tablet owners use social media while watching, they tweet about the episode.

Conclusion: High ratings means there are more people who can go online and tweet about the show.

Which comes first? The chicken or the digital egg?

It’s probably a little bit of both. Social media works best when it’s in a loop – I tell you to watch, you watch, then you tell me how much you liked it. Or could it be that Twitter buzz is actually increasing engagement?

One thing Twitter does do is take viewers deeper into the experience. If they’re watching with one eye while they read their email on their tablet, they’re probably not paying much attention to the commercials or even the Subway product placement.

On the other hand, if they’re watching and Tweeting with other fans, they’re less likely to miss the details even when you wish they would.

product placement tweets

There is a lesson to be learned here about the power of social media. If Twitter buzz and TV ratings are this closely tied together, imagine if we could use that same power to promote a cause. I love TV, but why don’t we all take a moment today to spread the word about something a little more important.

Power to the Twitter-People!




  • Social Media is taking the world by storm. It’s already got Google buttoned up. Wouldn’t surprise me if TV ratings and tweets went hand-in-hand.


  • Everything is changing now , I wonder whats to come ,Flying cars ?

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  • WebEmergence

    Twitter has had a faster growth rate in 2013 than Facebook. Look at any TV programming today and see the live tweets on the lower portion of the program. Social media has been rising over the years and has been a fantastic tool for online marketing. Thanks for sharing this article. Always enjoy having new twitter fans!

  • Jon Zacharias

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  • Interesting interpretation. Age demographics though would need further analysis subdivided by education and locale. I posit that education has to be considered because it is linked to how free time is segmented based on interest. Locale also needs to be columned in as well since connected online consumption correlates with Internet consumption. Furthermore, there still exists large pockets of limited access in the U.S. As a online marketer, I would want to dig into how brands are leveraging described consumption to get in front of desired audiences as well as how measured revenue return increased because of social looping.

  • Seems like a bunch of TV shows now have their own hashtags they advertise while the show is airing.

  • Marry John

    is a lesson to be learn about the power of social media.For business social
    media represent both opportunity and risk.