Lulu, Penny Smith and Keith Lemon. Three names you wouldn’t normally expect to see in the same sentence, much less simultaneously trending worldwide on Twitter. But on Saturday 26th February 2011 they did, all thanks to some rather bizarre performances on Comic Relief’s “Let’s Dance”. 

The fact that an early evening TV show airing in the UK, albeit on the BBC, managed to rank so high on a list of worldwide topics is evidence that social networking is becoming an increasingly powerful accompaniment to TV viewing.  Recent research carried out by marketing agency Digital Clarity, found that of the 1,300 ‘under 25s’ questioned, 80% used a mobile device whilst watching TV. Largely engaged on social networking sites like Twitter(72% of users) & Facebook (56%) where they could discuss what was happening in ‘real time’ with others.

The effect of this dual activity is borne out by the increasing number of British TV shows that have recently Trended worldwide. Guests appearing on “The Graham Norton Show” regularly make the list and have included Miriam Margolyes (04/03/11), Matthew Fox (25/02/11) and Lee Ryan (11/03/11). Also Channel 4’s “10 o’clock Live”, a potent mix of politics and comedy guaranteed to incite tweeting frenzy on a Thursday night.

But how does a conversation ‘make it big’ and subsequently get on Twitter’s trending list? HP Research recently gathered data on this subject and discovered that 31% of trending tweets were actually retweets but were not necessarily from those who had a lot to say or had a high follower count. Most emanated from just 22 users who were largely established media operations such as CNN, the BBC and The Washington Post. This is to be expected as these organisations have access to breaking information at their fingertips. On social media sites such as Twitter they rely heavily on the ‘word of mouth’ effect which is where the Trending Topics list really comes into its own. They are ‘lighting the touchpaper’ but it is the people who ultimately decide what is interesting and those subjects that strike the right chord are the ones which ultimately make the list. The length of time a topic can remain trending varies considerably. Some disappear only to reappear again, probably due to time zone differences. For example in the UK the American actor Matthew Fox made an appearance on Graham Norton’s chat show. He continued to trend long after the show and into the next day as US users of Twitter kept the thread going mostly asking why he was trending. Lots assuming he had died! A common assumption on Twitter when a famous name trends.

Twitter has certainly contributed towards making TV a more interactive experience but still has more to offer in terms of assisting with marketing, cross-promotion, driving ratings and creating loyalty. Production companies and Broadcasters have so far only dipped their toes in the water in utilising Twitter. One notable attempt is the use of the #hashtag within the opening credits. Not only does this engage the viewer by acting as a signpost to direct them to Twitter, but it is a useful way to track conversations on the site and thereby extract useful data like who’s watching. Shows that have proudly displayed their hashtags include “Have I Got News For You”, “Later With Jools Holland” and “Question Time”.  It would be great to see more programmes following suit and there’s no reason why the hashtag can’t be employed within the credits as standard.Twitter offers up an additional platform for TV programmes to showcase, encourage debate and foster loyalty amongst viewers and there are opportunities for doing so in creative and original ways. Channel 4’s successful game show, “The Million Pound Drop” has its own profile on Twitter. With more than 16,000 followers, it tweets regularly and engages in direct conversation with its followers even when the show is not airing. An effective way to keep momentum and retain loyalty, ensuring the show is not forgotten outside its broadcast run. Comic Relief is currently utilising Twitter in an innovative way through ‘Twitrelief’. A number of celebs are auctioning themselves off to become a Follower (for 90 days) of the winning highest bidder. A chance to broaden your ‘social media standing’ considerably if you manage to bag the likes of Jonathan Ross or Simon Pegg who both have nearly a million followers each. It’s a fun and unique idea and cleverly recognises the lure of Twitter. On the other side of the pond, HBO recently screened the Howard Stern film “Private Parts”. Stern randomly began tweeting comments and anecdotes during its showing resulting in considerable buzz as users began interacting, as well as providing excellent ratings for a film that was released, to not so critical acclaim, in 1997.

With 177 million tweets sent a day and 460,000 new accounts created daily, Twitter continues to grow and become increasingly powerful as a communication platform. It’s a valuable tool that, importantly, is free to use and has already proven its cross-platform worth as an aid to TV viewing. Social networking has firmly embedded itself into our daily lives and continues to wield influence. Its ability to reach out to large numbers of people with immediacy makes it a natural promoter and for TV the opportunities are there for the taking.


6 thoughts on “The Role of Twitter in TV

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