A Producer's Guide to Leveraging Twitter as a Social TV Tool

written by: Richard Kastelein

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This is reprinted from The Twitter Developer's Website - Twitter TV. It's a wonderful document that will surely help Social Media practitioners in the TV arena. Unless you are French - where mentioning Twitter or Facebook has been banned by  the French TV regulatory agency, Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA), similar to Ofcom in the UK and FCC in the US.

Twitter has released of a compendium of best practices for engaging and growing your audience on Twitter using the power of the TV screen - along with some compelling data in the form of graphs and a video. This is a living document that will grow and change over time at Twitter - as shows and networks continue to break new ground with Twitter on air. To kick things off, here's a showcase of Twitter on TV:

The Motivation

Do TV viewers want a synchronous interactive experience? After decades of debate, we can finally answer this question: Yes, they do—and they are creating it for themselves, on Twitter.

The graph below shows Tweets about the ABC Family show Pretty Little Liars. The sharp spikes correspond exactly to the East Coast airings of new episodes. On-demand and online viewing are important options, but the vast majority of the conversation around the show happens during that initial airing, in real-time:


Let's zoom in on one airing. Tweeting around TV follows a fairly predictable pattern: first, anticipatory Tweets appear 15-30 minutes before the show airs on the East Coast; then, the Tweets surge during the episode (with sharp spikes in response to surprises and reveals); finally, there's another 15-30 minutes of post-show buzz and reaction.


All together, it acts as a kind of creative EKG. Look at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, and see how the sharp spikes correspond directly to major moments in the show:


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Here's what you're seeing above:

  • A MTV host Jim Cantiello announces the #WhatWillGagaWear hashtag on-air
  • B The VMA main show begins with a gender-bending performance from @ladygaga
  • C Jay-Z and Kanye West take the stage
  • D Adele performs
  • E Beyonce's performance begins...
  • F ...and ends with the big reveal of her "baby bump"

Many TV producers watch this EKG as their show airs to get real-time qualitative feedback on what is and isn't resonating with their audience. To be clear: the vast majority of the total conversation around a show happens live during its initial airing. You should focus your planning and investment on that airing and then watch the reaction on Twitter closely.

And here's the most important thing to know: Across networks and genres, when TV shows bring hashtags, accounts, or other Twitter elements into the broadcast itself, we see a direct and immediate increase in engagement on Twitter—anywhere from two to ten times more Tweets created while the shows air.

So that's the why. Here's the how:


Choose and promote a single official hashtag. On Twitter, hashtags become links; therefore, Tweets containing your show’s hashtag are powerful promotional messages that gather Twitter users around a central conversation. Your official hashtag should be clear but concise: Glee is #glee , True Blood is #trueblood , How I Met Your Mother is #HIMYM .

You should show this hashtag on air at least once between every pair of commercial breaks. Even better, synchronize it to dramatic moments in the show, as NBC did with The Voice:


(For more on The Voice's Twitter mastery, check out this Hollywood Reporter piece .)

You can also use "madlib" hashtags: clever sentence-starters like MTV's #WhatWillGagaWear. The upside is that more viewers respond to these hashtags, so you’ll maximize engagement. The trade-off is that they're a less effective marketing mechanism, because it takes an additional click for users to connect them to your show. ("Oh, I get it... this hashtag is part of the Video Music Awards. Oh, right—the VMAs are starting soon!")

You should pair hashtags with creative calls to action. CNN did this during its coverage of 2011's Royal Wedding:


On BET, the hosts of 106 and Park do it every day, explaining a daily madlib hashtag as they show it on screen...


...and these short, simple segments directly and immediately generate tens of thousands of Tweets about the show—every day.

In the 2010 VMAs, MTV used the madlib hashtag #IfBieberMetGaga. Gabi Gregg presented a call to action from the red carpet and paid it off by showing the best response on air.

In the clip below, we've overlaid a counter of total #IfBieberMetGaga Tweets and graphics showing the Tweets as they're created. It gives you a visceral sense of the engagement that follows directly and immediately from an on-air hashtag and call to action:


Show your Twitter account name on air. Your viewers don't automatically know you're on Twitter; showing them your account converts fans into followers. CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight showed @piersmorgan twice during the show in a large lower-third graphic...


...and earned 4,500 new followers as a direct and immediate result. The sharp spikes in this graph of new followers per minute correspond exactly to those lower-third graphics:


Live-tweet during the show. This allows you to shape and drive the Twitter conversation and gives your fans a reason to follow you. You should tweet live during East Coast airings—that’s when most Twitter activity takes place—and focus on commentary or content that’s synced to the show.

Jeff Probst , the host of "Survivor," is also a committed live-tweeter, and CBS promotes him like this:


Survivor provides a useful test case for live-tweeting. Probst didn't live-tweet at all during Survivor: Nicaragua in fall 2010. Then, in spring 2011, he live-tweeted during airings of Survivor: Redemption Island, with on-air promotion (as shown above). The difference in the scale of the Twitter conversation is dramatic and plain to see:


Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain tweets live during new episodes of No Reservations, and the network rotates his account @noreservations with the network bug throughout the show:


This placement earns them 3,000 new followers during each airing.


When you show individual Tweets on TV, you should generally favor:

  • Tweets from on-air talent granting special behind-the-scenes access to followers.
  • Tweets with great images (but note that you are responsible for clearing them).

In terms of implementation, we recommend that you:

Show Tweets on a physical in-set display, rather than with a graphics overlay. That way, there's no legacy technology involved and on-air talent can interact with the Tweets more naturally.

Ideally, use Mass Relevance 's TweetRiver (or develop your own alternative) to curate the very best Tweets and show them in a way that's optimized for broadcast.

Finally: use the Twitter.com Tweet permalink page in a pinch!


Here are the guidelines you'll need to follow regarding the user of Twitter's marks and content on air:

Social TV Ratings

How do you measure your impact? Here are some public sites that show Twitter engagement levels for broadcast and cable TV shows:

Questions? Ideas? Hit them up at @twittermedia


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